County radio club joins others near and far for field day

Three Rivers Hamfest set for Aug. 10
By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    MILO — Radio waves were aplenty in the air recently as members of the Piscataquis Amateur Radio Club (PARC) were busy for much of the weekend, sending and receiving communications with other amateur (also know as ham) radio operator clubs and individuals across the dials to demonstrate their emergency capabilities during a 24-hour demonstration or field day on June 22-23.

ne-radio-dc-po-27Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom

    READY FOR RADIO COMMUNICATIONS — Members of the Piscataquis Amateur Radio Club took part in a field day June 22-23 to conclude the American Radio Relay League’s Amateur Radio Week, as club members showcased their skills in a 24-hour demonstration at the Piscataquis County Emergency Operations Center on Sargent Hill in Milo. The field day served as both a test for an emergency response and a contest with other radio clubs. PARC’s third annual Hamfest will be held on Aug. 10 at the Milo American Legion Post on West Main Street from 8 a.m. to noon.

    The field day caps off the week-long Amateur Radio Week, which is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (AARL) the national association for amateur radio. PARC members were busy on their radios during the exercise, which was open to the public to see all the activity at the Piscataquis County Emergency Operations Center  — located in a Cold War-era underground bunker built into Sargent Hill about a half-century ago.
    “It’s a contest but it’s also an emergency test,” said George Dean, who is the PARC field day and Hamfest coordinator, the county’s ARRL emergency coordinator and a past president of the club among other positions he holds in the field of radio. Dean said that despite all of the advances in technology, ham radio is not going away.
    Hams operate under the slogan “when all else fails, ham radio works,” as radio communication can get through when telephones, the Internet or other methods may be down. Dean said following the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon cell phone service was shut down, but ham radio operators could still be in touch and helped get messages from those at the site to family members elsewhere.
    In the event of an emergency in Piscataquis County, such as extended power outage, PARC would be operating out of the generator-powered bunker to assist responders in any way they could through the relaying of messages. “We have several new antennas set up for today, that’s what we would do in an emergency,” Dean said.
    Over a dozen PARC members are on a Piscataquis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) team. They recently completed HAZMAT and National Weather Service training to help better serve the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which they most likely would be working with in the aftermath of an emergency.
    The club also provides its communication services for area events, being able to travel to remote locations where cell phone service may not be reliable or available at all. PARC has worked at both the annual sled dog race starting in Brownville and the Dover-Foxcroft Kiwanis Club’s annual Piscataquis River Race.
    While the field day provides hams the opportunity to test their skills for an emergency, the event also is a contest for the various clubs. Dean explained members try to contact as many other stations as they can during the 24-hour timeframe, and also get points for the visitors who stop by. Bonus points are awarded for visits by elected officials, State Rep. Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) witnessed the club in action on June 22, as well as media outlets.
    “We get 100 points for running the generator, and extra points for a third party using this radio,” Dean said about a device set up to allow members of the public to get on the air.
    The radio was placed on a table next to the model used by PARC member Bill Welsh of Sebec. “This is an old radio, from the early 1970s, and this radio came out in the last few years, it can run on penlight batteries,” he said.
    Welsh said the newer radio is software designed, meaning it can be hooked up to a computer to show the digital data. “You can see visually the frequency and you can read them here,” he said, pointing to the laptop screen. The information displayed several radio conversations and Welsh clicked on a communication taking place between operators in Ohio and Virginia.
    “It picks up very light audio signals and feeds it into the sound card of the computer,” Welsh said. “The software program converts it into characters and vice-versa. It’s very sensitive, even when there is a lot of noise in the atmosphere it can pick through and pick the signal up.”
    “You can save that text screen, you can store the standard information as you would on a word processor,” he said. Welsh showed that a few bits of information may not come through in the transfer process, represented by assorted symbols on the screen.
    On Saturday, Aug. 10 PARC’s third annual Three Rivers Hamfest will take place at the American Legion Hall in Milo from 8 a.m. to noon. Radio operators from across Maine and beyond will meet and greet one another, have a ham yard sale called tailgating, swap ham stories and put a face on someone they have talked to over the radio.
    Dean said a “fox hunt” is being planned for the Three Rivers Hamfest, in which a transmitter is hidden and participants have to locate the transmitter using hand-held radios. He said at last year’s event the transmitter was hidden across West Main Street in the gazebo at the Veterans’ Park.
    The Three Rivers Hamfest is the annual fundraiser for PARC which will offer a number of prize drawings for a donation. The club encourages the general public to come to this ARRL-sanctioned event as well. There will also be a static display of the Piscataquis County Emergency Operations communications van which includes amateur radio communications equipment. They also have a portable VHF repeater system funded by Piscataquis County EMA and FEMA which is used for the Dover-Foxcroft Kiwanis Piscataquis River Race.
    For more information about the Piscataquis Amateur Radio Club, see the club’s website at as well as the PARC Facebook page. To learn more about the American Radio Relay League go to or

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