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Spark Gap: New Year – New Goals – New Tradition

posted Feb 22, 2019, 7:03 AM by L Gray   [ updated Feb 22, 2019, 7:04 AM ]
Imagine a disaster befalls Cape Cod. In all likelihood, it will be a weather event – a hurricane 
or nor’easter – that cripples our area. They happen periodically. The Blizzard of ‘78. Hurricane Bob. It will be an event that requires emergency communications, because – as we learned last March – even the modern cell phone system is subject to failure.

FARA will be called to help, and our members will head out to the Cape Cod (a.k.a., Barnstable County) Fairgrounds, and erect a few temporary towers and set up stations under a tent provided by the Barnstable County Sheriff. In the middle of winter.

If you’re scratching your head, you should be.

We’ll come back to this, but a little background is in order. The first meeting of FARA’s Board of Directors in the new year is a routine event. It happens in February, shortly after our general membership meeting in January when FARA holds it’s annual elections. The agenda includes the
appointment of subordinate officers, such as VE Coordinator, Public Relations Officer, Repeater Trustee, etc.

For the past several years, the other significant piece of business is to set goals for the coming year. As president, I draft the ideas. The Board discusses the draft, and approves or changes it. At our meeting on February 13, we set three primary goals for 2019:
1) Strengthen Ties with the Community
2) Improve Emergency Communications Capability
3) Engage the Membership

These goals include more specific sub-goals, or objectives. For example, we’ve had the primary goal of “Amateur Radio in the schools” for several years now. This year, I suggested that we put it under “Strengthen Ties with the Community” since the two are related. The Board agreed to
the placement, but changed the objective to “Youth Engagement – Engage with youth organizations and schools,” acknowledging that the intent is to introduce ham radio to the next generation.

Under “Improve Emergency Communications Capability,” I suggested several objectives, one of which was to abandon the tent and towers paradigm for Field Day.

The editor of Small Craft Advisor, a bi-monthly boating magazine, wrote about fun in a recent column. He described two types, defining Type I fun as the rush we get from a roller coaster or video game. It’s safe and exciting, but rarely memorable.

Type II fun is hard work (sometimes with an element of danger) and the results are remembered fondly. For example, the trip I took back in June with my daughter, Victoria, sailing a 24-foot catboat 700 miles through darkness, fog, and gales. Field Day is Type II fun. It’s not easy setting up and taking down the station and towers, but there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from it.

Field Day is not a contest, but who among us doesn’t take pride in the results of our hard work? FARA consistently ranks in the top of our class; in 2018, out of 250 or so entries we were 13th overall in the 2A class, 3rd in New England and 1st in Massachusetts.

Now let’s be honest with ourselves: Outside of amateur radio, who cares how well we did? The truth is that what we’ve been doing doesn’t align with our purpose. Article II of our bylaws state, “The primary purposes for which this corporation is formed are... To organize and train units of licensed radio amateurs capable of maintaining radio communications as a public service during periods of emergency.”

Field Day is supposed to be a training exercise. It is intended to prepare us for that hurricane or nor’easter. The problem is that it doesn’t. Every year we have been training for something that we will never do in a disaster – set up a massive station with multiple towers as far away from any emergency services as we can possibly get.

Instead of holding Field Day at the Fairgrounds, we should obtain a trailer and build a truly portable operating station. Every Field Day should be held somewhere new. Downtown Falmouth. On a beach. At Nobska Light. At one of the schools. FARA should be nimble and versatile. We should be able to set up a fully functional communications station anytime, anywhere, under any conditions.

This philosophy extends to the other goals. It is far easier to “Strengthen Ties with the Community,” when we can bring amateur radio to the public instead of waiting for them to come to us. Can you imagine the impact of bringing a trailer to a local school or Scouting event so we can demonstrate amateur radio?

“Engaging the Membership” will be necessary just to build a trailer. Once the trailer is in operation, new events such as the Winter Field Day become possible. No one has volunteered to erect a tent and towers on a sub-zero day in January, but a trailer with a crank-up mast and portable heater would make for comfortable operating.

Field Day at the Fairgrounds has been a FARA tradition for decades, but if we are to preserve the tradition of amateur radio, we need to reevaluate what we do and why. It is far more important that we make amateur radio visible and valuable to the community, and holding Field Day at the Fairgrounds does neither. It’s too late in the year for this Field Day, but the Board agreed that we should build one or more trailers and hold Field Day 2020 in a new location – and begin a new tradition.


 “ARESMAT Requested for Cape Cod Shelter Support for March 13th,”
 Cape Cod Fairgrounds,
 2019 ARRL Field Day is June 22-23,
 Small Craft Advisor,
 Winter Field Day,
 Eastern Massachusetts ARRL: Emergency Communications,

The Spark Gap is the semi-regularly published column of the Falmouth Amateur Radio Association.
Its purpose is to share knowledge and experiences, and to generate discussion about amateur
radio. Submissions are welcome and can be submitted to