Area amateur radio operators will join a national field this weekend.

The annual event is a highlight of Amateur Radio Week, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League.

Ham operators, using only emergency-power supplies, will establish emergency stations throughout the country to demonstrate amateur radio.

Although amateur radio has proven to be a vital service in times of emergency, at its core it is simply a fun thing to do, Walton Radio Association President Richard Kelly said.

"Before anything else, it's a hobby," Kelly said.

The equipment and technology have evolved greatly since the advent of radio late in the 19th century. Morse code is still used, but computers, satellite communications and advanced radio technology are all part of the modern ham radio repertoire.

Basic equipment to get started can cost as low as $150. From there, like most hobbies, it "all depends on how deep your pockets are," Kelly said.

Licensing by the FCC is required, but local clubs are often able to assist with that, according to Kelly.

Kelly said one of the great things about amateur radio is that it can put someone in contact with a person across town or across the world.

"It's a different type of social media," Kelly said. "That's why a lot of young kids like it."

Many ham operators enthusiastically keep logs of the people they contact. And often, their contacts evolve into lifelong friendships, according to Kelly.

There are even "chasing radio contacts" contests for amateur radio operators, he said.

"It's an obsession for some people. A fun obsession," Kelly said.

Brian Webster, an amateur radio operator from Otsego County, agreed the medium has a strong social aspect.

"We're the original Facebook," he said. "We do it with so many different technologies."

Webster and Kelly also said amateur radio operators provide vital communication during emergencies. The field day this weekend, along with other events and the knowledge acquired by the hobbyists help prepare them in case of emergencies.

Some amateur radio operators even head into disaster areas to set up their emergency stations in the absence of communications infrastructure.

"We literally roll in with our own stuff," Webster said.

In Delaware County, the Walton Radio Association will be demonstrating amateur radio at the yellow storage building of Adin Miller located 1/10th of a mile up Bob's Brook Road off state Route 10 in Walton. The event runs continuously from 2 p.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday. Information will be available on how to get the FCC radio license.

In Chenango County, the field day will be held at the Chenango Valley Amateur Radio Association club site on Whites Hill Road in Guilford during the same time frame.

Webster said he did not know of a field day event in Otsego County.

The field day had 30,000 participants from nationwide last year, according to ARRL.

Kelly said information on amateur radio may be found at www.arrl.org.

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