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Have a field day: Albemarle club hopes event will spark interest in ham radio


Amateur Radio Field Day will give visitors a chance to hear voices from across the country. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, scripts and coaching will be provided.


If you’re ever casually twirled a radio dial late at night or in the wake of a storm, you may have been intrigued by scratchy snippets of local news and conversations from other parts of the country, often in languages other than English. And if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to speak with the people behind the messages, you may enjoy discovering the world of amateur radio.


The Albemarle Amateur Radio Club is participating in Amateur Radio Field Day this weekend, and everyone is invited to hear amateur radio operators in action and glimpse the possibilities of the craft — everything from emergency communications to pure recreation for the curious.


The event will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and last through 2 p.m. Sunday at Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company. Three radios will be operated continuously for 24 hours by different club members, who will use different modes, such as digital and phone modes, to give visitors a sense of amateur radio’s scope.


“It’s like an open house for amateur radio,” Bob Romanko, president of the Albemarle Amateur Radio Club and the field day’s chairman, told The Daily Progress. “You never know who you’re going to hear from. That’s the fun.”


Amateur radio, also called ham radio, can appeal to a wide range of interests. The dial-twirling example offers hints of the different disciplines radio draws on — from electronics to atmosphere and climate science to communications and emergency services — and the hobby can have instant appeal for people who simply like to learn.


“If you enjoy listening to distant stations that are bouncing around at night, you never know how the electronically charged ionosphere is going to react,” Romanko said. “I’m a jazz keyboardist. I do stone masonry. I’ve got a million hobbies, but I’ve never seen anything as multifaceted as amateur radio.”


Listening to radio messages doesn’t require a license. Sending them usually does, and that’s where club members can guide visitors who’d like to join the ranks of ham radio hobbyists through the steps that licensing will require.


Field Day, an annual national event of the Amateur Radio Relay League, unites about 40,000 radio operators across North America for a 24-hour period. Members of the local club, which was founded in 1963, enjoy being part of it.


“It’s a big event,” Romanko said. “Part community outreach, part public service, part emergency services.”


If you’re interested in trying your hand at speaking on the radio, look for the Get on the Air, or GOTA, station, which will be available from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.


“We have scripts. We have coaches,” Romanko said. “You can watch for a little while and then give it a try yourself.”


And if you arrive during the overnight hours of Field Day, you’re likely to find Romanko in action.


Ham radio fans often earn their entry-level technicians’ licenses and then move up to general and amateur-extra levels, which add capabilities and responsibilities. Some volunteers seek additional training to participate in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service to lend a hand during natural disasters and other crises. Field Day visitors often are amazed to hear what amateurs across the country can achieve.


“I was in Alaska, and I spoke with a gentleman on top of a mountain in Canada,” Romanko said. “He was on a radio that was only putting out 3 watts, which was like a heavily caffeinated fly.”


Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company is at 283 Reas Ford Road in Earlysville. Keep an eye out for signs and helpers who will direct you to parking spaces; a wedding will be taking place during the day Saturday, so Field Day visitors will be parking in the rear left of the parking area, in the grass.


Admission is free. To learn more, go to www.albemarleradio.org.


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