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Ham is in the air at Hamilton radio-operators' meeting
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Ham is in the air at Hamilton radio-operators' meeting

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Bitterroot Amateur Radio Club hosts field day HAMILTON - For anyone whose considered becoming a ''ham," Saturday is the day to stop at the Hamilton High School football field and take a gander at area amateur radio operators in action.

The event is the Bitterroot Amateur Radio Club's first annual emergency Field Day and the public is invited to attend, observe and meet the ham operators. Activities run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

''Hams share a fascination with communicating. They're from all walks of life and nearly all nations," said Al Cristaldi, a member of the Bitterroot Club and its arm, Western Digital Amateur Radio Society.

The Bitterroot club has nearly 100 members.

Cristaldi said the purpose of the event is threefold:

- To practice emergency preparedness skills with fellow amateur radio operators across the country.

- To educate the general public about the services amateur radio operators provide.

- To explain to interested parties what is involved in becoming a licensed ham radio operator.

In an emergency, ham operators provide aid to public safety and governmental agencies during local, regional and national emergencies. They also provide supplemental communications if local resources become overburdened or communications breakdown, he said.

Ham operators on Saturday also will participate in a friendly contest to determien who can make the most contacts with different people during a 24-hour period on as many different radio frequencies as the Federal Communications Commission allows them to use.

Cristaldi has a 27-year background in public safety and has been a licensed ham operator for eight years. He communicates with people around the world on his radio.

When not involved in emergency services, he said he likes ''rag chewing" - talking to people, learning about their culture, jobs, families and lifestyles.

On the radio waves one might visit with a nurse in France, a neighbor across town, an orbiting Space Shuttle astronaut or a factory worker in China, he said.

This week is national amateur radio week and the Bitterroot club's event was designed to educate people about the hobby and how it can also provide a vital role in emergency situations.

The group will have information about how to get started - which can be just under $300 for a basic system - and how to get a license. A novice license involves passing a 35-question written test on basic electricity, Morse code, and operating rules.

A more advanced technician license involves a 60-question test on basic and intermediate electricity and operating rules.

Other groups that will provide demonstrations Saturday at Hamilton High include the Montana Highway Patrol, K-9 units from Ravalli County Sheriff's Office and Hamilton Police Department, Ravalli County Search & Rescue, Ravalli County Disaster and Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services, U.S. Forest Service and the National Weather Service.

Refreshments and snacks will be available. In case of inclement weather, the club hopes to have military tents set up to provide shelter for visitors and ham operators.

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