Louisiana radio buffs caught up on sleep Sunday night, after an all-night quest at the Highland Road Park Observatory over the weekend.

Dozens of amateur radio operators — also known as “hams” — spent 24 hours trying to contact counterparts in all 50 states and 12 Canadian provinces through the platform. They ultimately reached 44 states and six provinces, plus an operator in Japan.

The challenge was part of the American Radio Relay League’s annual Field Day, involving thousands of radio clubs and stations across North America.

“It’s another chance to talk to people far away,” said LSU physics professor Dana Browne, who advises the school’s amateur radio club and has reached stations as far as Brazil. “It gives us a chance to show off what this field can do.”

Browne compares amateur radio scanning to fishing. Weather conditions need to be just right — the ionosphere just thick enough — for hams to trade greetings with distant signals, he said.

But the Field Day didn’t only test how far connections can reach. It also familiarized ham operators with how to handle emergencies. Amateur radio can become a prime source of contact when disasters interrupt power, phone and Internet lines.

“Systems commonly get overloaded when you evacuate a lot of people,” said Steve Irving, an emergency communications lead with the American Red Cross. “You’ve got to have a backup in communications, so shelters and hospitals can discuss what resources they have and need.”

More than 725,000 hams have Federal Communications Commission licenses today, an agency record. The ages of operators range from nine to 100.

“It’s a lot of time thought of as an outdated hobby, but the physics are still the same,” said Katherine Dugas, an LSU senior and member of the school’s amateur radio club. “There’s something for everyone.”

To become a member of Baton Rouge’s ham community — or to learn about getting an amateur radio license — visit the Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Society’s website.

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