“Whiskey, Five, Echo, X-Ray, India. GOTA Station Field Day in Lafayette, Louisiana. W5EXI, CQ, CQ.”
Jess Gillion repeatedly called out the alphabet soup of words and acronyms over the short-wave radio airwaves as he manned the “Get On The Air” — GOTA — station in a field at Moncus Park at the Horse Farm on Saturday.
The Acadiana Amateur Radio Association set up its mobile headquarters there for the annual American Radio Relay League’s Field Day and Gillon was demonstrating amateur radio operation to members of the public as part of the event.
Because it is illegal for an operator to use radio frequencies without a Federal Communications Commission license, an operator like him, who has one, had to be at the station at all times.
“Field Day is open to the public to learn about ham radio operation, but it’s also a contest for clubs all over America,” said Herman Campbell, the Acadiana Amateur Radio Association’s public information officer. “Every time we make contact with another operator, we get points. One point for a voice connection, two for Morse code, two for digital. We also get more points for new states and countries that we connect to.”
To commemorate the event, Gov. John Bel Edwards named June 20-26 Amateur Radio Week and June 25-26 Amateur Radio Field Day. Many of the amateur radio operators in attendance joked that it “must be a slow week,” but Campbell said he appreciated the gesture and thanked the park administration for allowing them to use the space.
A major part of the competition is that all the radios and towers had to be run with no access to the power grid. All the equipment set up in the park was powered by solar panels, car batteries or gasoline generators.
“The object of the competition is to test our … emergency preparedness in case of emergencies like Hurricane Katrina,” said Glenn Breaux as he and Danny Daigle teamed up to make contact with other ham, or amateur, radio operators from locations as far as New Hampshire, Colorado and Arizona.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, almost all usual forms of communications were disabled across the Gulf South. However, amateur radio operators answered that call, or “CQ” as they would say, and helped government officials coordinate rescue efforts and other essential services in the wake of the disaster.
“I can go back to other hurricanes where we were the only form of communication still up,” Breaux said. “Cell towers were down. Police communications were down. It was just us.”
Although the event’s main focus was the competition and emergency preparedness, education on the usefulness of ham radios in the modern age and fostering a sense of camaraderie among amateur local radio operators were important as well.
“Watching the new kids do it is my favorite part,” said Ray Arceneaux, a veteran ham radio operator with over 40 years of experience.
As to why amateur radio operators call their favorite pastime “ham radio,” the answer to that query may be lost to the ages.
“Amateur radio became ‘am,’ then ham, “Campbell said. “That’s how it happened. No one really knows why it came about. There are probably three or four different stories as to why, but that’s how I heard it.”
The results of the contest will be published in American Radio Relay League’s magazine, “QST,” and Campbell urged the public to come by and experience the event for themselves.
“We’ve got licensed operators to let people try it out themselves under proper supervision,” Campbell said. “You can just come over and watch or see if you can make contact with other operators.”
The event runs from 1 p.m. Saturday until 1 p.m. Sunday.