Every June, thousands of amateur radio operators all over the country participate in Field Day, an emergency preparedness drill that involves setting up a national emergency communications network.
And while Field Day is a 24-hour event, longtime amateur radio operator Ralph Dieter of Bedford said you know if you've succeeded within a couple of hours.
If operators can use their antennas, radios and generators to successfully set up a makeshift station and communicate with other operators, they should be able to keep the lines of communication open during a real emergency.
On Saturday, the Bedford-based Granite State Amateur Radio Association showed, as they have in years past, that they can set up and begin contacting other operators with no worries. As Field Day kicked off, the group had their equipment humming at the club house at Legacy Park.
"That's the 'Be Prepared' part of Field Day," said Dieter who, not surprisingly, is a longtime scout master for Boy Scouts in Bedford.
But an hour or so into the drill, power strips starting smoking and the generator went down. And that cut into the second part of Field Day, the competitive part that all hams really enjoy. Groups have 24 hours to see how many official contacts they can make with other operators throughout the country. Last Field Day, the Granite State hams logged about 500 successful connections.
There are no prizes involved, just bragging rights and fun. Although none of the operators seemed too upset to sit out about an hour of their Field Day time, as soon as another generator began powering up the radios they were back at their desks making calls.
Goffstown resident Sarah Merrill, who has more than 20 years of experience as an amateur radio operator, was at a desk working with her husband, Bob.
"I don't talk very much, I like to listen," said Merrill. "It's about all the contacts you make and the people you meet."
Hams love to chat, especially with distant voices in far off places. But they also love the technological challenges of amateur radio.
Hams bring a wide range of experience and knowledge to the hobby. Some have years of professional experience as electrical engineers and others came from completely unrelated backgrounds in sales or management.
"It's a multi-faceted hobby with lots of areas to explore," said Hollis ham Steve Davidson.
A lot of operators really enjoy seeing how far the simplest radios will take them as the travel the air waves.
But hams are all committed to stepping in during emergencies and helping people remain in touch when phone lines are down and electricity is off."We've been there in recent disaster like hurricanes and tornadoes," said Manchester ham Rick Tenney.
"I think people are becoming a little more aware of what we actually do," said Charlie French, a Nashua-based ham.
And hams hope that might bring new people with new ideas into the hobby.
"We always welcome new members," said French. "We're the original social network."