This weekend was the annual amateur radio operator’s Field Day. Field Day is ham radio’s open house. Every June, more than 40,000 amateur radio operators throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio’s science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. It’s a 24-hour competition that combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event and the primary object is to exchange reports with as many other operators as possible within that time frame. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933, and remains the most popular event in amateur radio.
This year I decided to set up a solo operator portable station (1B), a personal first, on a friend’s vacation property located on Legend Lake in northern Wisconsin. The last time I ever participated in a Field Day I was a teen over 30 years ago and that was with a large club out of Des Moines, Iowa. This was a completely new undertaking for me. Our weekend hosts, Matt and Cyndi, were immensely gracious to allow me to set up my 300 square foot enclosed canopy and nearly 1000 pounds of gear including a newly purchased portable Buddipole telescoping antenna that was placed on a tripod 30 feet in the air from the back porch of their vacation home.
I spent months of mental preparation and days of packing to make sure everything was ready for Field Day 2017. It was the perfect set up and I was very excited about my prospects. We spent literal hours putting up the site and the kids we’re anxiously awaiting for the opening minutes of the competition to start in hopes of having a chance at talking to other radio operators across the nation and even the world.
The competition began promptly at 1:00 PM on Saturday and I started working other stations flawlessly. I couldn’t have been happier! After about 20 minutes into the competition and logging only 8 contacts, the one and only antenna caught a small wind gust and fell off the back balcony and crashed to the ground in pieces. I was mortified, but can only blame myself for neglecting to secure the antenna base down with guys. Regardless, I was done with the contest right after it started and while fighting back tears, I started the grueling process of taking down the station, packing it up and loading up the truck once again.
In the end, I learned a lot if I ever decide to try this again. First, I will never be dependent on a single antenna for operation. There will always be a backup ready to go and I have already started thinking about what I will use next time. Wire antennas are sounding very appealing to me and this is what I have at home. They are easy to work with and as long as I have the horizontal space I think their incorporation into the station will be the key to success next time. Secondly, I will pack a lot less radio gear. I had three HF rigs available to me, but really only used one and I am certain I can easily pack a third of what I packed for my first attempt. My aching back will really appreciate this future change.
Finally, while I was immensely disappointed to near tears, we had a great NON-FIELD DAY weekend! It was important for me to realize that all was not lost and the event was more than making as many contacts as possible on the radio waves, but rather it was about the process of setting up a station and taking a breath and enjoying the environment and most importantly embracing the moment with all the supportive friends and family around me. This was all too evident as I slowly strolled into the canopy to begin the long tear-down process when one of my friends fired up our outdoor speakers and began serenading us with all songs or musical artists having to do with the word “wind”. Earth, Wind and Fire songs were endured by all and of course my personal favorite was Dust in the Wind by Kansas “All we do crumbles to the ground, Though we refuse to see”. Absolutely hilarious and thank you Cyndi…..at least she thought she was hilarious and that’s all that mattered…..to her….
Although my Field Day operation was over seemingly before it started, we nonetheless were able to find an abundance of entertainment for the remainder of the weekend. We ended up playing many family games in the back yard, enjoyed boating on Legend Lake, listened to the all-time best jam band String Cheese Incident (thanks Jay!) and I personally listened intently to many late night conversations and stories that were told while sitting around the backyard fire pit. Without going into a lot of details, let’s just say that I saw, heard and learned more than I probably will ever want in a very short period of time and I simply can’t go into details for fear of incriminating myself or my friends (but mostly my friends), but body hair and the proper technique of applying mosquito repellent were very popular topics that evening. We even had one member of our party end up in the Shawno emergency room on Friday night! Now THAT is WAY more exciting than any Field Day contact! She is doing well, by the way.
I had a great weekend and have been asked to setup for Field Day 2018 next year at the same place. Next year, more antennas, guy wires and good old wire dipoles will be in the armamentarium. Also I plan to have a much larger score, I will not be listening to Earth Wind and Fire and I will strive to ensure no one ends up in the emergency room.
I close my eyes, only for a moment
And the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
and contrary to those famous Dust in the Wind lyrics written by Kerry Livgren for Kansas, in my case, the moment will never be gone. It was perfect!
Finally, as I sit here typing I am preparing to submit my score to the American Radio Relay League for official entry and look forward to seeing my call listed in the QST Magazine (probably at the very bottom). Despite the humiliation and temporary depression, I am at least grateful that the scoring process for me has been significantly simplified. Let’s see…. 8 SSB contacts times my power multiplier (100 watts) of 2 equals 16 points! No satellite contacts = ZERO. That makes it 16 points total! Done!
This is Field Day Station NJ0Y – 1B in Wisconsin. 73’s until next time!