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Ham radio club reaches across the country during annual field day

Dale Neely attempts to make contact with other call signs during Butler County Amateur Radio Public Service Group's annual Field Day event at the Winfield Township municipal building on Saturday, June 22. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

WINFIELD TWP — Members of a local ham radio club reached out Saturday and Sunday to contact some of the thousands of other like-minded radio operators across the county during their annual field day.

Butler County Amateur Radio Public Service Group members set up their radios at the Winfield Township Municipal Building to participate in the American Radio Relay League’s nationwide Field Day.

The Field Day serves as an open house for people interested in learning about radio communications and a time for the amateur radio community to get together and practice operating.

Interest in the club has grown over the years. Membership has increased to 93 from 25 when it was chartered in 1990.

“There’s approximately 40,000 hams doing this today all over the country,” said Tom McCracken, a member of the Butler County radio club.

The goal for club members on Field Day is to contact as many radio operators in other parts of the country as possible, McCracken said.

It’s also a chance for experienced club members to teach newer members and hone their radio communications skills, he said.

The club assists Butler County’s 911 operations center with backup emergency communications whenever necessary, he said.

“Our primary purpose as a club is emergency communications for the 911 center,” McCracken said.

McCracken, one of the club’s original members, said members will retrieve and transmit information needed by 911 and emergency responders at the request of the 911 center.

“We set up an emergency radio station with antennas. If they need to get information out, we get it out,” McCracken said.

As an example, he said if emergency responders are busy with an incident and 911 dispatchers wants to know if a road in the vicinity is open, a club member will check the road and radio a report to 911, he said.

The club also could be called if emergency responders are at an incident in a low-lying area and their radio signals aren’t reaching the 911 center. In such an event, a club member would set up a radio relay station at a higher elevation to allow responders to communicate with the center, he said.

Ham radio operators must pass a test from the Federal Communications Commission to obtain a license to operate a radio, McCracken said.

Radio operators transmit signals over high-frequency channels that bounce back and forth between the Earth and the ionosphere in the upper atmosphere as they travel around the world.

Thirty-year club member Dale Neely, of Zelienople, was trying Saturday to reach operators who were broadcasting from the West Coast and Colorado, but his transmissions weren’t reaching them even though he could hear them on his radio.

He said signals can be sent using phones, computers or by continuous wave, which is another word for Morse code.

“I’d like to get some Alaska contacts, but they are rare,” Neely said.

The Butler County Amateur Radio Public Service Group's annual Field Day event was held at Winfield Township municipal building on Saturday, June 22. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (6/22/2024)
Jerry Cogley attempts to make contact with other call signs during Butler County Amateur Radio Public Service Group's annual Field Day event at Winfield Township municipal building on Saturday, June 22. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (6/22/2024)

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