Grant Zehr of Bloomington operates a radio during the Central Illinois Radio Club Field Day, held in rural Downs on Saturday, June 22, 2013. The call sign box for W9EX is in honor of the late Floyd Hoffman, an avid radio operator and club member. (The Pantagraph/STEVE SMEDLEY)

Radio Field Day by Steve Smedley - The Pantagraph

2013-06-22T18:20:00Z Ham Radio Club prepares for the worst in DownsBy Kenneth Lowe | [email protected] 14 hours ago o By Kenneth Lowe | [email protected] DOWNS - Come planet-killing asteroid strike, massive superstorm or zombie apocalypse, emergency workers can count on at least one mode of communication not to falter: the venerable ham radio. To be prepared for such a situation and to maintain knowledge about how to contact one another, ham radio or "amateur radio" enthusiasts gathered all over the United States and Canada for the American Radio Relay League's Field Day on Saturday.

Members of the Central Illinois Radio Club assembled at the Old Town Township Hall, 22034 E. 1000 North Road in Downs to set up radio equipment and reach out to other broadcasters across North America. It's a practice they have engaged in since the international event began in 1933. The purpose of the Field Day is to make connections with other amateur radio operators, noting who is active and where they are in the event of a catastrophe that brings down telephone or satellite communications, said Mike Sallee, secretary of the club. To that end, about 30 operators came together with their radio equipment in Downs. "We're practicing for an emergency," Sallee said. "The idea is that we're going to go out and pretend that there's no electricity, no cell towers, no telephones and say, 'Can we set up our radios and can we make radio contact and pass messages back and forth?'"

The annual event has been a hallmark of the Central Illinois Radio Club for 80 years, with the club coming in second place at the very first Field Day in 1933, said Ed Deutsch, vice president of the club. Clubs are awarded points based on how many connections they make with other amateur radio operators. Even amateur radio has seen some digital technology infiltrate it. Deutsch and a fellow radio man operated a laptop computer that hooks into radios and scans for frequencies from all the over the world, and even above it: On the right day, he said he can contact the International Space Station. The hobby draws many tinkerers and creative types, said Gary Huber, 67, of rural Downs. Huber said he remembers the day the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first manmade satellite. Later in life, he programmed Blackberry devices for State Farm before retiring. Technology may have evolved rapidly during all that time, Huber said, but amateur radio still has uses and still inspires creativity. "Engineers come up with all the theoretical stuff, and a lot of them are ham radio operators," Huber said.