MONROE, Maine — Over the past few years, the popularity and use of cell phones and Internet social networking sites have made instant communication with people halfway across the world easier than ever. But what if that technology fails?
On Saturday, the Waldo County Amateur Radio Association — a group of ham radio enthusiasts, or hams — held its annual field day.
The event provides an opportunity for hams to get together and talk shop, and served to simulate an emergency where phone lines and electricity go down.
Carol Inman, who hosted the event with her husband, Gary Daigle, at their house in Monroe, said getting people interested in ham radio is half of the purpose of the event.
Local groups belonging to the American Radio Relay League set up for the event all over the U.S. and made contact with as many different hams in Canada and the U.S. as possible. They collected points for each successful contact.
“We’re hoping to make quite a few contacts today,” Daigle said Saturday. “We’re not the extreme contesters like some of the clubs.”
In addition to making contacts, groups also “score competition points for being in a public location,” said Drew Northrup, a ham from Plymouth.
The field day was sponsored by the Waldo County Emergency Management Association, who lent the group a communications trailer to set up in.
“We work with the agency doing disaster drills,” Inman said. “They help support us, and we support them as well.”
In the event of a disaster in Waldo County, WCARA also steps in to help keep communications between essential services running, she said.
“We participated two years ago in a four-day drill and we had all these police and military communications folks, and we were the only ones who could effectively communicate with other agencies well and consistently. The other ones all interfered with each other,” she said.
Inman estimated there are around 4,000 ham radio operators in Maine.
“The governor’s a ham and I invite him every year,” she said, “but he hasn’t shown up yet.”
Although the group had thousands of dollars of equipment, getting into ham radio doesn’t have to be expensive: The license to operate from the Federal Communications Commission costs around $15, and entry-level handsets cost around $100.
Or, you could build your own.
John Butler of Belfast built a portable ham radio from a military ammunition box. It’s battery powered and has a small antenna that can reach halfway across the state.
But what do they talk about?
“Sometimes we talk about radios, sometimes we talk about work,” Northrup said.
“The weather a lot,” added Daigle.