Each year I post an article with tips for Field Day organizers, but admittedly most folks who volunteer to lead such events already know how to organize a good Field Day event. Something I see year after year but is rarely talked about is personal growth from these events. What does personal growth have to do with Field Day, you ask? By personal growth, I mean learning new things, becoming more technically proficient, and become an overall more skilled operator. You see some folks who come one year who are nervous about getting on the mic, they observe others operate, and during a slow period they may get coaxed into operating awhile. They get the hang of it after an hour or two and do fairly well. Next year when they come back to Field Day, they readily volunteer to operate and can belt out 60 or 70 QSOs an hour, with someone logging alongside. The next year they can operate and log all by themselves. Perhaps later they will branch out and do digital modes or CW. There’s a learning process going on, and it extends outside of Field Day where skills and techniques learned are applied to everyday operating or perhaps casual contest operating. Ultimately these people become a key part of the Field Day organizing process, readily becoming a resource and providing expertise to others.
Unfortunately there tends to be an element at annual Field Days who don’t grasp this concept. They don’t listen during the demonstrations of the logging program during the preparation meetings or at the final pep talk before Field Day operating kicks off. They don’t want to know how the rigs work, they will depend each year on someone setting up the band, mode, and tuner before they operate. Some may drive into the site several hours into the event, hop in an operating position in prime time hours, eat some food, and leave. Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to be a casual operator, but if you’ve been at your local club’s Field Day for the past decade, you owe it to yourself and those who are putting a lot of effort into the event to help out, learn, grow, and contribute.
Get to know the logging program. Most clubs these days tend to use free logging programs. You can download them from the Internet, install them, and get to know how they work. Undoubtedly you’ll be able to use the Field Day logging program in your own shack.
Learn about antennas. There’s a reason why Miracle Whip or Buddipole antennas, while very portable, easy to setup, and convenient, are horribly lousy antennas for Field Day. Yes, everyone does believe you worked Europe with one, which by the way, was on 10 meters when it opened up one day ten years ago.
Watch others making QSOs. Some guys can’t make a QSO to save their life, and others can stack up QSOs like cordwood. Band conditions certainly help, but you’ll notice some ops just take the mic and do short CQs, they skillfully adjust their verbaige in order to make the best use of frequency time, they manage pileups well, and they use proper phonetics and at the right times. They amass QSOs effortlessly. Other operators just can’t seem to get it together. They do long 40 second CQs in which they say CQ numerous times, but say the callsign only once or twice. They’ll wait a long time in between CQs. When someone does answer they’ll waste time giving their own callsign, perhaps multiple times. If they don’t copy the station on their first call, they’ll spend 30 seconds telling the station how weak they are, wasting precious time that could be used for the station to try again. While no one is asking people to have the communications efficiency of an air traffic controller, you can have a lot more fun with less effort by adopting a few simple techniques.
Learn about the equipment. Field Day is a great opportunity to see new rigs in operation you’re not familiar with. Ask the owner of the equipment to show you how the menus work and find out what they like and don’t like about the rigs.
Bring a pair of headphones, a “Y” adapter, a notepad and pen, and ride shotgun on the CW station. CW contesting is probably one of the most intimidating things in amateur radio, if you’ve never experienced it. Sit alongside someone running CW on Field Day and just listen and try to copy callsigns. After you attempt to copy a callsign, look up at the logging program screen and see what call the lead operator copied. You will be amazed at what you can pick out and how you eventually get the “rhythm”. Before you know it, you’ll want to hop on the keyboard and give it a try. It’s addictive.
Network and help out. While most clubs welcome people to come for a short period of time and operate, if you’re a regular annual attendee, you owe it to your club to stick around longer and talk with folks, get to know new members, and help with the clean up. If you’re a seasoned amateur, you owe it to the hobby to help others become seasoned operators.