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‘Hopping and popping' on radio in Live Oak
Microphones in hand, fingers at the radio dial, the amateur radio operators reached out into the atmosphere in hopes of finding someone on the other end.
"I made contact," shouted Lee Sheffield, of Sutter, after reaching someone in Los Angeles.
About a dozen members of the Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Club joined radio hams around the world on Saturday for the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day. The 24-hour contest that runs into today aims to make contact with as many other stations as possible, with an underlying motive of practicing the emergency response communication amateur radio operators may be called upon to use in a disaster.
"Things are really hopping and popping," said Lonnie Moore, president of the Yuba-Sutter club, around 5 p.m., six hours after the field day began. "We'll just continue to have fun like this."
By that time, members of the Yuba-Sutter group had already made contact with more than 100 operators including some in New York, Louisiana and Tennessee. Sometimes they exchanged only details of their location, stations and power supply but on other occasions they took time for a chat, whether about the weather or passions for equipment.
Nestled in a Live Oak walnut orchard, they touched base with residents of Roswell, N.M., who cleverly named their amateur radio club KNUFO in honor of the area's flying saucer lore, and made contact with other operators as far as British Colombia, Hawaii and Florida. And around 6 p.m., the Yuba-Sutter group listened to an Alaska couple say their "I do's" on handheld radios for the world to hear.
Tapping into high frequencies and very high frequencies, the field day showcases amateur radio at its best, members said. The portable mode of communication needs little other than a battery pack, transmitter and receiver to communicate thousands of miles away.
"When everything else fails, amateur radio gets through," said Yuba City resident Ron Murdoch, section monitor for the Sacramento Valley.
Also known as "hams," radio operators operate under a code of conduct and exist for goodwill and technical expertise in times of need. They've aided in disas
ters such as tornadoes in Joplin, Mo,, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, and also helped during local floods and fires.
It was during such a disaster that piqued Meg Burgin's interest in amateur radio in 2008.
As a volunteer with Yuba-Sutter Domestic Animal Disaster Assistance during devastating fires in Butte County, she marveled to see hams work to pinpoint locations of pets and livestock and to facilitate rescue.
She soon obtained her ticket to be an operator, and though she mostly listens, she occasionally tries to see how far away she can find someone to talk to. It helps her skills stay sharp, she said.
"I want to be there in case of an emergency," she said.
Burgin also hosts club meetings and annual field days for the Yuba-Sutter Club, which has 80 members from all corners of the two counties and beyond — one as young as 11 years old.
Plumas Lake resident Chris Price was the youngest member participating Saturday. The 18-year-old began in amateur radio at East Nicolaus High School for his senior community service project.
"Really, I like technology and talking," he said.
He's chatted with people as far as the Midwest, but most are local conversations as he puts out calls for contact from the radio setup in his bedroom.
"There's a freedom where you can build something like an antennae and you can meet people around the world," he said. "If you like getting satisfaction, ham radio is the way to go."
On Saturday, he was hoping to learn more about the hobby from some of the old-timers, like Herb Puckett.
The 84-year-old Yuba City resident secured his first ticket to operate in 1949 and still converses with other hams by Morse code, a requirement that has long been eliminated. His fascination with radios started before he was school-age, when he dismantled a car radio and he's been hooked ever since.
A few days a week, he'll turn on the radio and start listening, engaging with people if he's inclined.
"What do we talk about? Everything but politics, religion and choice of women," he said.
Puckett has made contact with 68 countries, a drop in the bucket for many amateurs, he said, but he's after quality, not quantity.
"I've probably talked to hundreds of people I'll never see," he said. "But I know what they sound like. All they have to do is get on and clear their throat."
As the operators sat at folding tables Saturday, smiling as they reached someone in a new state, Moore walked around to ensure everyone had a chance on air.
"It's more exciting to me that new people get to pick up a microphone and do something with it," he said "It's a lot like jumping out of a plane with a parachute. On the way up you are kind of having all kinds of second thoughts, and once someone kicks you out screaming, it's like, 'This is fun.'"
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.