The Northeast Mississippi Radio Amateurs embarked Saurday at 1 p.m. on a 24-hour field day - a simulated emergency situation where local radio operators try to contact as many other operators as possible.
"As far as ham radio is concerned, in the U.S., this is the biggest day of the year," said Jeff Klingan, president of the chapter. "Hams that don't do anything will come out of the woodwork and get on the air."
As of 5:45 p.m., the Fulton-based group had made contact with 178 operators in 41 states and Canadian provinces.
They reached out via Morse code, voice and digital frequencies. Each connection earned the points, with Morse code connections earning double points.
Last year, NEMRA came in No. 8 in its division of 47 participants nationally. It hopes to come in at least No. 3 this year.
The members were hustling Saturday to make the goal. They arrived early at the Itawamba County Emergency Management office.
Their vehicles were easily identifiable - big antennas, "amateur radio" vanity plates and "SkyWarn" decals. They set up massive attennae around the building.
On their first test run, they heard from an operator in France. It didn't count for the contest, but it was a good sign.
By mid-afternoon, operators like Bobby Copeland already were chugging Mountain Dew and snacking on potato wedges and beef jerky.
"You get rolling and you don't want to leave," Klingan said.
In another room, Stu Herring and Randy Cornelison were transmitting and deciphering dits and dahs - the sounds in Morse code. They both learned the code years ago in school.
The code is important to know in emergency situations, Heering said, because Morse code can get through sometimes when phone or voice transmissions can't.
Many of the participants mentioned the importance of ham radio in severe weather situations. Several, including Copeland and his wife, Sharon, are trained weather spotters and participate in SkyWarn, a program that feeds on-the-ground weather information to the National Weather Service.
"I emphasize spotter - not chaser," Copeland said.
While some of the participants did have jobs in emergency response fields, most are participating in the field day because of their love for the hobby.
"This is a hobby," Copeland said. "We've got so much else to do. You get on when you can. It's a hobby, but a serious hobby."