Hal Jacobson speaks into a ham radio

Hal Jacobson speaks into a ham radio on Saturday at Rock Bridge State Park where the Central Missouri Radio Association hosts Field Day, an annual ham radio open house. Persons of any age interested in amateur radio may attend and interact with equipment brought by the association. Jacobson has come into contact with 116 different countries including Russia, Antarctica and Sweden using a ham radio. Central Missouri Radio Association is the oldest Amateur Radio Club in the Columbia area.

COLUMBIA — Cords ran from antennas mounted on tripods and tree branches to radios that sat on folding tables. In a disaster, there would be no time to waste for complex setups.

But in this case, there was no emergency. The Central Missouri Radio Association was testing its ability to communicate without the help of the internet and with as little electricity as possible, using car batteries and generators to power their radio equipment in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park on Saturday afternoon.

"We're trying to demonstrate our ability to communicate in the field," amateur radio emergency coordinator Bill McFarland said. "Everything has to be done on emergency power."

Across the country, ham radio, a commonly-used term to mean "amateur radio," operators participated in the national Amateur Radio Field Day exercise. Their goal was to make contact with as many other operators as possible. The number of contacts became points counted by the American Radio Relay League. Total points reflected the effectiveness of each of the participating amateur radio associations. Points were also added by following certain specifications like setting up outside in a public place, as they had at Rock Bridge State Park.

McFarland said there are about 35,000 amateur radio users operating in the U.S., and in a disaster resulting in the loss of cellular communication, the internet or electrical power, ham radio may become the only form of long distance communication. Some of these operators would become integral in reaching emergency services and maintaining contact.

Ham radio has been used in past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, when other forms of communication failed.

Tim Spurgeon, president of Boone County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, said if there were an emergency in central Missouri, a ham operator would be sent to an emergency operations center north of Columbia. From there, he or she would be able to contact area hospitals and other emergency services.

At the state park, ham radio operators scattered their setups around the area, careful not to block someone else's signal as they practiced communicating.

Hal and Peter Jacobson, father and son, worked to hang a cord from a high tree branch, pulling the attached antenna as high as they could before securing it.

"This is the worst part of ham radio," Peter Jacobson said as he pulled apart a bundle of cords, "untangling wires."

Peter Jacobson has been interested in ham radio since his childhood, getting his license at 10 years old.

Hal Jacobson, who started operating ham radios in 1986, said he remembers listening to U.S. troops relay messages to their families from overseas when he was growing up. This sparked his interest in amateur radio. He said he has enjoyed sharing the hobby with his son over the years.

Hal Jacobson said in the past he had made contact internationally with Russia, Antarctica and Sweden.

"When you get on the radio, you just never know who you're going to get," he said.

Hayward Hand, 82, said he has been interested in ham radio since he was a kid, practicing seriously off and on throughout his life. When he retired in 1994, he picked it up again.

Ham radio is an "interesting hobby with so many facets to it," Hand said.

Supervising editor is Hannah Black.

  • Reporter, summer 2017; Copy editor, reporter, designer; Reach me at mitchellbartle@mail.missouri.edu.

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