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Radio operators ham it up for field day

July 2, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Their towers were run up all over the football field at the North Fort Myers Community Center, even between the goal posts.

Under the pavilion, amateur radio operators were busy trying to make contact with fellow radio buffs throughout the United States and Canada, taking a break for the occasional snack or beverage.

They would do this all day and night over the weekend as the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club gathered for its annual field day event.

Article Photos

Dave Penezic of Lehigh Acres, left, and Dan Blashill of North Fort Myers try to reach far-away places throughout North America during the annual Amateur Radio Field Day event at the North Fort MyersCommunity Park Saturday.

The club used the event to get people to learn about the ham radio hobby, as well as to fine tune their skills in the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane, and ham radio suddenly becomes the only way to communicate, such as it did during Charley in 2004.

It is a nationwide event that takes place each year on the last full weekend of June. The public was invited.

"It's a practice of our ability during an emergency situation to go out into the field and set under emergency operating conditions and communication all over the U.S. and Canada," said Dan Blashill. "We can be deployed, set up and operating in a very short period of time."

People began setting up the towers shortly after sunrise so the club could be ready for the 2 p.m. kickoff. From there, they would be on the air for the next 24 hours, with other operators coming in relief until 2 p.m. Sunday, when they broke down and headed home.

Chairman Joseph Ryan compiles the data and sends it to the American Radio Relay League in Connecticut, which publishes the results in December.

The operators had a map of what areas had been communicated with. Within two hours, much of the map had been filled in, including in Quebec and British Colombia.

"Two years ago we hit every region of the United States and missed only one of the southern provinces in Canada," Ryan said. "We even had someone from Cuba contact us three years ago, but there are few hams there."

Many of the operators work in conjunction with the Emergency Operations Center in Lee County.

During Hurricane Charley, power went out, as did the cell phone towers, so operators went out to all the shelters and hospitals and at the center on Ortiz Avenue. It became the main line of communications in Lee County to monitor the shelters and report downed power lines, among other things, Blashill said.

The radios, which used to be huge monstrosities with inner tubes, have become very high tech.

Willis Smith of North Fort Myers remembers the old days, having used a ham radio when in the military in the 1960s.

"We used to provide communications for the Edison Pageant of Light Parade until it decided to go with commercial gear," Smith said. "We work with the Red Cross and the shelters. Besides that, we have fun."

"This is a computer with a couple radio stages built into it. There are so many options. You can almost tune in and eliminate all the noise," said Tim Bennett of Cape Coral. "

For many, it was all about fun. Frank Nocera of Cape Coral set up a solar-powered radio outside the pavilion. That is, until the skies darkened and had to take shelter.

"We're ready for the zombie apocalypse," Nocera said, who added his two solar-charged batteries would last four hours each after sunset. "We talked to Indiana, Texas and Virginia."



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