Ham Radio Operators Make Most of Contacts

by Paul Garber, Journal Reporter
Winston-Salem Journal – Journalnow.com

Members of North Carolina club competed in Antigua

LEWISVILLE – Henry Heidtmann and Robert Whitaker spent a week in March on the Caribbean island of Antigua. But they barely got a glimpse of the island’s white beaches and crystal blue waters.

Instead, they spent most of their time hunkered down in a small unadorned building, trying to talk to people they didn’t even know, who were hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Heidtmann, who lives in Lewisville, and Whitaker, who lives in Winston-Salem, participated in an international Ham radio contest, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League.

Their goal was to make as many contacts with other Ham radio operators as possoble during the 48-hour contest period. They ended up making more than 6,000 contacts. The final results of the competition have not been verified, but Heidtmann believes that it will be enough to put them among the top, perhaps even first.

Heidtmann and Whitaker are members of the Forsyth Amateur Radio Club, which began in 1930.

Don Edwards, the club’s president, said that the club has gotten more competitive in the contests over the last several years.

“We’ve been consistently coming in four, five, or six during the last five years,” he said.

He gives a lot of the credit to Heidtmann, who has been a member since the late 1980s. “He’s competitive, and I mean that in a good way,” Edwards said.

Whitaker, who also has a network of towers at his home, said he enjoys participating in a white-collar contest on a blue-collar budget.

“It’s another one of those rich-man’s hobbies,” he said. “But we don’t have any money.”

The antennas in his backyard were built by him and other club members, often using cables and recycled wire that could be scrounged together.

Both Heidtmann and Whitaker have participated in past contests locally, but wanted to try it from the Antigua station. The station, framed by a set of radio antennas, is known in the amateur-radio community for doing well in competitions.

Whitaker said that it is not the number of antennas that makes the Antigua station so special, it is the location. It takes a complicated set of variables for a signal to broadcast well, and the Antigua station has the right geography to make it accessible to a wide number of users, he said.

They were able to book the station for the contest after Whitaker met one of the controllers of the station. They scheduled the trip about nine months in advance of the contest and took with them more than $3,000 worth of their equipment. “To spend a week outside of the country playing radio is a privilege,” said Heidtmann, a technology specialist for Summit School. “We decided to go for it.”

They broke up the two-day contest by working in four- or five-hour shifts, during which time the radio was never off. The conversations they had with other operators were never long – just enough time to get their signal and location before moving on to another operator.

There is no prize money if they win, just a plaque commemorating their achievement.

For Heidtmann, that’s enough.

“If everything holds up, we’ll be No. 1 in the wworld,” he said. “And that would be cool.”