Amateur Radio’s golden packet

WA1KLI

 

On Sunday, July 24, 2011 I was privileged to be selected to operate from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Maine) as part of a series of stations along the peaks of mountains on the Application trail. My call sign is WA1KLI and I have been a radio amateur since junior high school.

The purpose of this exercise is to transmit a text message the entire length of the trail with the message being relayed by each station along the way. The webpage for this event is at http://www.aprs.org/at-golden-packet.html. While sending a text message from Maine to Georgia is something that any teenager with a cellphone would take for granted, it is radio amateurs, who first developed the technology. To Hams (the nickname for radio amateurs) this is known as packet radio. The enhanced version of packet, known as Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) was invented by Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, who coordinates the golden packet event each year.

What separates text messaging on cellphones from what we do with APRS is infrastructure.  To send a text message on a cellphone one needs to be in range of a working cell tower. A ham simply needs an APRS capable radio and on this day I was using a hand held “walkie-talkie” During a natural disaster or emergency cellphone systems may easily become overloaded or out of commission entirely in a specific area as happened in New Orleans with Katrina.

So on this day the purpose of this exercise was to see if hams have the capability to  step up and provide long distance text messaging when other means become unavailable. This was the third year that this event has been held and while the final results are still being tabulated, it looks like the most successful year thus far.

If you are not a radio amateur, perhaps you could pause for a second the next time you send a text message and think of the hams who made it all possible as well as providing the backup communication when cellphones and all else fail. Then reflect on the beauty of this mountain and the gorgeous weather. Hopefully you too may want to become a ham and join us in the great outdoors next year, we welcome newcomers of all ages.

To learn more about ham radio visit the ARRL website.

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