FOR SIMI HAM RADIO CONTESTANTS, THE MEDIUM BECOMES THE MESSAGE.
The Berylwood Elementary School playground, usually a haven for athletic-minded children, was on Saturday a field of antennas, power generators and tents shading emergency radio communications units.
But a familiar voice was missing from the Simi Settlers Amateur Radio Club's 24th annual Field Day: Simi Valley resident Donald Morgan Jr., who died June 5 at age 17 from a seizure.
Morgan took to the hobby after strolling into the Field Day operation two years ago, eventually constructing his own antennas.
``He had been battling (seizures) for eight months,'' said club member Eric English, a 33-year-old Simi Valley resident. ``We didn't know he was ill. We were shocked. He was a brilliant young man interested in electronics and an exceptional learner.''
The 50 members expected to take part in the 24-hour marathon ham radio contest, which began at 11 a.m. Saturday, dedicated the event to Morgan.
Tens of thousands of radio operators across the United States and Canada joined radio frequencies in the annual contest to see who could make the most contacts during the allotted time.
Field days are designed to hone the skills of operators, who are called upon by hospitals, police and other emergency services personnel to provide damage and needs assessments during catastrophes such as earthquakes.
``It's important because we can't rely on any commercial power,'' said club President John Beckers, 54, of Simi Valley.
The focus is on proper radio etiquette - operators are identified by their Federal Communications Commission license numbers, not their names.
``This is open to the public,'' said club member Tom Wheeler, 55, of Moorpark. ``If somebody comes in off the street, they can sit down and operate one of the stations and see what amateur radio is like.''
Many Field Day participants were expected to remain on site for the entire 24 hours.
There are no prizes for communicating with the most radio centers, but each club's results will be published in the November issue of QST magazine, published by Newington, Conn.-based Amateur Radio Relay League, the industry's governing body.
During the rest of the year, operators spend countless hours communicating with each other across the globe, discussing everything from personal profiles and industry-related issues to sports and tourist information.
``What's unique about it is you don't recognize their faces, but you recognize their voices when you've been on the air awhile,'' said Wheeler. The late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the late King Hussein of Jordan, television anchor Walter Cronkite, rock singer Joe Walsh and country music stars Patti Loveless and Ronnie Milsap are known ham radio enthusiasts.
PHOTO (1--Color) Dave Timoshik made 30 Morse code contacts in 30 different states within 30 minutes during Saturday's ham radio competition.
Dave Timoshik used a transceiver to make contact with other (2--Color) Morse code operators around the nation Saturday.
Eric Grigorian/Special to the Daily News