SUMNER ⁠— Ham operator Norm Clanton, call sign KA156, received the first Morse code message of the day in a “shack” behind Hartford-Sumner Elementary School on Saturday.

Clanton used his laptop to log the short message coming in in a series of beeps.

Norm Clanton demonstrates how to use a shortwave radio to receive Morse code messages from other short wave radio operators around the world during the American Radio Relay League’s 87th Annual Field Day in Sumner on Saturday. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

The contact came from Arkansas. Similar scenes unfolded across the continent during the American Radio Relay League’s 87th Annual Field Day. By the end of the weekend, 30,000 operators around the world will have participated. 

According to Oxford County Amateur Radio Emergency Response Team member George Jones, Field Day is a holiday in the amateur radio operator community.

“They get out of their home-based operations, take their equipment and go somewhere, out in a field, on a mountain, on a river, a beach — wherever they want to go,” Jones said. “Almost everyone involved in amateur radio really looks forward to this day. It’s a big, fun thing that people get out and do.”

A homemade Morse code generator that Norm Clanton made for transmitting code. He primarily uses a pre-recorded station identification, in Morse code. He had the small contraption available for new people to check out at the American Radio Relay League’s 87th Annual Field Day in Sumner on Saturday. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

The goal is to make contact with as many operators in North America as possible, with one point awarded for voice contact and two for digital or Morse code contact. Jones said the day isn’t an official competition, but many organizations take a competitive edge to the day.

“There’s a bit of competition,” he said.

Antennas and wires the thickness of fly-fishing line stretched from about 15 feet in the air, from tree to tree, connected to transmitters. Clanton said using ladders to affix them is out of the question. So Clanton uses a modified “spud gun” with fishing line.

Norm Clanton charges up a modified spud gun that he uses to set up an antenna for his short wave radio at the American Radio Relay League’s 87th Annual Field Day in Sumner on Saturday. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

Demonstrating, he pumped air into the gun and fired it, sending the line into the air. It landed about 20 feet away in a field. Clanton said he tried slingshots and ladders before finding the blueprints for the cannon online and building his own prototype. 

Clanton, also a member of the Oxford County Amateur Radio Emergency Response Team spent time in the “shack,” a tent, receiving and transmitting Morse code. A typical message sent from Oxford Emergency to other operators was “T R R (Roger Roger) TV (Thank you) ME (the operator’s location, Maine,) finished with K, go ahead, indicating Clanton is waiting for a response. 

Clanton began as a licensed amateur radio operator in 1954, with an 18-year hiatus when he served the U.S. Air Force. He said a great part of the hobby is the constant learning involved. 

“There’s so many aspects to it,” he said. “If you lived to be 150, you couldn’t know it all.”

George Jones from the Oxford County Amateur Radio Emergency Service/Community Emergency Response Team demonstrates how to use a ham radio at the American Radio Relay League’s 87th Annual Field Day in Sumner on Saturday. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

Part of the joy of Field Day is showing the public the methods and science behind the broadcasting. But there’s also a practical purpose: In the event of a widespread emergency, ham radio operators are tasked with communicating with authorities. 

Clanton said he relishes any chance to “lure” young people into the hobby.

“With all the cellphones and instant messaging out there, the idea of coming out with a little radio and talking to someone around the world is a great way to learn,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends.”


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