Members of the Douglas County Amateur Radio Club had an opportunity this weekend to practice using their hobby to benefit the public.
About 18 members of the radio club were at Wells Overlook Park Saturday afternoon when the annual United States and Canada field day competition kicked off.
During the 27-hour test, which wraps up at 4 p.m. today, local ham operators try to contact as many operators as possible in the United States and Canada. The exercise tests the operators' ability to establish nationwide channels of radio communication under simulated emergency conditions.
Last year, Douglas County placed 62nd in the competition, in which several hundred stations participated.
Sending messages in crisis situations is nothing new for local operators. For example, Karl Medcalf, a licensed operator for 28 years, used his ham radio to help relay and receive about 100 messages after the San Francisco earthquake last year.
HAM RADIOS are used locally to communicate weather conditions and to respond to any situation in which other forms of communication are interrupted temporarily.
Although ham radios are used in crisis situations, operators also set up stations as hobbies. Sometimes, disabled people turn to ham radios to gain greater contact with the world.
"You can go as far as you imagine," operator Truman Waugh said, referring to the distant contacts possible through ham radio.
For Lloyd Slocum, who is confined to a wheelchair, radio communication adds variety to daily life. He said an operator can work an area of the country for awhile and then switch to an entirely different region or coast if he gets bored.
Slocum said he once heard a forest ranger in Oregon describe so vividly the woods where he was stationed that Slocum listened for an hour.
OPERATORS also can choose how they would like to communicate. Morse code, audio and digital stations were set up at Wells Overlook this weekend.
With a digital station, computers are used to talk on the airwaves.
Ham operators use digital stations to set up bulletins, allowing messages from other operators to be logged during the day. This type of station differs from the Morse and audio forms of communication, which require an operator to be present to receive a message.
Every operator at Wells Overlook Saturday had a preferred form of communication. Some operators said they were set up for more than one type of station at their homes.
BUT THIS weekend the comfort of home was left behind. Saturday morning was spent erecting the antennas and testing the gas and solar powered generators at the park.
Once that task was finished, said Mike Bronoski, radio club president, the operators began trying to contact other operators while contending with insects and changing weather conditions.