All was quiet in the Ascension Amateur Radio Club’s trailer outside the Orice Roth Road Fire Station in Gonzales.
Periodically, the radio crackled, and the ghostly sound of faraway voices would ebb and flow through the speakers, issuing a message and call sign.
A licensed amateur radio operator would occasionally answer back with an acknowledgement of the message.
The exercise was part of the 24-hourlong American Radio Relay League’s annual Field Day competition, held simultaneously at hundreds of locations across the United States every year, and this year, was from 1 p.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We will have people here for that time period,” said club Vice President Al Taillon, who explained that the field day was a sort of annual test run of what is an excellent form of emergency backup communication in the event of a large-scale power outage.
“It’s sort of an annual test — a drill in the form of a contest,” he said.
The idea is to make contact with as many different ham radio operators as possible over the course the 24-hour period, he said.
The AARC’s trailer, fully equipped with a generator and all the gear necessary to operate a station, was built by club members, and paid for by grants from the Office of Emergency Preparedness. It was deployed Saturday in the same way it would be for an emergency, club President John LeBlanc said.
Mobility is handy, he said, because though ham operators in the affected area would be able to communicate, he said, they would also be dealing with the affects of the disaster on their own homes and families.
“This allows us to go into affected areas and help,” he said.
But there was one sobering moment in an otherwise fun day of fellowship among the amateur radio friends.
Greg Babin, longtime member who had earned the highest certification for an operator, didn’t show up to the first meeting Saturday afternoon.
“We figured something was wrong, he loved it so much,” Taillon said.
They found out later that day that Babin had died.
“They found him sitting at his radio, with it still on,” he said.
According to the club’s website, www.k5arc.org, Babin “was an instrumental part of the Ascension Amateur Radio Club, whenever there was a need for someone to call a net, Greg was available and did so without hesitation. He was always willing to share his knowledge with others and help someone with their setup in any way he could.”
“Any time the radio club had an event, Greg was there and always gave a hand in setup or teardown of equipment for the event,” the website states. “Greg was so dedicated to the Ascension Amateur Radio Club that we gave him Lifetime Membership Status with our club. Forever, Greg will be a member of our Ascension Amateur Radio Club Family. Hams from all over knew Greg and his familiar voice on the radio. We are blessed to have known Greg and to truly call him a friend and part of our radio family.”
The Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club is offering a certification class starting July 16, Brown said, which will meet on Thursdays at the Bluebonnet Branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and will meet weekly for 12 weeks. The final exam is on Oct. 1. Cost for the class is $15 per person.
For more information about the classes, visit the club’s website, www.brarc.org.
For more information about the ARRL, visit the organization’s website, http://www.arrl.org.