What is Field Day?
Field Day is an exercise in Emergency Communications sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and held each year on the 4th full weekend of June. It is an opportunity for hams to practice their preparedness to provide emergency communications if the need should arise. And in many cases that translates into setting up temporary amateur radio stations – transceivers and antennas, and shelter for radio operators – literally in a field.
Field Day is also a contest. Points are awarded for the number of on-the-air contacts made, and bonus points are given for achieving certain objectives.
Field Day officially begins at 14:00 (2:00 PM) Friday afternoon, 24 hours prior to the actual “on air” portion of the exercise, which begins at 14:00 Saturday and runs for 24 hours, ending at 14:00 Sunday. All equipment must be put together in the 24-hour setup period.
How W2CRA does Field Day
As mentioned in our “About Cherryville” page, the club is associated with Hunterdon County’s Office of Emergency Management. As a result, for many years the club ran Field Day at the County Complex located on Route 12 just west of Flemington. However, as was done last year, Field Day 2018, will be run at the Riegel Ridge Community Center in Milford.
Participating in Field Day is an important tradition for CRA. It’s a total club effort and all members, regardless of experience or license class, are strongly encouraged to participate. And though we try to earn a lot of points, nowadays our orientation is more toward getting many operators participating rather than focusing on the “contest” aspect of Field Day. We’re out to have fun operating and relishing the experience.
Not many years ago we were in it to win, and we used to set up an elaborate operation. These days, though, we keep our setup fairly simple. Instead of putting up towers with beam antennas, we now string wire antennas and set up a couple of other “non-tower” antennas. Even so, Field Day is the most labor intensive activity that CRA participates in all year—but it’s also the most enjoyable.
At about 5:00 PM on the last Friday in June, we unload all needed supplies from our trailer at the Route 12 Hunterdon County Complex and put the supplies into members’ pickup trucks. (The trailer is unloaded by experienced club members mentoring new members or people who have never worked on a Field Day operation before.) Once the pickups arrive at the Riegel Ridge site, the supplies are unloaded from the pickups, and a number of tents are erected, including one where the main tranceivers will be set up, and one which will serve as the mess hall. Getting these tents in place provides the critical shade needed in late June in New Jersey. Bottled water and soft-drinks are stashed in coolers full of ice, and the work continues.
Work resumes Saturday morning. All of the antennas are set up and connected, all of the operating stations are put together. Laptop computers are booted up and the logging software is tested; the generator is fired up and all stations are tested on generator power. Somehow, by 14:00, it’s all ready to go. The hustle and bustle gives way to a quiet intensity, with a mixture of voices calling “CQ Field Day, CQ Field Day, this is Whiskey Two Charlie Romeo Alpha, Whiskey Two Charlie Romeo Alpha calling CQ Field Day” blending with soft but insistent morse code sending the same message. Those not operating may help with logging or just watch the action at the various stations or drift over to the the mess hall to socialize.
A few die-hards tough it out all night. Coffee and a variety of late-night munchies help keep people satisfied and awake.
Throughout Sunday morning fresh operators take over from the over-nighters. Breakfast and lunch are enjoyed by those on hand. As 14:00 approaches, additional club members begin gathering ~ a sight that is truly appreciated by those who have been working on little sleep for 36 hours or more. After a short break after the end of on-air operating, the tear-down work begins. Everything that was put together the previous two days has to be taken apart and stored in the trailer, and the field reverts back to just an open field. Another Field Day is over.