Members of the Association des radio amateurs de la Grande Ronde ready to help in case of emergency

July 2—LA GRANDE — A group of Grande Ronde Valley ham radio operators are helping to keep an iconic part of the past alive while securing Union County’s future.

The individuals are the members of the Grande Ronde Radio Amateur Association, many of whom use Morse code, a communication tool that was all the rage for much of the 1800s when the telegraph was king of long-range communication.

Morse code is much less used today, but many members of the Grande Ronde Radio Association retain their Morse code skills, because in an emergency sending radio messages via Morse code can be a lot faster and more efficient than sending them by voice.

One reason is that less radio bandwidth is needed to send messages via Morse code and another is that it may be easier to understand them because they are simpler.

“With Morse code, you don’t have to deal with complexity and nuance of voice,” said Ted Ivester of GRRAA.

Ivester and other club members worked hard to maintain their Morse code skills last month while participating in the American Radio Relay League Field Day, an annual international event, at Bird Track Springs, about 8 km to the south -west of Hilgard State Park.

Amateur radio enthusiasts had one main goal – to prepare Union County to have a connection to the outside world in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake, flood, or windstorm that could knock out all Internet communications, cellular or landline in the Grande Ronde Vallée.

Such a disaster could make amateur radio the valley’s only link to the outside world.

“We would be the last line of communication,” said GRRAA member Joel Hinshaw.

Off the Grid Bird Track Springs Campground was an ideal site for the event as it requires radio operators to operate in an environment in which they do not have access to working electrical outlets, much as they might during a natural disaster.

“It’s off the grid,” said GRAA member Tyson Brooks.

Brooks said Field Days provide a great learning opportunity when they can be held in places like Bird Track Springs.

“It’s a simulation of what we need to do to keep the radios away from civilization,” Brooks said.

Radio operators therefore had to rely on batteries and electricity from solar panels and gas generators to power their equipment.

Many operators install their antennas using fishing reels and rods. Operators loaded reels with fishing line and then threw it high in the trees to help install the antenna wire. The antenna wire made it easy to reel in signals from all over the United States. United and Faraway Lands during the contest period which ran from 11 a.m. on June 25 to 11 a.m. on June 26.

GRRAA members made 790 contacts during Field Day. A total of 168 of the contacts were via Morse code, 451 were via voice and 171 digital connections, also described as computer radio.

A total of 446 contacts were from the 48 contiguous states, five from Alaska and five from radio operators in Hawaii. Contacts have been established with radio operators in Canada and other foreign countries, including Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, Qatar and Uruguay.

No contact has been established with radio operators in Ukraine. GRRAA member Mike Orcutt said many radio amateurs might be reluctant to use their radios because it would give away their location to the Russian military, which invaded Ukraine in February.

“They could triangulate their position, which could make them a target,” he said.

Queuing Orcutt, who used a digital system to make contact, said there were times when it seemed like everything was happening at once.

“Sometimes I would make contact and I had three or four other people waiting,” Orcutt said, explaining that he could see the radio operators were on the line through his computer screen.

Contacts between operators were just long enough to exchange summary information, including their club’s call signs and location. Once the trade was complete, traders would record the strength of the signal they received.

Brooks said people communicating via amateur radio on Field Days tend not to know each other well because the exchanges are short. He did, however, say that he made many friends he first met over the air, and knew many more who became radio friends.

“Some people will meet on the radio and be friends for the rest of their lives, even though they may never meet in real life,” Brooks said.

Ida M. Morgan