Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Field Day at Kansas City Maker Faire
By Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
ARRL Youth Editor
Many months ago, I was invited to come to Kansas City during ARRL Field Day to operate a unique station. Most envision a Field Day station as a few tents and towers in the local city park, but this one was far from that. This Field Day site lay in the heart of Kansas City at Union Station during its biggest event of the summer: Maker Faire.
Maker Faire is a series of family-friendly events held throughout the year all over the nation where the topic is all about DIY -- short for Do-It-Yourself where people create their own solutions to problems, whether electronic or mechanical -- and showing off recipes, hand sewn clothes and homemade jewelry and much more. Maker Faire is a celebration of human creation, from laser-powered quad-copters, basketball-playing robots at the FIRST Robotics Competition and music made from Tesla Coils. Kansas City’s Union Station saw more than 270 “makers,” and almost 12,000 attendees perused the giant halls of the train station, gathering inspiration to create their own ideas.
Curiously nestled in the middle of the outdoor part of the event was a radio station that gave people of all ages an opportunity to become a radio operator -- but this was no regular radio station. Various emergency services of Kansas City came together to participate in Amateur Radio’s biggest on-the-air event, ARRL Field Day. The objective of Field Day is to make as many contacts with other operators in a 24 hour period. Points are awarded for every contact and bonus points are given for operating in public areas, using emergency power (such as solar cells and generators) and allowing guests to get on the air at a GOTA station.
What better place to get on the air at the first Maker Faire/Field Day?
With the idea sparked by Noah Dunker, KD0NRC, and the genius of John Hochscheid, W0BBQ, Bob Kimbrell, W0AO, and Brian Short, KC0BS, as well as the generosity of the Salvation Army, many came a station that was nestled right in the middle of all the activity.
K0C, the call sign of the station, operated three radios on three antennas -- two dipoles and a vertical -- and was active on most HF bands using SSB, CW and various digital modes. With the threat of rain, record heat, bugs and Tesla coil bands, the operators cranked out only 563 contacts, but the real points came from the impressions the station gave to guest operators and passers-by.
Field Day awards bonus points to stations at which any person can operate, and from that, guest operators came in large numbers at Maker Faire. As long as a licensed ham was present, patrons had free roam on the ham radio bands, and had to learn what it was like to operate on what they incorrectly thought to be an antiquated and obsolete technology.
In retrospect, ham radio is far from obsolete. With the ever present danger of disaster, Amateur Radio stands as the world’s best communications back up. When natural disasters destroy phone lines, Internet and satellite links, nothing else can support local, regional -- and even international -- communications without infrastructure like ham radio. But before the big one hits, hams enjoy using radios to promote international camaraderie, learn about and build electronic circuits, compete in contests and promote the hobby to others.
At Maker Faire, I was very excited to see several young hams sit in the operators’ chairs. Sonny Fontes, KD0SHI, an 11 year old, was licensed with the help of Brian Short. Brian let him borrow his first handheld radio so that he could communicate on the repeater while walking around Maker Faire. He talked with a few of the operators around the Field Day site before returning with it and upgrading to HF. Sonny is a brilliant young man; he could tell you the difference between electrolytic and ceramic capacitors, why one has polarity and the other does not, and he has a “glowing” interest in vacuum tubes. With Bob Kimbrell logging, he took to the radio instantly and made several contacts, eying the two-tube regenerative receiver on display at the GOTA table the entire time.
Another young man, Will Stewart, came to the operators table. Genuine surprise came to the entire team as he patiently struggled to make his first QSO. With noise -- both RF and audio coming from Arc Attack, the Tesla coil band -- he discovered firsthand how difficult it can be to make a contact. After several minutes though, he came out on top with applause from all!
Other young hams came to operate, like Joe Andrews, KD0LOS, who made a handful of SSB contacts on the 40 meter band. He helped other guest operators make their first contact. Joe did double duty -- he also helped the Amateur Radio club from Raytown, Missouri, K0GQ, make a few contacts.
As the Sun fell and Makerfaire closed for the night, the team continued to make contacts with heavy eyes. A few slept to give others an opportunity to snooze in the wee hours of the morning after operating for several hours. With night came an interesting opportunity as throughout the day, all things electronic wreaked havoc on the HF bands. We became aware of the Tesla Coil band’s schedule, and their 20 minute shows meant break-time for us. Without their 12-foot long bolts of RFI in the night, the operators saw a slight increase in QSO rates and had an easier time making contacts.
With temperatures forecasted to break 100 degrees, Sunday had less outdoor activity, as the Makerfaire patrons sought refuge indoors. The K0C team fought through the heat in shade, as well as in the air-conditioned trailer and Salvation Army Canteen, and still had several guests as the shade and air conditioning caught passersby.
To K0C, field day was not about making points. It was about making new hams and spreading the word about Amateur Radio. The event was resoundingly successful for both Maker Faire and the K0C team.
Special thanks to Brian Short and the K0C team, the guest operators and their parents (whom also guest operated), Maker Faire: KC and Union Station.
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a rising junior majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Interested in wireless communications from a young age, he welcomes e-mail from readers.