Last weekend, if you visited Olive Branch Municipal Park, you may have seen a trailer set up in the busy parking lot and shelter that looks like a radio base station with towers set up all around it.
This is because it was a radio base station and was populated by Amateur Radio Operators, also known as Ham Radio Operators, from DeSoto County who were involved in an event. annual called Field Day.
Participants are members of the Olive Branch Amateur Radio Club and the Chickasaw Amateur Radio Association, two active groups who practice and promote their interest. The Chickasaw association has existed since the mid-1970s and the Branche d’Olivier group has existed for more than 20 years.
In Mississippi, they are one of 33 affiliated clubs located throughout the state.
Field Day has a dual purpose. This is a competition where for 24 hours radio operators, also called hams, try to establish as much confirmed contact as they can with other radio amateurs.
But Field Day also has an important disaster goal. Those responsible for emergency services can rely on amateur radio operators to convey important information. If the power lines are down and electricity is not available, the hams will offer to pass on the necessary details. They will even offer to let residents of an affected area relay their whereabouts and status to family members in remote locations, letting them know they’re okay.
During the 24 hours of Field Day, amateur radio operators will set up as if they were in an emergency, filled with generators, towers, broadcast units and working on headsets to reach other people. elsewhere in the country, and even in the world.
The two DeSoto County radio groups are associated with the American Radio Relay League, or ARRL, which provides a means to promote and monitor the appropriate use of amateur radio.
Scott Larsen (W5VMS) of Vicksburg, who is the Affiliate Club Coordinator for the Mississippi Chapter of the ARRL, was on hand for this year’s Field Day at Olive Branch.
Larsen said there remains some fascination among radio amateurs to be on air with their own, sometimes homemade equipment.
“If you have the means, you can build your own platform,” Larsen explained. “You can build your own station, you can buy your own station. There is always the excitement of getting in touch with someone who lives in states or countries across the world. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.
Amateur radio has been around for over a century and amateurs come from all walks of life. They also have a wide variety of interests, Larsen said.
“There are clubs that focus on emergency communications,” he noted. “There are clubs that focus on competitions. I found any area you wanted to go down, you can follow it, and it’s usually always someone there to help you.
Those who attended Field Day, Saturday afternoon through 1 p.m. Sunday, can range from pilots to information technology (IT) experts and even preachers.
Field Day has been taking place in DeSoto County for several years and among the mainstays is Glen Popeil (KW5GP) of Southaven, who strives to make up to 1,000 contacts during his time on the air. Popeil is the author of several books on the subject of amateur radio.
“My goal is to make as many contacts as possible,” said Popeil. “It’s the general rush to talk to as many people as possible. I spoke to people in Norway, Sweden. We usually get all 50 states during this event. Russia is probably the most remote I have spoken with.
Popeil added that English is the preferred language of communication for amateur radio operators, no matter where they are located.
The weekend’s activity also involved the civilian air patrol of the DeSoto Composite Squadron and volunteers from the DeSoto County Emergency Management Agency.
There are currently up to 750,000 ham operators in the United States, the only requirement being that operators obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. There are three levels of amateur radio license ranging from beginner to advanced, with each level providing greater operating capability.