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Yellowstone Radio Club camps out at ZooMontana to connect with radio users across the world

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Posted at 8:34 AM, Jun 24, 2024

BILLINGS — Members of the Yellowstone Radio Club gathered at ZooMontana, 2100 Shiloh Rd, from noon Saturday to noon Sunday to participate in Field Day and help promote the importance of radio to others. Field Day is an annual event where people worldwide communicate with each other for 24 hours through ham radio.

Ham radio, or amateur radio, uses radio waves to send messages.

"Basically, we're going to send a signal through the air. It's going to bounce off of certain parts of the atmosphere and come back down. And we'll talk to someone on the other end," said John McCabe, the president of the club.

John McCabe
John McCabe is the president of the Yellowstone Radio Club and became interested in radio as a way to remember his father by. He now wants to pass the hobby down to his grandson one day.

The group had many stations set up for different types of ways to communicate with radio, like through digital, phone, or Morse code. Anyone was welcome to join and learn about the radios. Field Day is a national event, so groups received points based on how many radio contacts they could make with others.

"The more stations you talk to on the air, the more points you get and the bragging rights you get for beating all the other clubs in the state of Montana. So that's always fun," joked Ron Glass, a member of the club communicating through digital radio.

The group also emphasized the importance of radio in times of disasters when cell towers could be unavailable and reliable communication is needed.

"The object is to go out into the field on emergency power in adverse conditions and operate the radios," said Glass. "It gives us good practice for emergencies that we do get called out for each year to help out with the city, the county, for service type stuff."

Ron Glass
Ron Glass explains how he communicates with others across the globe using a digital radio, which works by exchanging signal reports that contain information, like their location.

The technology might seem old-fashioned but is actually more complicated than one might expect.

"This is basically chat over radio. So instead of using the internet or using Wi-Fi or your cell phone, we're chatting. And I'm sending CQ, which says I'm calling anybody I want to talk to," explained Glass. "And just now I get a call coming in from N1MG. He's over in Minnesota. I can tell by the grid call that he's from. And so his computer talks to my computer, and they exchange signal reports. And once all the information has been perfectly exchanged, then it adds it to the logbook, and I get two points for that contact."

Each person was controlling a different station. Each symbol on their screens or beeps in the air had a message. Once the clock hit noon, signals began going like crazy from radios all over the world. Within a few short minutes, the digital group had made contacts all over the United States and even across the globe, including countries like Hungary and Spain, and those working in Morse code were able to make ten contacts within the first 30 minutes.

"They're doing the same thing, but it's in Morse code. So we get more points if we do it in Morse code than if we do it on voice because not as many people do the Morse code anymore," explained Keith Regli, a member of the club.

Keith Regli
Keith Regli explains how this UrbanBean antenna works, which helped to give signals for the Morse code station.

Each member of the group had a different background or reason for getting into amateur radio. For McCabe, it was a reason to connect with his father.

"The radio, to me, I needed something that I could remember my father from. Now, his call sign, K79KC, he got that in somewhere around 1948. And he passed away a few years ago, but before he did, I studied like crazy and got my license," said McCabe. "So I am the second person to be authorized to use K79KC on the airways."

As the day became an eventful 24 hours, it was not only about getting as many contacts as possible, but about making connections that can be made with those across the globe sharing a similar interest.

“You make friends out there. And you don't even know the person. And you'll never see them the rest of your life. You'll never see them at all. Your whole lifetime, you don't know who they are. But you know the call sign. You know what the guy does. You know what they did for vacation last year. It's just that kind of a thing,” said McCabe.