Sending out frequencies

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 07:32 PM

OXFORD — Bob Barrett recently got his technician’s license to operate ham radio.

He found himself in the Granville County Emergency Management multi-use facility Saturday afternoon for a field day, which is the highlight of Amateur Radio Week.

“This is my first time here,” he said. “I wanted to check it out and see how all this works.”

NC4CA, the four-county ham radio network, has held an annual field day since 1996 as an opportunity for the public to come and see ham radio’s capabilities and learn how to get their own radio license, said James Harrison, a member of the four-county group.

There are now more than 700,000 ham radio licensees in the United States and more than 2.5 million around the world.

“Unlike most communications, ham radios don’t rely on the Internet or electric power,” Harrison said. “All hams need is satellite frequencies.”

Barrett said he became interested in hams because of their use in emergency communications.

“I’m prior military, and we used to go into the field to set up radios for emergency communications,” he said. “That got me more interested in giving back to the community. In case of an emergency, I want to be able to help out.”

He said when storms hit the Gulf Coast a few years ago, he wasn’t able to contact his family there.

“When your communications go down and you have nothing, panic sets in,” Barrett said. “That’s why I got into it.”

Harrison, who has operated hams for decades, said he also just enjoys having the hobby.

“I love having conversations with people,” he said. “Basically, we exchange technical information and personal information. I’ve talked to the minister of communication from the United Arab Emirates. We carried on a simple conversation. I’ve talked to the king of Qatar — just very basic, ‘hello, how are you, goodbye.’”

The event, which ends Sunday at noon, also serves as a competition for members to see who can make the most contacts during the 13-hour period.

Tom Hillery, also a member, said about 36,000 people across the country usually participate in the field day.

Last year, Hillery had made more than 450 contacts during the event.

“We try to hold these events to rekindle the interest in the hobby,” he said, adding only about 12 members remained active in the club. “A lot of people don’t realize the fascinating things we can do with hams. You could even talk to astronauts at the International Space Station.”

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.