Monday, June 25, 2012

Field Day 2012

Time sure flies! I can't believe another Field Day has come and gone.  This past weekend I participated in my third event with my club W8BAE (Crawford County Amateur Radio Club).  My son Wyatt is not a radio nut like me but he loves camping so he helped with the set up of our tent and antenna.  He secured permission from the landowner to go fishing and shooting with his pellet gun so he had fun while I was busy making contacts.

My 40 meter CW/Digital station

So what is Field Day?  FD is an annual event put on the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) with clubs and individual hams all over America and Canada participating.  Field day encompasses many aspects of amateur radio.  Experience is gained from setting up and operating a station in primitive conditions and sometimes harsh environments.  FD is a unique opportunity to showcase our hobby to the general public as well as a great way to learn about antennas and other technical aspects of radio.  Perhaps most importantly is the fellowship shared between club members both on the air and off as obstacles are overcome while good times and great food are enjoyed in the outdoors.  The other side of Field Day is the competitive side.  The operating event is like a contest with the goal being to work as many different stations as possible during designated time period.  Some clubs will put forth serious efforts to gain the top spots while others just enjoy the great outdoors, casual operation and camaraderie.

Here is a few of the antennas that were in operation this year at the W8BAE Field Day site:

20 meter inverted -V for operation at 14 MHz

80 meter horizontal loop (3.5 - 4 MHz)

My 40 meter top loaded vertical (7 MHz)

My homebrew vertical antenna worked great for FD netting me 60 contacts in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia using CW (Morse Code radio telegraphy) and PSK-31 digital mode.  Of course I had fun showing off my handiwork and received many compliments on my antenna.

My only complaint is the high speeds of Morse Code used during the event.  Stations running at or below 20 words-per-minute are few and far between.  My copy skills at 30 wpm are far from adequate so I usually need to listen to a station work through a few exchanges to make sure I have copied all the info correctly before throwing in my callsign and making contact.

By Saturday evening my brain was fried from hours of high speed code so I switched over to digital operations.  This was my first time using PSK-31 during FD and I found I really enjoyed the keyboard digital mode.  The digital modes are slowly growing in popularity and more and more clubs are putting digital stations on the air for Field Day making this a viable option for operators looking for something different besides CW and Phone (side band voice).  I will still be on the air next year with Morse code but I also plan to dedicate some time and effort into PSK.


The above photograph I took Saturday night shows a small slice of spectrum around 7.070 MHz alive with PSK-31 signals.  The small window at the bottom of the screen is called the "waterfall" as the signals flow in real time from the top to the bottom.  The two small "prongs" appear at the beginning of a transmission and a single prong or tail shows when the transmission terminates.  Besides showing the exact frequency of a signal the graphic representation provided by the waterfall also shows signal strength with the strongest signals showing up bright yellow and the weaker ones ghosting to various degrees in the background.

While the planning and logistics for a Field Day operation can be a bit stressful once everything is up and running the event is loads of fun.  I might even venture to say that FD is my very favorite ham radio related activity.

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