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Preparing for the worst by competing to be the best

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Davis Sourdis transmits signals during the Ham Radio Field Day put on by the Brightleaf club at the Oakwood School on June 23, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ham radio enthusiasts spent this weekend honing their skills and battling thunderstorms to see how many other operators they could reach.

Brightleaf Amateur Radio Club, call sign W4AMC,  held a field day exercise this weekend at The Oakwood School.

Beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday through 2 p.m. Sunday, 11 club members spent 24 hours contacting ham radio operators across the United States, Canada and the world to see which club could gather the largest number of ham radio operator contacts.

“It’s basically an emergency preparedness exercise that they put in a contest,” said Jeff Meyer, who has operated ham radios for 41 years. He’s been a Brightleaf member for 10 years. “The goal is to get into as many places as you can.”

Participants exchange station class and location during the contest. The Brightleaf Club is 3ANC. By Sunday the club had made more than 600 Morse code contacts, 300 voice contacts and 65 digital contacts.

Ham radios operate using a variety of short-wave radio frequencies the Federal Communications Commission allocates for amateur radio use.

Short-wave radio frequencies are reflected off the ionosphere, a layer of the earth’s atmosphere, when broadcast from transmitter to receiver. Depending of weather conditions, the signal may be received by a neighbor down the road or can be received across the world. Saturday night the club made contact with an operator in the Ukraine. 

“It’s the only fail-safe system of communication,” said Dave Langley, who has had a ham radio license since 1952.

The Brightleaf Club organized in 1967. Its members have mobilized for every hurricane affecting eastern North Carolina with the exception of Hurricane Matthew. During the flooding that followed Hurricane Floyd in 1999, ham radio operators were the only line of contact between northern Pitt County and emergency operations personnel working in Greenville, said Berard Nobles, field day committee chairman.

At one point, the ham radio operators were linking emergency medical personnel in northern Pitt County to the hospital so the delivery of medical supplies could be coordinated, Nobles said. Today, ham radio operators remain the only source of communication in some parts of Puerto Rico, club members said.

“At the end of the world, we’ll be ready,” said Peter Van Houten, a licensed operator since 2001.

Scattered thunderstorms that began Saturday afternoon affected the early hours of field day, said Gary Coriell, Brightleaf Club president, Weather can affect the ionosphere, especially lightning, which created a lot of extraneous noise as they scanned radio frequencies.

While most club members used radios, David Sourdis, a native of the South American nation of Colombia, operated a Morse code device.

“David is a world-class code operator,” said Doug Ferris. “He’s been instrumental in building DX (long distance) stations across the world.”

Learning Morse code was once mandatory for ham radio operators, Ferris said.

“Now that (operators) don’t have to learn it, it’s become more mystical,” he said, and people still learn it. 

Sourdis, who holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering, has designed and built short-wave antenna across the world.

Sourdis started playing with short-wave radios and antennas when he was nine years old.

“Contesting and antennas, they are my favor hobbies,” Sourdis said. “When everything fails, like cellular, radio, television, the internet, we can set up a station, an antenna and communicate anywhere in the world.”

Individuals interested in learning about ham radio operations can attend the club’s monthly meetings beginning at 7:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at VFW 7032, 1108 Mumford Road.

The FCC requires ham radio operators to be licensed. The club periodically administers the exam. Visit http://www.w4amc.com to learn more.

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