WESTMINSTER -- This past weekend, members of the Carroll County Amateur Radio Club could be found hamming it up at their annual Field Day competition.
The contest, from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Emergency Operations Center in Westminster, provided an opportunity for amateur radio operators to keep their skills sharp in case an emergency should arise.
"The contest helps us simulate the conditions if there were any sort of emergency," said Bill Garvin, club treasurer and publicity chairman. "For instance, if all the power in Westminster went out, we have the capability to set up stations at the Emergency Operations Center and other locations in the community to supply emergency communications."
Working off emergency power during the 24-hour period, some 50 operators (also known as "hams") used five radio stations to make contact with other operators in the United States and Canada.
Morse code, telephone, satellite and computer-generated data were the most popular sources of communication used to make contacts and score points in the contest.
"We receive a certain number of points for each contact we make during the 24-hour period. We try to make as many contacts as we can," Garvin said. "When our Field Day is over, we send a list of contacts we made to the American Radio Relay League in Connecticut, who directs the contest. Ultimately, they decide the ranking."
Last year, the Carroll County club placed 13th out of some 550 clubs competing in the same class nationwide.
There are about 3,000 amateur radio clubs in the United States.
New Windsor resident Harold Burge, who participated in the Field Day, joined the club four years ago so he could learn more about operating radios.
"I joined for the learning experience," said Burge. "This started out as a hobby for me. Like any hobby, you start out knowing a little about it, but being in the club, more experienced people can give you information."
Field Day participants learn what it takes to make the operation work.
"We all get a kick out of going out and rapping our knuckles on these antennas," Garvin said. "For a once-a-year event, it takes a lot of work. We had about 20 guys out here Friday, getting everything [four towers and 12 antennas] set up so we could start on Saturday."
At present, there are about 130 members in the Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, and President Bob Dickey said each member has his or her own reason for participating.
"People get involved for hundreds of reasons," Dickey said. "We have a lot of women who have gotten interested primarily to communicate with their husbands and other family members. Younger people get involved because they have an interest in computers, and others just want to talk to people in other parts of the world."
Dickey said results of the competition will not be known until October.