A cultural critique one sometimes hears is that modern life is too “linear.” That is, too concerned with the one-way-only passage of time and effect. To my way of thinking, though, almost everything we experience comes in cycles, and they are not linear. They come, again and again.
Each calendar day is a cycle, as is a week, the month, the seasons. As of this writing, I’ve experienced those 20622, 2938, 678, and 226 times respectively.
As radio amateurs, the eleven-year solar sunspot cycles are always somewhere on our minds as they determine the coin of our realm: propagation. I was born during the solar minimum between Cycle 18 and 19. My life-insurance company is probably figuring I’ll ionize away sometime during Cycle 27.
As Hams, we have some special cycles of our own. The sweepstakes, QSO parties, and the hamfests come around every year, and so does Field Day. The latter is always held during the last full weekend of June. This year’s FD will be only my second of actual participation. We have club members who’ve been through almost seventy. The event began in 1933, the very bottom of the Great Depression (part of another cycle?). Some of our members were born before that, and some of them participate in Field Day every year.
For most of its history, the stated purpose of Field Day has been to practice setting up and operating under emergency conditions. It was clear from the beginning of Ham radio that amateur operators could play vital roles in establishing or supplementing communication during the myriad of natural disasters that come around every year (hey, more cycles!).
Since September 11th, 2001, though, responses to emergency situations have been organized at the national level under the Department of Homeland Security, and a uniform system of command, control, and resource deployment has changed the nature of Ham involvement in EmComm-emergency communication. It is now necessary for amateurs to receive prescribed training and certification, including a criminal-background check, to be deployed and used by local officials during emergencies.
The training is not difficult nor terribly time-consuming, but it does mean that non-certified Hams won’t be used by local emergency and public-safety officials. In fact, they may be asked to stay off the air–certainly the repeaters–to keep the bands free for EmComm.
This development has changed the stated purpose of Field Day, at least officially. But it continues also to be mostly the same as from the beginning: a great time for all Hams. Though not really a contest, it still has a friendly competitive edge that adds interest. It’s an opportunity for teamwork, problem solving, teaching new members, exercising technical skills, and just plain fun in the company of other Hams.
It’s also a public event to let people know about amateur radio. Public relations opportunities such as FD may seem oblique, but favorable public perceptions of ham radio will help to minimize complaints from neighbors, and therefore also to keep municipal authorities on our side in antenna-related disputes and policy. It could help to soften the hard line usually taken by homeowners associations and in deed covenants.
Is ham radio just a goofy, geeky, idiosyncratic obsession of techno-nerds, or is it educational and service-oriented? It might be both, of course, but Field Day and good public relations helps to accentuate the latter and render the former harmless . . . or even charming.