Rising 30 feet into the blue sky above the green grass of a former bullpen, a six-pronged antenna connected amateur radio operators inside an old farm shed to locales as far away as Hawaii and Alaska on Sunday.
Shaded from the hot June sun, almost two dozen members of two Long Island ham radio clubs reached out from Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve to other operators around the United States as part of a nationwide annual preparedness exercise called Field Day.
“We came out here Friday afternoon and in two hours set up four antenna systems,” Mel Granick, 69, a retired radio broadcaster from Syosset, said. “In an extreme emergency, just a couple of wires strung on poles or trees can establish long-distance communication without any infrastructure,” Granick added.
The Amateur Radio Relay League, a national ham radio organization based in Connecticut, has held the Field Day event annually since 1933, according to its website. For its 2018 Field Day, ARRL expected more than 40,000 temporary stations to be set up in North America to try to contact each other.
Members of two Long Island clubs, Radio Central Amateur Club and The Order of the Boiled Owls, spent 24 hours, from Saturday through Sunday afternoon, calling anyone out there, by voice and Morse code. The communications are short — the temporary stations identify their locations, call signs and number of antennas — and each gets recorded on a computer log that later will be uploaded to ARRL for analysis.
By midday Sunday, the two Long Island clubs had almost reached their goal of contacting 2,000 other stations, Granick said.
Ham radio operators have worked in the background during emergencies such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and big planned events like marathon races, to help bridge communications among first responders, Granick said. On Sunday, the group successfully ran its Morse code station from a battery charged by solar panels to demonstrate that they can continue broadcasting even when the power goes out.
Richard Fisher, 76, a retired aircraft maintenance worker from Lake Ronkonkoma, said he was drawn to the hobby because, “You get to meet people all over the world” and because of the potential of “helping people when you get called on an emergency.”
Fisher said he was once able to reach the International Space Station as it orbited above Earth. “It wasn’t a long conversation,” but he said he received a postcard to confirm the contact afterward.
Harvey Garrett, 62, a computer programmer from Port Jefferson, said he began using ham radios as a kid in the 1960s and recalled talking to Tom Christian — a descendant of famous mutineer Fletcher Christian — on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.
“This was the internet before the internet,” Garrett said.
Bill Lynch of Centereach, 71, a retired high school physics teacher, said, “You don’t know who you’re going to talk to; you turn on the radio to see who’s coming in.
“With the antenna and radio, I can talk worldwide if the conditions are right,” Lynch said.