One Week to Ham Radio Field Day 2021

Since Field Day is one of the world’s first True Prepping events, we figured a special edition of Urban would be interesting, even to non-ham radio types.

Of course, there will be enough “secret sauce tossed in” to make sure Old-Timers (I was first licensed in 1963, lol) learn a few tricks along the way.

What’s Field Day?

The grandperson of ham radio organizations is the American Radio Relay League.  Because in times of emergency, ham radio operators “relay” messages all over the world.

A couple of times a year, hams pretend the absolute worst has happened:  They take generators, solar panels, and climb mountains and such, to prove (repeatedly) that when a message MUST get through, ham radio beats all comers.

Ham radio hasn’t required Morse code proficiency for at least 20-years.  Elaine is code-free KG4YHV and was licensed at the Tropical Hamboree in 2002 at a one-day class.  Fort Lauderdale, if I remember.

My buddy of 67+ years, the Major and I attended Morse code classes at the old Seattle Radio store on the north end of Second Avenue in Seattle.  The late John Dupre was our instructor.

To become a ham today, just click over to HERE and toss in your Zip code.  You’ll find a local ham club.  Elaine and I belong to the Palestine/Anderson County club here in East Texas.  Enough of the sales pitch.

Except to say, that if (more likely when) an actual emergency arises in your community, there is NOTHING that will give you more peace of mind than  being plugged in to the news and official information grid.  Ham clubs around the country work with local fire and law enforcement Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs) and are an incredible back-up service when needed. SkyWarn, too, helping NOAA.

Why Field Day?

That’s when hams “go to the field.”  It doesn’t take much money to have (literally) worldwide communications at your fingertips for about $100 if you know what you’re doing.  Take these two pieces, 50-feet of wire, motorcycle battery, and some skill, and you are in touch!

Of course, the cheapest communications are Morse code.  And several organizations are devoted to maintaining the art of Brass Pounding.  One group is FISTS while the other is the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC).  All optional, but when the chips are down, signal conditions between marginal and impossible, there are only a couple of dead-reliable ways to get a message through.

Two are digital modes (FT-8 and FS-1045-1051 ALE).  ALE is not exactly simple: It was initially designed as a nuclear survivable message store & forward protocol for the military.  FT-8 is a reliable digital mode, but that means a computer.  Morse code and a set of ears with a “digitally trained brain” on the other hand, relies on the space between your ears to “go digital.”

Elaine and I – being in our 70’s – realize that in a terrible medical event, we could be nearly paralyzed and still “get a message out.”

Most people (*and most hams) have never heard the story of the late Alabama Senator Jeramiah Denton.  He’s a genuine American hero admired for his Code skills.  Wiki him and you’ll find out why:

“Denton was widely known for enduring almost eight years of grueling conditions as an American prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam after the A-6 Intruder he was piloting was shot down in 1965. He was the first of all American POWs held captive and released by Hanoi to step off an American plane during Operation Homecoming in February 1973. As one of the earliest and highest-ranking officers to be taken prisoner in North Vietnam, Denton was forced by his captors to participate in a 1966 televised propaganda interview which was broadcast in the United States. While answering questions and feigning trouble with the blinding television lights, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse code, spelling the word “T-O-R-T-U-R-E”—and confirming for the first time to U.S. Naval Intelligence that American POWs were being tortured.

Which, to our way of thinking was smart as hell.

Sorry, Ham Radio, as my late friend Don Stoner used to say, really is “The King of Hobbies.”  Not to belabor history, but without people like Don, there would be no Starlink and a lot of other satcoms we take for granted today.

Give a ham a computer and technology will explode as you watch…  In fact that scratchy noise when you hear NOAA Weather alerts is the digital leftovers of the concept I worked with Don on when I was news director of KMPS back in 1983…but I digress.

How to Approach Field Day

Wire in the tree or a full-out assault on the spectrum?  Everywhere in-between?

Since ham radio is an infinitely expandable hobby, it helps to narrow your focus when setting up for Field Day.  Questions like how much time do I want to spend?  How many radio operators?   What modes (voice, code, digital?).

From there you think like a real estate agent (location, location, location).  If you’ve decided on line of sight VHF and UHF operations, or satellites, a location atop a mountain is hard to beat.  My son (KF7OCD, also an extra class license holder) found Mount Washington (in the state of) a neat place to do “snow  camping” ham radio exploits.

Sure, the top of Mount Wilson (think 92 miles from Mount Palomar) is interesting, too.  But there is so much radio infrastructure on the “best” VHF/UHF sites that compromises must be made.

HF (3-30 MHz) operations don’t need line of sight – and are therefore “go anywhere” decisions.  But even these can be improved upon.

HF is Magic

Back in my high schools days, the old Evergreen State Net had a hidden transmitter hunt.  Another fellow and I (by age 16 with a broadcast engineering ticket) decided to pull a fast-one.  We set up the hidden transmitter in a car parked a few feet from the railroad tracks that run along Puget Sound.  Ran a jumper cable from the bumper to a spike on the outside of the rails.

Well, wouldn’t you know?  Every time anyone got near the railroad tracks, we had an amazing signal.  One group of transmitter hunters began  walking up the tracks from Golden Gardens city park in Seattle towards Edmonds.  They would have an 7 or 8 mile hike to find us.

Even a Field Day location along railroad tracks doesn’t guarantee spectacular results:  Another consideration  is noise.  In the “art of HF radio ops” the best tool for location-scouting is a good shortwave radio.  Listen for quiet across the bands.

You Want Trees, Too!

Great locations for Field Day should have an assortment of trees.  The taller the better.

My buddy the Major is up at Blewett Pass in Washington State this weekend with a retired 3-letter agency pal and another electronics whiz scouting out their location for next weekend.

Getting an antenna into the trees is an artform.  Since we are in Texas tall pine country, I’ve used an air compressor-filled pneumatic gun lately.  1-ounce lead sinker on the end and some 40-pound test line.  100- feet is easy.

There are assorted other approaches.  Some of most popular are variants of slingshots and such.  But the one Dr. Bob Heil outlines here ( is really the cat’s meow.

Recognize the name Bob Heil?  Designed the Wall of Sound for the Grateful Dead and did a system for The Who…  yeah, like Stoner used to say:  King of Hobbies.  Quick!  Joe Walsh, Walter Cronkite, and Gen. Curtis LeMay had what in common?

Back to work – we haven’t even started pulling gear out yet!


Well, for an antenna, a multi-band dipole sounds easy.  Once we get the paracord up 80+ feet.  To ensure it “plays well” we will need a manual (big unit) or solid state antenna tuner (lower right) and an SWR meter (to look at standing waves on the antenna – which is wasted power).

Which gives us a ready to run antenna.  Which then means we need the radio itself.

Say, how about a classic old TenTec Jupiter, because it works CW so well?

We don’t need peripherals, but if digital was in “the plan” then something like a Tigertronics data interface between the radio and the computer.

And of course, the computer.

Whew!  Almost Ready!

Time to check it all out.

Computer in RF is important:  Want to make sure if you’re using a computer for logging the contacts that it will work around the radio gear nicely.

Computers can generate noise – how much battery time on that laptop?  Have you put some ferrite anti-noise beads on the power cables?

If you’re running all this on a generator, got gas?  Spare sparkplug?  Second generator?  How far you want to take this can be anywhere from casual to interesting to over-prepared to extreme.  All depends how bad you want to get a message through.

Food, Beverage, & More…

Since I can flip a breaker and my whole office (and ham gear) go 100% solar and battery bank, all Ure needs to do is pick an antenna and a radio:

But I’m not ready, yet.

There’s a lawn to mow and a trip to the adult beverage store yet to come.

I will post some frequencies early next Saturday if you have an op who can handle Morse on your team.

Don’t forget the chili!

Write when you get through,

7 thoughts on “One Week to Ham Radio Field Day 2021”

  1. “decided to pull a fast-one. We set up the hidden transmitter in a car parked a few feet from the railroad tracks that run along Puget Sound.”

    Lol lol I don’t know why this reminds me of my neighbor..years ago I came home from work and my ex wife said.. the neighbor was watching us. I didn’t believe her until I came home and seen him with binoculars.. lol watching us.. I made sure the curtains were pulled.. that brought out the smart azz in me and I made a laser telecommunications device where I would listen in then during general conversations would bring up those subjects.. the other thing I did was ..he had the same television and phone we did.. lol lol.. ( that was as much fun as driving around with a garage door opener ) the remote didn’t have very good range so I took the reflector out of a disposable camera and put the ir of the remote in it lol lol.. then I’d change the channel on his television lol lol it didnt take very long before his binoculars was put away and I quit being a smart azz lol lol

    • Lol speaking of that ..the local television producer was at a fundraising event.. the kids wanted to go.. I’m standing there and he walks up.. knew things about me that I didn’t think anyone but myself knew.. to this day I wonder who is this.. thinking about that though.. how much fun would it be to get some random stranger walk up to someone you know and start a conversation with them bringing up things that only someone that knew them would know…

  2. George, when I get a working TARDIS, I’ll have time for ham radio! Until then, I’ll wish you luck and learn what I can. There are obvious benefits in being licensed, though anyone can still listen on any frequency as far as I know. Of course, a ham club has local knowledge, similar to a caving or flying club. The skills are always valuable and can exercise seasoned brains.

    I’ve always wondered if being licensed puts you on any list that you’d rather not be on.

    • If govt is looking for smart people with some electronics sense seems that would be a good list, not bad. We will go radio silent tho just in case, low. Receiving is a low risk prospect, tho.

  3. Space Cadets! The International Space Station will (starting Monday 6/22) be transmitting Slow Scan TV images all week until 6/26. Get your computer set up to decode SSTV images and tune to 145.800 MHz as the station passes overhead. ISS tracking (and other satellites) available from
    Then, starting 6/26 for field day, the ISS will be in ‘cross-band repeater’ mode, with 2 meter uplinks and 70cm downlinks. A repeater contact thru the ISS counts as a satellite contact for field day.

    Rusty with your morse code skills (like moi)? A fellow with 150 patents in digital signal processing is offering this QRP (low power 4w.) rig with CW morse decoding and encoding available. Simple text messageing using Morse CW over the air… even if you don’t know the code! I got one and am having lots of fun and re-familiarizing myself with CW operations on it.

  4. Had some fun over the years and though got licensed early in life (at about 12 -General Class at 13 – NO “Extra” back then) Amateur Radio never really was a passion for me. One son got mildly interested, other nope, but with all the stuff that computers and cell phones do today the one who got mildly interested lost interest in it even though over the years I gave him TWO nice HG rigs (Yaesu 757GX II, and a Yaesu 857d with a MARS mod and Inrad Filters) and a good quality VHF handy talkie -Radio Shack model from back when they produced some good quality radios.

    He also WON a top of the line VHF Yaesu handy talkie at the Dayton Hamvention!! Made the admission fee for both of us look CHEAP (I still miss that old 757 GX II!! Great radio – first of the reasonably priced compact transistorized IC controlled rigs), though I doubt that he has ever used it.

    (At a local hamvention I also won a top of the line Yaesu handie talkie!! Talk about us both being in sync with the Yaseu Universe. My only HF rig is also a Yaesu!, we just seem to have gravitated towards Yaesu over the years for ALL of our purchases – or wins!)

    Sadly young people are not much interested in Amateur Radio anymore. TicTok and all the Facebook alternatives are more exciting to them, and I can’t blame them. Back in the days of $1++/minute long distance telephone calls, and only 3 TV stations, listening to people talking from FAR AWAY was FUN and Exciting, now it is just another channel on your Roku Box or a toll free call on your Cell Phone. Life moves faster for kids and young adults now than it did when I was their age and few have the time or inclination to devote to LEARNING a skill set that has been replaced by the easier and more flexible option called a “Smart Phone”.

    Still a great hobby, but as the old timers die off fewer and fewer young people are there to replace them.

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