HULBERT, Oklahoma – A group of ham radio operators in Northeast Oklahoma showed last weekend that when all else fails, they’ll be able to communicate with others around the world.
The Vm Okla Nan Ola Amateur Radio Club, based in Hulbert, took part in the American Radio Relay League’s Field Day, a national amateur radio exercise. The group separated itself from any commercial power, relaying only on batteries and solar panels, to exchange information with other operators throughout the U.S. and world.
“We’re trying to show we’re an asset when all else fails,” Jeff Sharrock said. “We can communicate when there’s no cell phone towers, no commercial power, no internet; we still have the ability to help our area get information to and from people.”
The field day was 24 hours long, as thousands of hams from across the country established temporary stations to demonstrate skin and service, and the ability to work under any conditions from almost any location.
The club broke up into teams to man four transceivers to communicate with other operators. One group was on a 6-meter-band radio, which operates on a high frequency band. Sharrock said it’s not typically a long-distance frequency, because it requires bending radio waves on the high-frequency channels off of the ionosphere – part of the earth’s upper atmosphere – and back to Earth. The group tracks when the right conditions are to work certain places at certain times of the day, and uses propagation analysis to do it.
“We had a class about it earlier today on how to make a propagation analyst using the Voice of America’s program they made to broadcast into the country beyond the Iron Curtain during the Cold War,” Sharrock said. “So all that great math and studies to figure out how to use the ionosphere – the high-frequency spectrum – to bend radio waves back to Earth. That’s what we’re doing.”
Sharrock used old-school Morse code to connect with other operators. While a lot of them use computers to sent and decode messages, he did it by hand. He said it’s extremely effective because it relies on a very narrow bandwidth.
“They can usually hear me when I’m only using 5 watts of power – as much that would power a flashlight. I just worked with somebody in Ontario,” he said. “It wasn’t even a big deal. They could hear me really well.”
They also used binary phase-shift keying, and another station employed a digital mode developed by astrophysicist Joe Taylor, in which they’re able to bounce radio waves off of the moon. Each of the four stations the club operated had its advantages and disadvantages, but the club utilized them all simultaneously for 24 hours.
“We’re not going to shut down to two at 2 a.m. because we’re tired,” Sharrock said. “We’re going to have four going all the way to the end. There are a lot of people who use this more as just an outing, so they’ll barbecue and have fun during the day and then they’ll go home. Then you have others who are diehard and really want to push the limitations, and they’ll by out there at 2, 3 and 4 in the morning.”
When club connects with someone, whether the person be in Washington state or south Florida, they exchange the size and class of their clubs and their locations. That could be the end of the exchange, or they could go further into talking about weather conditions or things of that nature.
In April, the club set up outside of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum for a special field day and started talking with different people who called back in about American Indian Code Talkers. Sharrock said they’re proud to talk about the different tribes who were involved in World War I and World War II as code talkers to coordinate attacks and prevent German forces who were listening in on field phones from stealing information.
He said it was the Choctaws who were first utilized in WWI, and then later, Navajos and Comanches were used in WWII.
“It was another public service we could provide – a little bit of history to be proud of about your state and about these great American veterans,” he said. “At the time this was going on, the Choctaw – a lot of them didn’t have the right to vote. They didn’t have citizenship and their Native language was being suppressed by government-run schools, basically trying to assimilate them into American culture as they viewed it. So they didn’t want them to learn or to speak Choctaw, but yet that saved the day.”
Those interested in learning more about the ham radio club can contact Sherrock at email@example.com.