JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During emergencies like hurricanes or other natural disasters, many times, the first things you lose is electricity and the power to communicate. That's when amateur radio operators can become lifesavers during search and rescue missions when communication is key.
The annual American Radio Relay League Field Day was held Saturday at the Hogan Baptist Ball Field in Duval County, where amateur radio operators got together to hone their craft.
John Reynolds is an amateur radio operator who communicates as W4IJJ, which is a call sign issued by the Federal Communications Commission.
That call sign was his late father's, and Reynolds applied for it after his dad passed away.
He said they shared a love for radios.
That love is also shared by many people throughout the county, state and country.
"My personal goal is to talk to people in all 50 states in 24 hours," said amateur radio operator Todd Lovelace.
While that's his goal, he said he keeps in mind the importance of the job amateur radio operators do.
"The purpose here is to get out and practice with our equipment to make sure we know how to set it up properly and we can use it properly in adverse conditions. (It's) hot, rainy, miserable (out here) because that is how it is after an emergency," Lovelace said.
A 24-foot antenna can be assembled in a matter of minutes with just a screwdriver and wrench.
"I can talk around the world from this pavilion right here. It never ceases to amaze me that I can talk around the world with a piece of wire," Lovelace said.
The annual drill has been going on since the 1950s to ensure backup radio communications work properly during emergencies.
"I have seen what happens after a storm. You always lose cellphone, public radio, telephone, FM/AM, everything will be gone, so somebody has to provide communications. That is the No. 1 resource needed by ER (emergency room) managers," said Lovelace.
He should know. He helped out during Hurricane Michael last year.
"I spent six days in Marianna, Florida, providing communications to (an) emergency room center," Lovelace said. "Amateur radio equipment is totally independent of any infrastructure. We don’t need wireless, cable, electricity from the utility company, (and) we don’t need a landline."
That's because the radios are powered by portable generators and solar panels.
The group that gathered is known as the North Florida Amateur Radio Society or NOFARS for short.