Bud Seamen of Prescott, Ariz., and three friends traveled from different parts of California and Arizona to the Desert Tower near Jacumba on Oct. 5 to join in a statewide Ham radio competition.
The California QSO Party is an annual competition that has taken place the first weekend of October since 1966.
“We make the commute to the Desert Tower every year to take advantage of the region’s unique geography for this competition,” Seaman said.
The tower is perched atop the Mountain Springs grade on the San Diego-Imperial County line and has an expansive view of Imperial Valley that reaches to Arizona. That is also beneficial for radio transmission.
Seamen has traveled to this event every year since 1989.
“Part of the scoring in this competition is based on how many of the 58 counties in California have you talked to during the competition,” he explained. “If you want to talk to the Imperial Valley, you have to talk to us. We are the only team competing in this county.”
Teams and individuals face off in various categories to earn points throughout the two-day tournament for each message sent and received in Morse code or voice.
Seamen said, “The competition encourages us to use Morse code. We get three points per call when we use Morse code and one for voice.”
The team listened intently round the clock for two days to the beeping sounds of Morse Code emitting from a microphone plugged into their Ham radio. A computer was connected to their radio displaying detailed information of the operator on the other end of the line.
Explaining what a Ham radio is and how it works, Seaman said, “It is a hobby. We spend our time talking to other people around the world. We have to get a license to operate and participate in emergency communications.”
Also known as amateur radio, Ham radio emits a signal through a personal radio tower. Ham radio operators are required to have a license from the American Radio Relay League and are able to assist public-service agencies during moments of power outages or disaster. Sometimes they are the only means of communication.
The team set up a large radio tower on top of their RV for the competition. Team member Jim Price operated the radio while being interviewed.
“This is only the first day of the competition. We have been getting calls from all over the world and already talked to over 1000 people since 9 a.m. this morning,” Price said.
Dan Severance joined the team in 2006 and noted Ham is a type of social media.
“The nice thing about doing contests is it’s the best time to talk to people from other countries. Ham radio enthusiasts who are not competing get on the air during the competition because they get to talk to lots of people,” Severance said.
There are licensed Ham radio operators registered in many countries but most are in the U.S. and Canada.
During an interview a call from Slovenia came in through the team’s radio.
Seamen told a story about a call from earlier in the day: “Somebody in Liberia heard us and typed into his computer that he heard us. That was broadcast on the Internet that he heard us and told everyone in that country to contact us.”
Seamen had met the Liberian Ham group during a previous competition.
“We have friends from all over the world because we talk to them on the radio,” he said.
When asked about how his team has fared in past QSO competitions Seamen chuckled and boasted, “Well it’s funny you should ask. We compete in the county expedition category. We have won this category 20 out of the last 25 years.”
Results for this year’s competition will be available later in the year. For more information about the California QSO Party visit www.cqp.org.