Granite Geek: Ham radio remains surprisingly relevant, as Field Day will attest

Runners loom out of the cold fog on the annual Road Race Day, running up the Mount Washington Auto Road. A dozen amateur-radio operators were on hand to provide emergency communication amid the region’s many cell-phone dead spots on June 15.

Runners loom out of the cold fog on the annual Road Race Day, running up the Mount Washington Auto Road. A dozen amateur-radio operators were on hand to provide emergency communication amid the region’s many cell-phone dead spots on June 15. NH ARES / Courtesy

Published: 06-17-2024 1:26 PM

Modified: 06-17-2024 3:00 PM


It says something about amateur radio that despite its high-tech trappings – they can bounce signals off the moon, chit-chat with the International Space Station, and have to keep track of solar storms – one of the tools used in the field is a rock tied on a string.

You toss the rock over the highest tree branch around and use the string to haul a wire up into the tree. Hey, presto, you’ve got an antenna. Hook the wire to your radio and the radio to just about any battery, and you’ll be transmitting while your cell phone is still trying to find a signal.

I don’t think there will be many rocks on strings this weekend as radio fans around the state transmit and demonstrate their equipment to the public as part of the annual Field Day, but the general idea will definitely be present.

“When all else fails, there’s amateur radio,” said Raul “Skip” Carejo of Ashland, giving what might be considered the community’s official slogan.

Amateur radio has been around much longer than professional radio – the first book listing amateur radio operators came out in 1909, more than a decade before the first AM station – but robustness has kept it relevant even in the era of satellites and mobile phones and the internet.

“If there’s a storm, a hurricane, and cell phone systems go down we provide a backup,” said Carejo, who serves various roles for the state’s amateur radio community.

New Hampshire’s State Emergency Center has amateur radio equipment on hand and the Division of Emergency Services and Communications has established a process for volunteers to be used for emergency communications. Amateur radio is also part of FEMA’s national emergency preparedness guidelines.

That’s why a dozen radio operators were stationed along the Mount Washington Auto Road on Saturday during the annual Road Race, helping emergency services stay connected as 1,400 people ran up the mountain straight into the region’s infamous wind chill and low visibility.

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“We were there to keep our eyes open for any runners having physical difficulties, medical issues,” said Carejo.

This could have been done with cell phones, of course, but you can’t count on having a good signal on Mount Washington. That’s why the radio operators will be back for the August bike race up the mountain.

This weekend’s Field Day is a national event. Something like 40,000 operators throughout North America will set up temporary transmitting stations in public and connect with other operators for hours or even days. This is partly a training exercise at making connections in case of a widespread emergency – the goal is to “contact as many stations as possible on the 160-, 80-, 40-, 20-,15- and 10-meter HF bands, as well as all bands 50 MHz and above, and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions” – and partly a public-relations event, since everybody is invited to watch or even join in.

At least six regional clubs will be holding field events, including The Contoocook Valley Radio Club which will be setting up at 49 Corbin Road in Henniker, starting Saturday afternoon.

Check it out – but don’t bother to bring a rock. They’ll have their own antenna.