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Local ham radio group gathers to connect with others around the world
Ham Radio
The Sawnee Amateur Radio Association’s annual field day was held on Saturday and Sunday at the Cumming Fairgrounds. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Studio Forsyth: Local amateur radio operators hone their skills with annual two night event

By: Bradley Wiseman

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On Saturday morning in the camping area of the Cumming fairground, overnight campsites and radio equipment were unloaded en masse as local amateur, or ham, radio operators prepared for the next 24 hours.

The Sawnee Amateur Radio Association's annual field day was held on Saturday and Sunday, bringing together operators and their equipment for training and fellowship.

“Every year at this time, we get out in the field, set up some stations to learn something from each other, have some fun and practice for emergency operations when we might have to go out in the field,” said Jim Farmer, the group’s president.

Group member Tom McElroy attended the two-day event with his children, Jack and Audrey, who like all other operators have passed the necessary testing and requirements to earn an amateur radio operator’s license from the Federal Communications Commission.

“As opposed to professional radio operators, who get paid for their radio operations, we are amateurs as in amateur athletics for the Olympics: we’re good at it, but we don’t get money for it,” McElroy said.

Though members of the association meet monthly and have a weekly emergency drill on their radios, Farmer said the annual meeting provided something new.

“Of course, there’s the comradery and the friendship,” he said. “Every year, as many years as I’ve done this, I learn something new. I’ve already learned a few techniques this year, and we’re just getting started.”

McElroy described the process as radio transmissions coming from Earth, reaching satellites going “17,000 miles-per-hour, 400 miles up in the air” and being rebroadcasted to those signals in an area from “Central America to Newfoundland.”

That spread is important during natural disasters and other emergencies when the amateur radios can be the only way to broadcast information. McElroy said amateur radio operators were crucial in the moments immediately after the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 when heavy use brought down coverage for cell phones and police radios.

“When all else fails, the only thing that worked in Boston, the only thing that worked in 9/11, was ham radio,” he said. “The reason we are fail-proof is because we are the original social network where there is no web. We are spread out everywhere. There’s a lot of us; you can’t take us all out. We’re all self-contained, we’re all spread out and we’re all friends.”

For experienced operators or interested newcomers, more information is available at