By Adam Armour/Itawamba County Times
FULTON – Once a year, for a single 24-hour period, people from around the entire country connect across the nation’s radio waves.
For members of the Northeast Mississippi Radio Amateurs, based out of Itawamba County, the annual American Radio Relay League’s Field Day is like a holiday.
A chance to connect with people from dozens of different states who share a similar interest in ham radio. It’s like a convention with hundreds of locations rather than just one.
“Field Day is an opportunity for amateur operators to come together and tune their emergency response and operating skills while having a good time through food, fellowship and learning,” said N.E.M.R.A. President Jeff Clingan.
This year’s Field Day is scheduled to begin Saturday and continue through Sunday morning, at the Emergency Operations Center and the walking track parking area on the Access Road in Fulton.
About 30 amateur radio operators from Itawamba, Monroe, Lee and Tishomingo counties, and Marion County, Ala., will participate locally.
Participants will start assembling equipment around 9 a.m. Saturday morning, setting up several stations for operators to use. At 1 p.m., the communications part of Field Day begins. The goal? Contact as many other operators from as many different locations as possible.
“We will begin making contact with as many other ham radio stations as we can for the next 24 hours,” Clingan said. “Once the contact is established, there is a short exchange of information, including location by state, number of transmitters the group is using and where you are transmitting from: home, emergency operations center or mobile.
“On Sunday, we’ll pack everything up and go home.”
This year, the group is also setting up a station at the nearby walking track parking area. Clingan said this station will allow the public to see just what the group does, why it’s fun and how it benefits the county.
“By doing this we can use more transmitters, and more operators at the same time with less interference to each other,” Clingan said. “It will also allow the public more access to what we are doing, which is part of what Field Day is about.”
In order to facilitate any interest from passersby, the group will set up a station at which the public can talk under the supervision of a licensed operator.
“If folks stop by and are interested, they just need to ask,” Clingan said.
Although mostly enjoyed as a hobby, amateur radio operation has many practical applications. Primary among those is ham radio use during emergency situations, such as inclement weather.
Most of members of N.E.M.R.A. work with Skywarn and the National Weather Service to track and report violent storms, which helps provide the information to which most people watch or listen during storms.
Of course, for people like Clingan, it’s simply a lot of fun.
“There is a strangeness to it,” he said. “The first time you experience talking to someone on the other side of the world and there is nothing physically connecting you, you’re hooked. You can learn all about that person you would have never met except on the radio and have a friend for life.
“It’s probably the worldwide fellowship of ham operators that keeps most of us in the hobby,” he added. “We’d love for people to come out and share that with us.”