Lori Carey Photography

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


It might surprise you to learn that I am a ham radio operator, as in full-on geek! It started with getting my Technician license so I could use a dual-band radio out on the trail. CB radio just doesn't cut it in some of the areas I travel, more Jeep clubs are moving to ham radio, and I wanted to be able to call for help if I ran into trouble when traveling in a remote area. After getting licensed I became fascinated with the technology, and I'm an autodidact; I can't stop learning new things, and when I decide to learn something I'm driven to learn it to a certain level of competency. I decided to study for my General license, which would give me HF privileges, and I joined the local ham radio club.

Somewhere along the way I found myself "involved"; I got certified by the National Weather Service as a SkyWarn Weather Spotter, and then I became a VE (Volunteer Examiner), which allows me to be a part of the team that administers licensing exams. Then it was just natural to go all the way while the information was still fresh in my head and prepare for my Extra exam. I haven't sat for it yet, but I plan on taking the exam in the month or so. I now know more electrical engineering, circuitry and antenna theory than I ever thought possible, as well as some pretty cool stuff like space weather.

Many people think only grumpy old men enjoy ham radio, but the South Orange Amateur Radio Association has nearly 250 members of all ages and about half of them are younger than I am! It's a great group of people and they are very helpful to new comers.

Setting up a tower for ARRL Field Day with SOARA
Every year the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) hosts Field Day at the end of June. Amateur radio operators across the country make contacts for a 24 hour period under simulated emergency conditions. It's part practice to keep up with skills, and part demonstration to the community how amateur radio is used to provide communications when the grid is down. Of course since I live in earthquake and wildfire country, this event got my interest on many levels, and since I spend so much time off the grid I knew I would learn skills that I might need in the future.

Setting up the tower for SOARA's ARRL Field Day

We set up operations at Gilleran Park in Mission Viejo, California. We were allowed to take 3 hours on Friday for set up, and the time was used to set up our portable towers and communications tent.
Entry classes are determined for the event by how many radios are used and their source of power. We were 3A, which meant we would have 3 radios operational for the duration of the event. One was dedicated to voice contacts, one was dedicated to CW (Morse Code), and the third was for whichever the operator preferred.

Field Day comms tent at night

We took turns in shifts working the radios and assisting with logging. We also had a GOTA, or Get On the Air station, for newly licensed operators and members of the public to make radio contacts under the supervision of a mentor.

Mission Viejo RACES was there demonstrating their radio technology, including television and mesh networks. They also had a table of emergency preparedness information for the community. We had a food tent to keep people fed throughout the 24 hour event. We had an educational session led by MV RACES, and we held an exam session for 20 people, including a 12 year old girl who passed her Extra exam!


The turnout was fantastic. I have seen so many clubs complain about how few members show up for Field Day but we had over 100 people participate, a real testament to how well SOARA is run. It got a little hectic for me trying to work the event, attend the test session, and take photos. I was glad for some down time when most people left for the night and only a few of us stayed to work the overnight shift. I put the camera down and got to spend some time on the radio. And then our comms tent started flooding around 2:30am. The park forgot to turn off the sprinkler system for the night and we had to shut everything down while locating the sprinkler controls and turning them off. We had close to an inch of water on the concrete slab where our tent was located by the time we managed to get all of the sprinklers turned off. Water and electricity is not a good combination! There is no better way to practice operating under emergency conditions than to handle a real situation. We found a broom in someone's motorhome and swept out most of the water, set up the big fans to dry it out, and dried off all of the equipment. We were back up and running in an hour and half, not bad considering. I laid my head on a table to close my eyes for "just a minute" and was out cold until 5:30am.

I was absolutely exhausted the next day but I had such a great time with good people that I wish Field Day took place more than once a year.

SOARA Field Day

Wish me luck on my Extra exam, I'm hoping my head doesn't explode from trying to memorize the mathematical calculations!! I'm ready to be done with it and put the studying behind me so I can concentrate on the learning.

Many more photos of SOARA's ARRL Field Day in this gallery.

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