Ham radio operators practice and compete

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan Kenny Thomas, left, and Peter Pagano sparked up their radios on Friday during Emergency Preparedness Day at Great Marsh Park.

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Kenny Thomas, left, and Peter Pagano sparked up their radios on Friday during Emergency Preparedness Day at Great Marsh Park.

CAMBRIDGE — Members of the Easton Amateur Radio Society (EARS) sponsored Emergency Preparedness Day on Friday in Great Marsh Park.

The ham radio operators – more on that “ham” later – were set up and ready to go by 2 p.m., when they began to take part in a 24-hour Field Day exercise, organized annually by the American Radio Relay League.

The event has a couple of goals. It’s a contest, with individuals and clubs throughout North America competing to accumulate contacts.
“The other point is to work on skills that might be necessary in case of an emergency,” EARS member Kenny Thomas said. He noted that when a disaster occurs, there is often no phone service, making radio communications vital for recovery.

Club President Tony Giaimo mentioned last year’s devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico as an example. When other means of communication went down, ham operators where asked to help.

One of the ways they participated was by working 12-hour shifts, gathering and transmitting information on the victims and survivors. “They were getting the names of people,” Mr. Giaimo said.

Peter Pagano was in the trailer owned by EARS, filled with a variety of equipment. “If we’re called for an emergency, we can communicate in a lot of different ways,” he said.

Some are modern, using digital technology. Others go way back.

“We’re the only people in the world who still use Morse code,” Mr. Thomas said.

And that’s where the “ham” comes from. In the early days of amateur radio, operators who had poor Morse skills were considered “ham-fisted,” or simply “hams.” Though that wasn’t originally intended to be much of a compliment, eventually the operators grew fond of the term and used it themselves. Now, the amateurs are known for a high level of technical skills.

Jack Gottschalk put those skills to work, checking his gear in the early afternoon. After calling for a radio check, he and visitors observing the exchange heard a Canadian accent coming through.

The other operator was broadcasting from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, with the signal coming through loud and clear.

“You start learning so much,” Mr. Pagano said. “You really get into it.”

Vehicles from Dorchester Emergency Services and Rescue Fire Company were also at the park. Emergency Medical Technicians Jason Lobley and Tyler Jones gave cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) demonstrations.

EARS was founded in 1965, bringing together operators from Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties. To learn about the club, visit www.k3emd.com.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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