Megan (jehoshabeath) wrote,

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Field Day: Get on the Air

I was going to write one big post about Field Day - and I did write up a draft that was online for all of half an hour - but I think it will be more fun to split up the eventful moments of this past weekend into shorter entries over the next few days. That way I won't be spamming everyone's friend list pages with one or two very long-winded entries and I can get into the fun details of the various events. Wait...this became a long post! Well, I will put half of it behind the cut for you all.

It only makes sense to begin with the most basic activity of Field Day for people like myself: making contacts on HF (High Frequency) from the GOTA station.

Our Field Day stations were set up inside U-Haul-type moving trucks. Wandering around inside a moving truck felt very familiar to me, since I just moved about three or four weeks ago. It was a comfortable and roomy space in which to work. The walls of the trucks offered shade from the hot sun and also protected us from the rain... There's more stories to come on that topic later!

Inside the trucks, we set up two tables, some chairs, and a nice arrangement of equipment. First, there was the HF radio. We had it set to the 20 meter band to transmit our voice using Single-Sideband (SSB). SSB is kind of like a compressed form of AM (as opposed to FM). Then, we had a microphone that sat on the desk just in front of the rig. It was nice that we didn't have to hold it the whole time we wanted to talk because 24 hours is quite a while... There was also a big, black power supply that provided our radio with power, transforming regular ac current in dc current. Of course, the first thing that was put up and plugged into the power strip was the fan. That continued running (and kept us running) the whole weekend.

We also had a couple computers laying about. One was being used to log the contacts that we made. It brought up a notice if we already talked to a given station before, since talking to them more than once did not get us any points. Another computer was showing the log of the station next to us at our site, which was located in another truck. We GOTA operators were located at the Birch tree truck and the more experienced hams were next door at Oak. Using the computer log, Oak periodically checked to make sure we were still paying attention to the radio and making contacts...heehee. We finally had a third computer that was set up to record and stream some video of the day's activities as well as check the weather, which loomed rather ominously and sprinkled showers on us from time to time. Toss some water bottles, copies of the band plan, straight keys, a light, and paper & pens into the mix and our station was ready to get started.

There were usually three of us at the GOTA station at a given time. One person did the talking, another did the logging, and the third poked around at the video camera, talked to our furry canine friend, or explained to visitors what was going on. I did quite a bit of logging for a while, and eventually I also got on the air! Making a contact is not hard, but it does take a little bit of practice and guidance.

To start, we set the radio at the bottom of the voice portion of the band, the lowest frequency of that band on which we could transmit SSB. We were on 20 meters, so that means we tuned into 14.150.00 MHz. Then, we spun the VFO dial around, moving up through the frequencies, until we heard the sound of voices, at which point we carefully tuned into their frequency with the dial. I must say, there is an art to this simple act. Since a person can transmit on any frequency within the designations of the band, there is no given number that you can just tune into as you would with an FM/AM radio. You need to carefully adjust the VFO dial, looking around for voices and listening carefully when you stumble upon one. Coming in from one direction, their voice sounds a lot too low, and if you go too far and pass the frequency they are transmitting on, you hear their voice get higher pitched. Once you've found the frequency where their voice sounds "natural," then you've found the frequency they are working on. That is the first step to making a contact.

There are two types of people making contacts on Field Day. First are the people who tune up and down the band looking for contacts. Second, there are people who find an empty frequency and occupy it for a while. They say "CQ," which is an invitation for any station to call them. Then, other stations tuning through the band will stop and contact them before moving on to the next frequency. The person who is standing on that frequency and working the stations one after another has to have skill with dealing with the traffic. Often a bunch of people will all call in at one time and s/he has to listen carefully enough to distinguish as many as possible and then, one by one, ask them to call in with their info. When you are one of the crowd, like I was, you try your hardest to be the first to call after the guy says "CQ". Sometimes, he takes you right away and you exchange call signs, location, and station info. Other times, you have to wait and try again after the current exchange finishes. It's a very interesting and fun system. Even if you have to wait, you can hear all kinds of people from all kinds of places making contacts and sharing info.

Now, once I actually get the CQ-guy's attention, I can make a contact. This is the dialog we would exchange. Basically, we share our call sign (in standard phonetics), our station class code and our location code. We were MDC - Maryland DC.

KV3B: CQ Field Day. This is Kilo Victor Three Bravo.
me: Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa.
KV3B: W3EXP, your class and region please.
me: We are 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie.
KV3B: I copy you're 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie. We are 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie. QSL? (means "do you copy?")
me: QSL. (means "I copy that") Thanks!
KV3B: Thank you. Enjoy the contest!

This is the model contact. Normally, it did not go this smoothly. It gets hard when you can't hear the other station well or you get interrupted by other people. Since usually a lot of people call in at a single time to the guy calling CQ, it's easier to just say the unique part of your callsign - the last three letters. That way, they can pick up a piece and then call back a couple people later based on what they caught. Contacts of this sort usually went like this:

KV3B: CQ Field Day. This is Kilo Victor Three Bravo.
me: Echo X-Ray Papa.
KV3B: I think I heard an X-ray Papa station, come again
me: Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa.
KV3B: Echo X-ray Papa, I missed the first part of your call . Your call again and your class, please.
me: Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa, Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa. We are 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie. 2-Alpha MDC.
KV3B: Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa, I copy you're 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie. Please copy: we are 2-Alpha Mike Delta Charlie. QSL?
me: Yes, QSL, QSL. Thanks! (I wasn't supposed to say yes but I was excited)
KV3B: Thank you.

Sometimes I couldn't tell what they were asking, or if they wanted me to call at the end to say thanks, since they were very busy working contacts, but all the people I talked to were very friendly and patient. I was able to contact about ten people on the GOTA station, 9 with help and 1 when nobody was looking and I had the station to myself. (Oh, I was excited about that one too! Thank you Whiskey One Alpha Charlie Tango :D)

-K1RK - 2A EMA (Eastern Massachusetts)
-K4BT - 3A NFL (North Florida)
-K5EOK - 3A OK (Oklahoma)
-AA0A - 1D MO (Missouri)
-K1IR - 1D EMA
-VE2CRL - QC (Quebec, Canada)
-K4M - 2A NC (North Carolina)

So that is what it is like to GOTA on Field Day. Pretty fun stuff!

A special thanks to WN3R and KZ3F for teaching me how to set up a station and work some contacts! I couldn't (or wouldn't) have done it without their help! KZ3F would motion when to press the switch on the mike to talk and sometimes point to the words I was supposed to say if I lost track. Apparently, between his teaching and my learning, we made some nice contacts! The station on the far end of the site reported that the contacts sounded really nice. :) So, when can we do that again?

Tomorrow's topic: We switch modes from SSB (voice) to CW (code)!
Tags: field day
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