PALM COAST -- Herschel King Sr. Park was abuzz with activity as members of the Flagler Amateur Radio Emergency Service Organization and Flagler Palm Coast Amateur Radio Club joined in Sunday for the American Radio Relay League's national Children's Day event.
Before the event officially began, there was plenty to do as members of both clubs readied a number of radio set-ups. With the help of members of Palm Coast Boy Scout Troop 402 various antennas were deployed in the trees in preparation for a day of contacting amateur radio enthusiasts around the continent.
The dozen Boy Scouts, along with parents and Scout leaders, bicycled 10 miles to the site as one of the requirements for their cycling merit badge. Eight of the Scouts are working toward their radio merit badges and for some, this outing would complete the requirements for the badge.
During the day, other families visited to learn about amateur radio and this was good news for Bill Schwartz, Flagler County emergency coordinator for ARES.
"We're introducing amateur radio to youth," Schwartz said. "For the Scouts, they're going to try to get some requirements for their merit badges. For us, it's practice so if there were a disaster we could set up an HF station anywhere."
The order of the day was to have the licensed adults make the initial contacts and then hand the mic over to their charge for a conversation.
James Norris talks to a ham radio operator in St. Augustine on the
radio held by Charlie De Poala. (N-J | Mark Estes)
"We expect to be able to get the United States, Canada and South America," Schwartz said. "The kids have to spend 10 minutes on the air for the merit badge. So far it has been all theoretical for them. There are certain places where we're going to try to get in touch with other kids."
Any contact and conversation was good. If the prospect of talking on the radio to strangers, mostly adults, was a bit daunting, Jake Dobson, 11, never let on. Despite a bit of local interference, Jake confidently held the mic and made the appropriate acknowledgments while learning a bit of conversational radio shorthand from John Woika. He made his required contacts in good order.
"It was interesting and fun," Jake said.
The day started a little rougher for Coby Queen, 12, as an equipment malfunction resulted in a fall and a scraped arm during the 10-mile bike ride. Things started slow for him on the radio as well. The first contact his adult partner, Norm Riquier, found was in an extended conversation; the next faded before he could talk to them. Getting a good signal was elusive, but eventually Coby contacted New Mexico and then, Guatemala.
Michael Levin, 13, and Ian Medley, 16, got a bit of a treat when they did their radio work in Mike Lee's communications van. Chief innovation officer at Palm Coast Data, Lee designed and equipped it as a proof-of-concept van seemingly capable of very type of communications except smoke signals. Lee and assistant emergency coordinator Eddie Cail served as adult partners for Levin and Medley.
The older hams would certainly like to see some of the participants take up amateur radio as a hobby.
"We have a 119 merit badges in the program and the boys usually go into some profession or pick up some hobby out of these during their lifetimes," Scoutmaster Tony Conti said.
This is the first time the Flagler clubs have participated in the national Children's Day event, but they expect to be doing so again in the future.
"We're hoping to do more of these throughout the year, keeping the kids active and give them something to do," Cail said. "The bands are really hot right now for a lot of radio stuff so we're hoping to make some good contacts and let them see what it's like to get on the air."
Text: Mark Estes