DANNEMORA - When Gary J. Donivan was a kid, amateur radio fascinated him.
"I was really interested back then, but you had to learn Morse code to get an amateur radio license and I never conquered Morse code," admitted Donivan. "So, I forgot about it."
Several years later, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC as it is more commonly known, dropped the Morse code requirement, rekindling Donivan's interest.
"When I found that out, I took the exam and passed it," he said with a smile.
The amateur radio, or "ham radio" license, to which it is often referred, opened up many new doors for Donivan, including one to a membership in the Champlain Valley Amateur Radio Club.
"I got involved with the guys at the club and it's just gone from there. I've been involved quite extensively ever since," said Donivan, who today serves as a member of the club's board of trustees.
And, every year since he's been a member, Donivan has joined his fellow club members participating in the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day. The two-day event, always held the last full weekend in June, is a way to test the skills of amateur radio or "ham" operators on what to do in the event of a communications emergency.
That training is important, said Donivan. When called upon by the Clinton County Office of Emergency Services, the club is able to provide communications for emergency officials in situations where other means of communication aren't accessible, he explained.
"The Ice Storm in 1998 is a perfect example," he said. "The club was able to provide communications when other means weren't available. If we had another emergency like that, we could be activated again to assist in communications in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties - wherever we might be needed."
The club - which has provided communications for events like the Tupper Lake Tinman Triathalon, Lake Placid Ironman Triathalon, and the Plattsburgh YMCA Y-Tri held at Point au Roche State Park - has been able to do just that with the use of an ambulance it received from CVPH Medical Center a few years ago, said Donivan. The ambulance was retrofitted with the necessary equipment to communicate with other amateur radios, essentially making it an emergency communications vehicle.
"If it came to a really drastic measure where the county needed a mobile command station, we could move it wherever they need it," said Donivan.
The ARRL Field Day - scheduled for this Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28 - is a perfect opportunity to showcase what the club can do, said club president Daniel L. Jerry, West Chazy.
"The Field Day is a national weekend once a year where hams get together and simulate an emergency communications activation," explained Jerry. "We gather together at noon on Saturday and erect antennas, set up our equipment and get on the air as fast as we can, getting in contact with other groups doing the same thing all over the country."
However, amateur radio operating isn't all work, and this weekend's event will show that, said Donivan. The community is greatly encouraged to come out to learn more about what can also be a fun hobby by trying out the radios first-hand, he said.
"People might find they have quite an interest in this when they try it out, especially when they're able to talk to people in places like Europe or Australia," said Donivan. "I've talked to people all over the world. It's fun."
"We certainly invite and encourage people to come and see what's going on," said Jerry.
The ARRL Field Day will be held just outside the village of Dannemora on Douglas Road, from noon Saturday to noon Sunday.
If someone wanted to get their license either day, licensed examiners will be on-hand to administer tests as well, said Donivan. And, if they miss the test, the club offers them locally every other month in Plattsburgh, he added.
For more information about the Champlain Valley Amateur Radio Club or this weekend's ARRL Field Day, visit the club's Web site, www.cvarc.us or contact Jerry at 572-1040 or Donivan at 492-2303.