Legion ham operators make contacts in global winter training

WISDOM, Mont. — Amateur radio operators from all over the world spent a weekend in late January making contact with each other. The real-time event was a training exercise to help mitigate potential emergency situations.

KG7SPL is Corvallis American Legion Post 91's amateur radio club. The post set up its radio tower and equipment in the parking lot of Chief Joseph Ski Area on Montana State Highway 43. Members used the area to participate in its annual Winter Field Day. "Winter Field Day is an activity throughout the world," said KG7SPL president Doug Mason, "to go out in the environment and test your equipment."

NBC Montana visited the site on the Montana-Idaho border, a mountainous stretch that separates Beaverhead County with Lemhi County, Idaho.

The club is only operating on 5 or 10 watts, compared to thousands of watts that a television station might have. But at 7,251 feet, the spot is a good place to pick up radio transmissions.

"We're up high and so your signal travels down off the mountains everywhere," said KG7SPL's Clifford Presley. "CQ CQ CQ. This is Kilo Golf 7 Sierra Poppa Lima," he called into his radio, working to get a response.

"Kilo Bravo 7 Quebec. Foxtrot Echo." called Doug.

"KILO Golf 7 Sierra Poppa Lima, " called Rod Turner.

You could hear traffic from all over in the tent he was working in.

"Whiskey Zero Alpha Uniform you're 5 and 20 over here. Go ahead," someone said.

Club members set up sleeping tents to spend the weekend so they could get as many calls out as possible. "Our objective," said Rod, " is to make as many contacts as we can to prove that we can communicate over the radio waves in the wintertime." Operators are awarded points for every contact they make. The club uses those points as a gauge for improvement.

"We just want to have a good performance," said Rod.

The radio operators spin the radio dial around until they hear another operator broadcasting from who knows where. It takes patience, but the team's efforts spanned the country. Cliff talked to operators in Texas and the East Coast. Doug made inroads in Oregon and Washington.

"North and South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas," said Rod of his contacts. " Ohio and Illinois." While we watched from the sidelines Rod made contact with someone in New York. "We are 3 Oscar Montana," Mike Tango over, he told them.

"I got it," answered the respondent. "3 Oscar Montana."

The operators don't make contact with everyone. But they hear all kinds of chatter. When they do connect they don't chit-chat. The idea is to just make the connection.

"We exchange the information," said Doug. " They like to know there's some guys up here sitting in the snow, trying to make contact."

He said the club works to hone its skills to help local fire and emergency services in times of trouble. With unprecedented natural disasters this past year, from wildland fires, hurricanes to winter tornados, ham radio operators are often messengers in emergencies.

Rod made random contact with a guy in Wyoming who lives in the same town as his brother. “I could call that guy on the radio and get a message to my brother if I needed to," he said. We never know when messages like that will be necessary.

"We thank you for the 1 Hotel South Carolina. Please copy. 3 Oscar Montana Mike Tango over," he told the responder. " Yeah, I got your 3 Oscar Montana," said the voice. “My section is Sugar Charlie Victor Santa Clara Valley, California."

“QSL. Santa Clara Valley, California,," answered Rod. "Thank you 73."

The internet, smartphones, texting and emails may be faster, more sophisticated forms of communication. But they require major infrastructure. Rod said if commercial communication, goes down ham radio operation doesn't require infrastructure. "We can communicate locally, or all across the country and around the world," he said, “using batteries, wire, a tower and some cable."

KG7SPL made contact as far as eastern Canada. Not bad for a little radio operation in a Montana-Idaho forest in the middle of winter.

Read this story on NBC Montana’s website.