Henniker ham radio field day offers opportunity for training, bonding


By MELISSA PROULX
Union Leader Correspondent |
June 26. 2016 10:04PM

Mike Plunkett and Steve Jones work to set up a 6-meter station at ham radio field day in Henniker. (Melissa Proulx/Union Leader Correspondent)








Jim McElroy plays with a radio the group used to help train newbies at the ham radio field day in Henniker. (MELISSA PROULX)


HENNIKER — A quick drive down a dirt path will get you there.

Forty-foot high radio antennas, camping tents and a buzzing diesel generator were some of the telltale signs found at this year’s ham radio field day in Henniker.

The 24-hour-long event served as both a practice for emergency broadcasters worldwide and a chance for old friends to come together to just have fun. From 2 p.m. Saturday to the same time Sunday, the group transmitted morse code, messages and live music from their campground.

The field day event started in the 1930s and has a national reach with hundreds of thousands taking part each year. In New Hampshire alone, there are more than eight different campsites in places like North Conway, Manchester and Keene where local groups participate in the event.

Some, like Dale Clement, are longtime veterans. He’s part of the Contoocook Valley Radio Club, which set up camp in Henniker.

“I associated the smell of citronella with field day,” he said, picking up a candle from one of the wooden folding tables in the tent.

He said he’s attended the field day every year for more than five decades.

“When I was kid, this was the event that got me really interested in (amateur radio),” he said.

Setup starts the day before and takes more than a day to complete. The more than 30-foot towers are built from the bottom up and secured with cables. In total, four towers — or stations — were used.

Each can send out a different wavelength or transmission, allowing the ham radio operators to transmit to others as close as another community in New Hampshire or as far away as Australia.

“It’s not unusual to get (signals) all around the world,” said club Secretary Steve Jones.

Clement said he was testing a radio that the group will use for training and managed to pick up the transmission of a man who was sitting on a beach in the northernmost part of New Zealand. The two had a half-hour-long conversation.

“So I knew the radio worked,” Clement said.

Along with bragging rights, the achievement serves as a valuable learning opportunity.

“We learn about geography more than most,” Clement said.

Besides the setup, the training and the banter between old friends, group members participate in different activities during the 24 hours. These include things like the training or bouncing of a signal off a passing satellite — a task that they must complete within minutes.

“It gives us several goals on the weekend to do,” Clement said.

Besides competing and having fun, members use the time for important training. Amateur radio technicians can help with communications should a disaster knock out communication systems or cellphone towers.

“The emergency part of ham radio justifies our existence,” Clement said.

It’s an important job, but one that needs more young people to get involved, said Jones. A retired electronics teacher, he said it’s important that younger people continue to stay active in the practice. He continues to mentor members of the group to teach them his ways.

“It’s really good if we can continue the process that way,” he said.

Jock Irvine, a music and computer teacher at the Henniker Community School, is doing his part to help. He started an amateur radio club at the middle school so the students could get an idea of what it’s like.

“That’s what we need — intellectual curiosity,” Jones said.
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