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Skyview Radio Society has 'field day' making new ham radio friends

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Amateur radio operators Joe Johnson, left, 12, and his twin brother James, of Washington Township work the ham radios at Skyview Radio Society in Upper Burrell on Sunday, June 29, 2014, during the American Radio Relay League's annual Field Day that encourages 'hams' to contact each other throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Skyview Radio Society radio officer Bob Bastone from East Deer contacts other ham radio operators across North America while participating in the American Radio Relay League's annual Field Day at Skyview's headquarters in Upper Burrell on Sunday, June 29, 2014.

The Skyview Radio Society “hams” could have repurposed Bruce Springsteen's “Radio Nowhere” as the theme song for their weekend Field Day event.

As the amateur radio operators tried to contact their peers across North America on Saturday and Sunday, they continuously sent the message “CQ Field Day,” or “calling all Field Day participants.” It was the equivalent of Springsteen's refrain, “Is there anybody alive out there?”

Luckily for the Upper Burrell club members, there were plenty of people out there — with three hours to go in the two-day event, they had made about 1,400 contacts with fellow hams in the United States and Canada.

“It is the most popular operating event of the year,” said Bob Bastone of East Deer.

The American Radio Relay League sponsors the event, which encourages as many amateur radio operators as possible to get on the air and practice their skills. The organization estimates 35,000 hams participate.

Bastone and Dan Rabinovitz of Murrysville, another Skyview member, said hams also are encouraged to use temporary radio setups that help mimic emergency situations. When cellular and other forms of communication fail, amateur radios still can work and have been used in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's Auxiliary Communications Service participated in the event in Harrisburg and invited the public to observe their capabilities. The agency reports there are about 25,500 licensed hams in the state.

Bastone said he and other club members often man stations at events such as the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Pittsburgh Great Race. They are able to keep volunteers and medics in contact and alert to possible problems or injuries.

Skyview members worked a variety of radio setups for Field Day. Some used traditional voice radios; some used Morse code; and others ran their radio through a computer and communicated digitally.

Depending on the time of day, atmospheric conditions and available antennas, hams can contact people throughout the world and even reach astronauts in space.

Rabinovitz said afternoon conditions often enable him to send a signal over the North Pole and connect with hams in Scandinavia and Europe.

James Johnson, 12, of Washington Township said his farthest contact from his home radio was Australia. On Sunday, he spoke to people in Canada.

James and his identical twin brother, Joe, are among Skyview's newest members. When their father, Todd Johnson, decided to get back into the hobby late last year, the boys took an interest.

“I like talking to people across the world,” James said.

All three in recent months passed the test on basic ham radio operations that allowed them to get the license required by the Federal Communications Commission to operate on the amateur radio frequencies.

Rabinovitz said Skyview administers tests for basic and more advanced radio operation licenses about every other month; the next testing day is Aug. 16.

Todd Johnson said he's impressed with how encouraging club members have been, especially with his kids.

“It's a dying hobby, and we need young people in it,” he said. “These guys really welcomed us.”

Rabinovitz, who brought his grandson, Ryan Lloyd, 11, to Field Day to expose him to amateur radios, said the hobby is a natural fit for people who like tinkering or are interested in technology.

“Look where the world is going now. Everybody has one of these,” he said, pulling a cellphone from his pocket. “Of course, for this, people pay $100 per month. I can talk to people all over the world for free on the radio.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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