Ameteur radio operators on Saturday held their national field day at Babylon Town Hall park in Lindenhurst. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Lou Maggio, 75, of Islip Terrace turned a radio dial, adjusted his headset and enunciated into a microphone: “This is Whiskey Two Golf Sierra Bravo, operating from beautiful Babylon Town Hall.”

The radio signal bounced into the atmosphere, and moments later, a response. Maggio replied, “Thank you very much from western Mass. 73, have fun,” signing off with numbers that mean “best regards” among ham radio operators.

The transmission was one of hundreds made by licensed operators from the Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club during American Radio Relay League Field Day on Saturday afternoon. The 24-hour exercise allows operators to flex their skills, connect with other hobbyists and educate the public about the role they play during emergencies and natural disasters.

“We’re treating today like we’ve lost the grid,” said John Melfi, 58, of Babylon Village, president of the radio group. “If everything really disappeared, this is the only way to communicate with the rest of the world.”

Ham radios can provide critical communications if power, cell towers or wireless networks are disrupted. The group stepped up to provide communication support during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

More than a dozen members set up a command center in a trailer in the park next to Babylon Town Hall, with antennas towering into a hazy blue sky, a satellite ham radio station outside the trailer and another radio available for the public to try out. Inside the trailer, operators at three stations swapped call signals digitally, vocally and using Morse code, logging each into a computer without using the internet.

Though the trailer is solar-powered, a generator was used to keep operators cool with air conditioning as the heat index reached the mid-90s Saturday. The event was briefly interrupted by a pop-up thunderstorm.

The American Radio Relay League has held the Field Day event since 1933. Described as “ham radio’s open house,” the exercise includes more than 35,000 radio operators throughout the United States and Canada, according to their website.

Melfi said another aim of Field Day is to introduce the hobby to younger people. Visitors were encouraged to stop by and try the “get on the air” station, scanning the airwaves and trying to make contact with other amateurs.

The club’s 141 members range in age from 18 to 83, Melfi said. One of its newest members is 21-year-old Joseph Traverso, of North Babylon, who joined last year.

Traverso recently graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in mechanical engineering and got into ham radio through his interest in satellites. Eventually, he wants to pursue aerospace engineering.

He urges other young people to explore the hobby. “If you’re growing your STEM skills, that’s good for your career, and it can benefit your community,” he said. “It’s a good way to apply stuff I learned in the classroom in real life.”

One of Traverso’s goals is to make contact with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, which several members have accomplished.

That thrill is part of ham radio’s charm.

“There’s just something really cool about being able to talk around the world,” Maggio said. After about an hour, Maggio gave another operator a turn. He had logged 57 contacts, mostly with operators on the east coast from Virginia to Vermont, and some across the country in Utah. 

Amateur radio enthusiasts will keep the airwaves busy as the nonstop Field Day continues Sunday through 2 p.m. To learn more about ham radio or register for a class, visit the Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club's website, gsbarc.org.

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