A Bunch of “Hams” Having a Field Day

By Sandra Zunino

This weekend Bloomfield Farm will be the site of simulated emergency activity as members of the Queen Anne’s Amateur Radio Club (QAARC) take part in a 24-hour Public Demonstration of Emergency Communications.

QAARC members will be joining about 37,000 amateur radio operators from across the U.S. and Canada holding similar public demonstrations in this “Field Day”. The on-air action starts at 2:00 p.m. Saturday and continues until 2:00 p.m. Sunday with operators demonstrating their communications ability in a simulated emergency.

Amateur radio, aka ham radio, is the licensed and private use of designated short wave radio bands for the purpose of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages and emergency communication. During disaster situations when regular communications are down, amateur radio operators are often the first to provide rescuers with critical information.

A new non-profit club, QAARC held their first meeting in January at the Centreville Library. The club’s goals are to educate and better amateur radio in the community. At one time, there were more than 100 licensed amateur radio operators in the county, according to QAARC President Michael D. Widdekind. “The amateur community here is very active,” says Michael.

QAARC supports emergency communications through another group called Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES,) a protocol created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission. While amateur radio operators must be licensed to broadcast, QAARC members do not have to be licensed to join the club. “We try to work with people who are interested in ham radio and help them study the materials that are needed to pass their amateur radio test,” says Michael.

There are three different license classes: Technician, Advance and the General or Amateur Extra Class. The Technician Class includes operating an amateur station that may transmit on channels in any of 17 frequency bands above 50 MHz with up to 1,500 watts of power. The General Class operator authorizes privileges in all 27 amateur service bands and the Amateur Extra Class includes an additional spectrum in the HF bands.

“At one time, the General and Extra classes required the knowledge of Morse code, but that is no longer the case,” says Michael. “There’s still a great interest in Morse code; however, and a lot of people use it.”

Another goal of the QAARC is to promote amateur radio to youth. One way to accomplish this is to enlist the help of Scouting organizations. In fact, Scouts can earn a Radio Merit Badge.

Before the 24-hour operating period, club members will be erecting antennas, getting portable power in place and setting up receiving and transmitting equipment at Bloomfield Farm located at Rt. 213 and White Marsh roads just north of Centreville.

The public is invited to observe and even participate as spectators may have the opportunity to operate the ham stations. While some amateur operators will be contacting others by voice, some amateurs will be demonstrating their proficiency in using Morse code to make contacts. Hams will be available to discuss all aspects of amateur radio as a hobby as well as its use in emergency locations where electrical power and cell phone use might be out of commission.

The QAARC holds monthly meetings the first Tuesday of the month at Centreville Library. For more information, contact Mike Widdekind, N3ZHA, QAARC President, 410-739-8718, michael.widdekind@atlanticbb.net.