Image from 2016 Amateur Radio Field Day in Berkeley. (Photo by Sharon Primbsch)

As ham radio enthusiast Don Simon of El Cerrito turns a radio knob, listening for a clear voice on the other end, Sierra Pickett of Oakland waits with him.

The radio squeals, then a voice reminiscent of the teacher’s voice in the Charlie Brown cartoons, comes through.

“It’s your turn — do it,” Simon tells Pickett and she pulls the microphone close to speak the call sign “November Six Bravo Romeo Kilo.” The voice on the other end replies “copy.”

With that, Pickett and Simon made contact with another ham enthusiast, a goal of the Amateur Radio Field Day event held recently at Cesar E. Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina.

The Northern Alameda County Amateur Radio Emergency Service group and East Bay Amateur Radio Club, along with 40,000 others across the country, participated in the event to raise awareness and interest in ham radio.

It was also a fun exercise for them. Participants competed to get as many contacts as possible. In the morning, when the sun was at a low angle, they reached operators in Florida and Utah.

Lynn Zummo, a ham radio operator in the Northern Alameda County group, took part for the emergency communication the club offers to Berkeley, Albany, area hospitals, and UC Berkeley.

“So, if their internal communication goes down in an emergency, they have us to communicate for them internally and with other agencies like the state, FEMA, the Red Cross,” she said.

They aided communication in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1991 Tunnel Fire in Oakland. They don’t want emergencies to happen, but they are prepared.

Ham radio operators from the club also help the Berkeley Fire Patrol on red flag and extreme fire days, going up into the hills and being extra eyes and ears for the fire department. They are looking for people illegally grilling, any kind of fire and faulty hydrants. They were activated a dozen times recently, Zummo said.

There was something different happening in each tent in the park during the weekend Field Day event. One welcomed the unlicensed public to try their hand at contacting others. Another tent was filled with licensed operators trying to make contact for the game.

The gathering looked so interesting that park goers often stopped to ask questions, which was exactly the purpose.

Club member John Palmer started his volunteer service with Berkeley’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, and then got involved in walkie-talkie community emergency networks. That was a direct lead to ham radio. It goes further than the walkie-talkie range and he gets a kick out of helping the public.

“To me, giving back a little bit doing the fire patrols we do and this out here is fun,” Palmer said.

Pickett’s contact in the public demonstration tent was her first since becoming interested in ham radio after the Sonoma County wildfires. She said finding someone as they move the tuner ever so slightly, is “like finding a needle in a haystack,” but once that contact is made, a deep satisfaction follows.

Learn more about the East Bay Amateur Radio Club by visiting their website at For more on Northern Alameda County Amateur Radio Emergency Service group, go to