SURREY â€” With cell phones, email and the Internet bringing the world to our doorsteps in just a few button presses or mouse clicks, one might think the fate of old school amateur "ham" radio is sealed.
There’s an expression among those in the know: "When all else fails, amateur radio works." In other words, in the event of massive infrastructure failure (think war, terrorism, natural disaster), the techie folks with the headsets and the mics and the call signs may well be the only ones getting the word out – and in.
It happened during 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 earthquake in Japan. And it will happen again.
On a recent Saturday, the local detachment of a global army of amateur radio operators – volunteers all – showed off their stuff.
They brought along their slickest gear, they erected antennae, they laid out tents and tables and informational pamphlets, and they welcomed youngsters and oldsters and all people in between. And they went to work scanning the region – and the continent – for as many likeminded individuals as possible.
It was a good day for making contacts. In fact, it was the very best day of the year. Known as "Field Day," June 28 was a North America-wide event where amateur radio’s brightest and most knowledgeable people set up shop in similar encampments across the continent.
And while the day was part publiceducation, part emergency preparedness dress rehearsal and part political hobnob (Surrey mayoralty candidate Linda Hepner, MP Jinny Sims and MLA Marvin Hunt all stopped by), arguably the coolest part, at least for veteran members of Surrey Amateur Radio Club (SARC), wasthe chance to reach out anywhere and everywhere in a contest format.By the end of Field Day – a 24-hour period – SARC members, six using voice and four using Morse Code, had made no less than 1510 unique contacts.
An impressive showing, says SARC president John Brodie VA7XB (amateur radio operators typically run their given names and call signs together), who justifiably points out the total is almost twice that of last year’s Canadian divisional winner.Field Day at the SARC site, on the old Grandview School grounds at the intersection of 20th Avenue and 176th Street, is an interesting time.
In the main tent, recent Russian immigrant Mike Zavarukhin VE7ACN worked antiquated yet efficient Morse Code and showed his frustration when a potential contact wasn’t quite made. Blind SARC member Rob Gilchrist VE7CZV used a computer attached to his radio and a device for converting the screen image to Braille.
Another station sat temporarily empty, its operator undoubtedly handling some other duty. The tables overflowed with transceivers and displays, and the floor was littered with batteries and mobile power supplies.In a trailer 50 feet away, Al Neufeld VE7CDC ran a Get On The Air (GOTA) station, coaching total radio noobs on the absolute basics. Outside, the landscape in every direction was dotted with various types of antennae, including an absolute monster donated by Telus in 2011 that soars a hundred feet into the sky and weighs a pavement-crushing five tonnes.
At the info booth, Joe Zaccaria VE7TOL greeted visitors, answered questions and directed them thisway and that. He took a moment to proudly show off the sweet setup in his truck: a mobile system he says has connected him with operators hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away.
But the real excitement was at the back of John Schouten VE7TI’s pickup truck. As various SARC members gathered around, Schouten brandished a handheld antenna, pointing it in the direction of the International Space Station. An hour earlier, they’d made contact with astronaut (and fellow amateur radio licensee- most astronauts are) Reid Wiseman KF5LKT, and the gang tried to do it again.
One problem: SARC was one of hundreds of clubs trying to do the same thing. Bombarded with requests, Wiseman was unable to respond.Twenty-four hours later, the Grandview School site was empty once again.
Next year, members of SARC will participate in the 2015 Field Day.
In the meantime, they’ll continue to pursue their "hobby," standing ready should a day come that no one wants to see.For more information on SARC and amateur radio, visit Ve7sar.net.