When all else fails, amateur radio works.
That’s the motto for thousands of radio enthusiasts the world over and a pocket of diehard volunteers right here in Forsyth County.
Dozens gathered last weekend at the Cumming Fairgrounds RV park for an event that brought “hams” from several organizations out to hone their craft and chaperone the curious around the airwaves.
Amateur Radio Week is huge for local groups like Forsyth County Amateur Radio Emergency Service and the Community Emergency Response Team. The seven-day stretch culminates with field day.
Temperatures soared that day -- a marathon from noon that Saturday to noon Sunday -- yet these folks weathered the conditions with excitement.
Storm clouds loomed in the distance, but the volunteers had basic shelter.
They spread out across several acres and confined themselves to individual RVs, trailers and tents with stacks of electronic equipment.
Some were lucky enough to have air conditioning, but most did not.
Forsyth County radio man John Manton, who’s kept me abreast of the goings-on within these groups, greeted me Saturday afternoon as I drove up.
Rising up from his folding chair, he waved from the shade of his tent, ambling over. His cheeks were sunburnt, but he sported the biggest smile. It was clear this man was in his element.
As we walked together toward one of the first communication stations, Manton explained the importance of field day.
He said it gives radio operators a chance to demonstrate the ins and outs to interested attendees. More importantly, though, it’s a practical way to test their equipment and abilities.
Being prepared to snap to action in emergencies is a big part of this lifestyle.
Amateur radio volunteers provide a service to the community by helping the National Weather Service spot storms and communicating during a crisis.
In each booth Saturday, volunteers manned their stations, establishing links with other radio operators around the world. They passed information via Morse code, keyboard and their own voices.
To make things interesting, radio operators play a game on field day.
The idea is to make as many contacts, or links, with other hams as they can. It’s a nationwide competition, and Forsyth ARES has done well in years past.
Some were faring well in the contest by mid-afternoon, while others were having issues. Frequencies became jammed by the many radio operators on the airwaves during field day, which made the going tough.
Volunteers kept a running tally of collected contacts. When a contact was made, you’d see a ham grin real big, or nod his head, tapping the table with his fingers.
Poster boards taped up at each calling station boasted last year’s record.
Some volunteers spoke with certainty of topping those numbers, while others shook their heads in doubt as they pressed buttons, pecked at keyboards and spoke into microphones.
Storm clouds rolled in swiftly. A spatter of rain hit my neck and I made a break for my car, telling Manton I’d be back to finish the tour.
He nodded, heading toward his booth. “We’ll be here all night,” he said. “We’ve got work to do."