Wilton 'hams' invite public to field day

On Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, the Greater Norwalk Amateur Radio Club will take part in a nationwide field day event sponsored by The National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL). The public is invited to join the club at Veterans Park in Norwalk, says Wilton resident and business owner Paul Lourd.

Mr. Lourd is one of two Wilton “hams” (licensed amateur radio operators) who will be taking part in the field day, which he says is a multifaceted event. His call sign is WB2-JVB. The other participant is Ed Ashway, call sign K3EIN.

First of all, he says field day is a way for hams to practice emergency communications.

“It’s a preparedness drill,” Mr. Lourd said. “In the past, hams have been able to provide communications during things like natural disasters. Though that has become less common — because people have access to more robust communications equipment like cell phones — it allows us to practice setting up a broadcasting station with minimal facilities for emergency communication.”

Field day is also one of many contests the ARRL sponsors throughout the year. In this case, the event is a contest to see how many station groups clubs can contact over a 24-hour period. They also gain points for hosting public officials, and getting media attention.

Lastly, Mr. Lourd said, field day is about “having fun and getting people interested in amateur radio.” Which is why the members of the community are encouraged to attend, he added.

Mr. Lourd said those interested in emergency communication, and those who have a knack for hands-on creation, would especially enjoy amateur radio.

“A lot of people who are involved have some technical interest in how things work” in general, he said. “It’s fascinating to talk to someone around the world without the Internet, without a phone line.”

If you like building things, he said, you learn a lot about electronics as a ham.

“You get to do everything yourself. There is something satisfying in being able to do that,” he said.

At this particular event, there will be a special station where anyone may transmit a message with the help of a licensed ham.

Mr. Lourd started his ham career as a college student in the late 1970s, but didn’t get a high-level license until 2011. Up to that point, he used a car-based ham radio to communicate with people up to 50 miles away.

“Unlike CB, amateur radio is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and you do have to take a test and get a license before you can use a ham radio,” he said.

There are three levels of licensing, and each step up allows to you to communicate on more frequencies, and across larger distances.

Licensing tests are given every quarter in Stamford, and cover three major aspects of amateur radio.

“The tests cover the rules and regulations of ham radio,” Mr. Lourd said, “like which frequencies to use, and what’s the proper way to do things on the air. They also include electrical theory  as well as information about radio waves, and how to build an antenna.”

Though it may seem like a lot of  information, Mr. Lourd says if you are at all mathematically inclined, it’s not hard to learn.

Mr. Lourd’s Norwalk group regularly hosts Boy Scout troops, and other youth groups at events like this in order to encourage participation in the worldwide amateur radio. Youth engagement is especially important because the popularity of the Internet caused a decline in the number of hams operating in the United States.

“The hobby took a dive when the Internet got popular,” Mr. Lourd said, “which was taking the attention of young people who wanted to learn about programming. But there’s been a resurgence of people in the United States. Right now, there are over 700,000 licenses in the U.S.”

He also said ham radio is an “old-school” style of social networking.

“You meet all kinds of interesting people locally,” he said. “Doctors, lawyers, firemen, and others. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s really old school social networking. One guy even helped my daughter find a job!”

Anyone interested in attending the event is can visit field day at Veterans Park in the late afternoon on Saturday, or midday Sunday. The event begins at 2 on the 22nd, and ends at 2 on the 23rd. When you arrive, ask for Mr. Lourd.