FAIRMONT — Thirteen-year-old Michael Brickey has vivid memories of descending the stairs to watch his grandfather work his ham radio equipment.
“I remember, I was 6 or 7, and I walked downstairs. That’s probably one of the first memories I have of that house, is him doing radio. That kind of shows how much he does it,” Michael said.
Michael, who lives in Grayson, Ky., has become a student of ham radio under the tutelage of his grandfather, Tom Weaver, of Ashland, Ky.
“I intend to get my license sometime this year, so it’s good practice,” Michael said.
Last weekend, Weaver and Michael, headed to Fairmont from the Bluegrass State where they took part in Annual Field Day Exercises sponsored by the Fairmont-based Mountaineer Amateur Radio Association in concert with the American Radio Relay League. About 24 ham operators camped out from Friday through Sunday on a 1.5-acre tract on a hill off East Grafton Road and Williams Crossroads Way for the event.
“I’ve been operating with these guys since 1977,” Weaver said. “It’s a multi-faceted weekend.”
It’s a fun event in which ham radio operators throughout the US and Canada try to see how many long-distance contacts they can make with other hams from 2 pm Saturday to 2 pm Sunday Eastern Time during the last weekend in June.
The event also serves as a way to bring new member ham operators into the fold and help existing members brush up on their communications skills in the event they are called on to aid with a natural disaster or other catastrophe that involves emergency management.
“It tests our ability to prepare for emergencies, in the event we would need to mobilize and put together a station, if power was out or there was a catastrophe, we would be able to assist local emergency management authorities,” said MARA President Steve Wilson, of Fairmont.
Wilson became interested in ham radio when he was a freshman at East Fairmont High. While he was in high school, he met Weaver via ham radio, who was growing up in Buckhannon. The two became friends and continued working in ham radio while they attended West Virginia University.
“I started in 1970,” Wilson said. “I got my basic license then, it was called a novice license, and I’ve only missed a few years since the late 70s.”
This year’s goal was to make 800 contacts using Morse Code. One year, the club made just over 1,000 contacts.
“You can have fun and make as few (contacts) as you want or try to make as many as you want,” Wilson said.
Jason Roberts, 43, of Fairmont, took part in his first Field Day this year after obtaining his ham operator license in March. He got involved because he cannot remember a time when he was not fascinated by radio.
“Back when I was a kid, I loved picking up long distance stations — AM, shortwave, FM,” Roberts said. “I’ve just been fascinated by it ever since. There’s a magic to radio that just fascinates me. It never gets boring.”
Roberts tried his hand at communicating with other hams using the club’s new digital equipment. One laptop was setup on the left of a table hooked up to an analog transmitter. On the right of the table is a second laptop where Roberts logged in contacts he made into a special tracking software. He types in specific codes.
“CQ means we’re calling. FD means Field Day. W8SP is the club’s call sign,” Roberts said.
He receives acknowledgments from ham operators in Puerto Rico, Texas and eastern Washington state.
Wilson jokingly points out how Field Day is not a contest. Any prizes that are awarded are more like “atta-boy” awards than prizes, he said.
“It’s always a successful event,” Wilson said. “It’s not a contest.” We think of it as a contest sometimes, but the state of West Virginia gives out an award to the station that makes the most contacts.”
To learn more about MARA and ham radio, go to the club’s website at www.w8sp.org.