Brookfield resident Ron Urbaytis, 57, was forced to leave his ham radio hobby behind in 1964 when he was drafted for the Vietnam War.
Forty years later, it’s fitting that he picked up the microphone again in North Riverside’s Veteran’s Park, contacting people around the world as part of the Ham Radio Field Day on June 24-25.
“It’s kind of a contest,” said Urbaytis, one of the organizers of the event for the Chicago Urban Radio Association. The Field Day is held every year for 24 hours at locations around the city, and the rest of the country.
“You run different frequencies, and try to reach a high number of contacts and certain types of stations, he said.” It’s basically a chance for all amateur radio operators to get contacts around the world, and to test our skills.
The event, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, was also observed by thousands of other enthusiasts across the country. After tables of equipment, speakers and antennas were set up by 1 p.m. Saturday, the hobbyists had 24 hours to contact as many other stations as possible, using voice and Morse code.
“The event is held every year as practice, so that we can assist quickly in emergencies such as earthquakes or fires,” said George Ashman, one of the officers of the association. “Our operators are there for when commercial phones and communications go down, such as the recent tsunami disaster.”
There are 670,000 amateur radio operators in the United Stated, and more than 2.5 million around the world, according to the league. While new technology such as cellphones and e-mail have replaced clunky walkie-talkies and CB radios formerly used by emergency personnel, most technology is still not as reliable as a ham radio, said league officials.
“It’s also not too difficult to learn or financially hard to get into, you can buy good used equipment for about $150,” said Urbaytis, who also serves as chairman of the association’s membership committee.
Like any hobby, however, equipment can get expensive, he said.
“The antenna is where you could spend as much as $1,000, he said. You want to be able to reach as far as possible. My wife keeps yelling at me that I’m growing an antenna farm.”
The Internet is what brought Urbaytis back to a hobby he had shared with his father in childhood. He saw some equipment on sale a couple years ago, bought some of the used equipment, and started looking for local clubs.
“The association used to meet in North Riverside; it was close to home, he said. I went one day, and they were just a real nice bunch of guys.”
The club has since moved, and now meets once a month at the Hines VA Hospital in Maywood, at Roosevelt Road and Fifth Avenue, and is trying to set up a station there. One goal is to bring in new members, young and old, Urbaytis said, and the requirements have gotten easier.
Since he started out fresh again after his long respite, he’s still a “general” class operator, trying for his “extra” license. A new operator will start out in the “technician” class, learning ham radio Federal Communications Commissions rules and regulations, and must pass a test to advance to each higher license.
Urbaytis’ equipment is set up in a basement workroom. He said he enjoys experimenting with different types of radios and gadgets.
“I like what we call DX-ing, talking as far away as you can to other countries,” Urbaytis said.
“I was set up shortly before Field Day, and set up a 6-foot antenna, and had it connected to the basement equipment. I was really surprised when, moving around frequencies, I reached a station in the Ukraine,” he said. “I could understand them, of course. The universal language is English.”
For more information about the Chicago Urban Radio Association, call (630) 575-9650 or visit www.csraham.com.