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HAM radio club competes in Field Day event

Locals simulate emergency conditions to practice creating communication networks

Posted: June 27, 2009 8:47 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2009 4:30 a.m.

HAM operator Chan Shaw, 78, who got his license in 1939, tunes in an Oregon station at the annual Field Day Amateur Radio event held at Castaic Lake Water Treatment Plant Patio and Gardens on Saturday afternoon.

They step in and help emergency officials and relief organizations when disaster strikes.

They get the message out when all other systems fail.

They are the “first of the first responders” in times of great need.

They are the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club. But they call themselves HAMS.

The club joined hundreds of other amateur radio clubs across the country and in Canada on Saturday, observing the annual event called Field Day.

Field Day is a competition sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and is open to all U.S. and Canadian amateurs.

Each amateur radio group finds a location where there normally is no communication capability.

Their job is to create one.

This year, the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club held its Field Day at the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant, just above Central Park in Saugus.

Once communication has been established, the competition begins. The club contacts as many stations as possible during a 24-hour operating period, logging their contacts as they go.

Field Day went “on-the-air” at 11 a.m. Saturday and will continue until 11 a.m. today.

The event is designed to test operators’ skills in setting up and operating radio communication equipment in situations where electrical power is limited or unavailable.

The idea is to simulate the conditions that can occur during earthquakes, tornados or other emergencies, including man-made disasters.

HAM radio operators in the Silicon Valley recently offered their services when a couple of vandals cut an AT&T fiber-optic cable in San Jose, crippling telecommunications across much of the valley.

The vandalism disrupted 911 emergency service communication, all land phone lines, cell phones, and some bank cash machines.

“HAM radio did the communicating during that 24-or-so-hour period,” said Mike Van Norman of Saugus.

“It’s a public service,” said Todd Hitzeroth, president of the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club. “(HAM radio) is an emergency communications tool that covers everything. We don’t rely on any specific entity.”

The Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club serves the Santa Clarita Valley in a variety of events — both planned and unplanned.

Its next planned event is the Fourth of July parade.

“We are plotted at different points” in the parade route, said Steve Hoebink of Castaic. “We are there to provide communication support along the parade route.”

HAM radios are powered by a portable generator, said Don DeGregori of Mission Hills.

Some amateurs also operate using solar power devices or a car battery to run their equipment, DeGregori said.

DeGregori’s interest in radio was sparked when he was a child living in West Los Angeles.

As a 13-year-old boy, he and his friends passed an open garage with a lot of noise and static coming from it.

“I remember approaching the garage and asking, “What’s with all the noise, man?’” DeGregori said.

The radio operator invited the boys in and explained to him the different radios he had.

It was the only spark DeGregori needed to ignite a lifelong passion for HAM radios.

“A lot of us started as kids,” DeGregori said. “We’re radio guys.”

Hoebink earned his license in March, but his interest in HAM radio was triggered several years ago.

He tested and became a HAM operator while he was in junior high school and decided to return because of his interest in the evolving technology.

“It’s more technical (than it used to be),” Hoebink said. “I came to see all the different technologies.”

The knowledge gained being a HAM can be useful in a career, DeGregori said.

“It’s (especially) useful if you want to go to the military,” he said. “There’s a lot of advantage from a hobby like this. You can turn it into a good paying job.”

In addition to practicing an emergency situation and engaging the public during Field Day, the event is also a recruitment activity.

“We’re trying to increase our ranks,” DeGregori said.

Cell phones, the Internet and other communication technologies have yet to replace what amateur radio operators can do, the HAMs said.

“Commercial things go down. Ours is independent,” Hitzeroth said. “It’s enjoyable. It’s a hobby. And it can be helpful in emergencies.”

For more information about the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club, visit or e-mail



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