The Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club and Highland Road Park Observatory teamed up on Saturday for the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day competition.
More than 1,000 radio clubs and stations across the United States and Canada set up their gear on Saturday to compete in the 24-hour hunt for as many connections as possible.
The Baton Rouge club set up five radio stations around the observatory’s ground floor, including a station for visitors. Each station was powered by marine batteries, as the competition is meant to be an exercise in emergency communication, and electricity usually is the first thing to go.
The goal of Field Day is to make as many contacts via their radios as possible, said Dana Browne, the club’s Field Day coordinator and a physics professor at LSU.
By 7:30 p.m., BRARC had made contacts in nearly all of the entities, or qualifying sections, of the U.S., and almost all in Canada, too.
“The competitive juices really start flowing at night,” said Browne. “People take this very seriously.”
He noted that two years ago, it was much easier to make contacts.
Browne, a professor of physics since 1987, explained that this has to do with many factors, but one of the main factors is the thickness of the ionosphere. The ionosphere, an outer layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, is able to reflect radio waves, and depending on the sun’s activity, it can vary in thickness. When the ionosphere is thicker, it is easier to bounce radio waves off, making it easier for “hams,” as amateur radio operators are called, to contact each other.
Browne likened the competition to going fishing or hunting.
“You have to know the conditions and what to look for,” he said.
The Baton Rouge club has more than 100 members, but only the most dedicated participated in the weekend competition.
David Assaf, 71, was one of them, and said he became interested in ham radio over 50 years ago.
This past January, he embarked on a journey to the Falkland, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands — the latter of which is completely uninhabited — for 48 days.
Assaf said many hams aspire to setting up radio stations in remote, uninhabited places.
With 13 other enthusiasts, Assaf set up radios and contacted more than 135,000 people and stations all over the world.
“Ham radio is the only thing I really do for myself,” he said.
He plans on doing another trip soon, but hopes it will be to somewhere warmer.
Brett Hebert, another member of the club, said that he, his wife and two children all participate in ham radio.
“It’s a good way to get the kids outdoors,” he said, “and it’s great to encourage their interest in both science and communications.”
Many club members emphasized the importance of radio, especially in emergency situations when things like telephones and the Internet are not accessible.
Dan Lott, a younger member of the club, added, “You can talk to someone across the world for less energy than it takes to light up your cell phone screen.”
The Highland Road Park Observatory, which provided sky viewings for the public during the competition, also will be open on July 4 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. to view the NASA spacecraft, Juno, begin its orbit of Jupiter.