One of the first things that attracted me to this hobby was operating in the great outdoors; or as I refer to it now, my Big Blue Sky Shack. I enjoyed erecting wire antennas out in the field and calling CQ to see if I could get any responses. That was in the days when I was an SSB operator, before Morse Code became my joy and passion.
A sense of guilt was always with me. As I have written in an earlier post, I was always nervous that some official would tell me “you can’t do that here”. As a result my field kit was designed around one principal idea: rapid deployment.
And then I heard about something called “RaDAR” – Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. RaDAR is the brainchild of South African operator Eddie Leighton ZS6BNE. I jumped on it enthusiastically, as did many others. It was the rapid deployment bit that got my attention.
The RaDAR Challenge
RaDAR attracted a very large audience on the now defunct Google+ platform. Twice a year (and later three times a year) RaDAR operators would go out into the field to practice their craft in what is called the “RaDAR Challenge”.
In a RaDAR Challenge participants set up a station, make 5 contacts, then tear down and move on a prescribed distance (based on mode of transport) and repeat as many times as possible within a 4-hour window. Each contact involved exchanging grid locators of at least 6, but preferably 8 or more characters.
RaDAR? What’s That?
I encountered two main problems. Most of my contacts had never heard of RaDAR. I had to try and explain the concept to them during the QSO. Then, most had no idea what their grid square locator was; they had to look it up.
The RaDAR group on Google+ was very active online but maybe not so much during RaDAR Challenges. That meant RaDAR-to-RaDAR contacts were harder to find than other QSOs. At least, that was my experience.
As with all too many Google services Google+ closed down. The RaDAR group moved to other platforms such as MeWe and groups.io but never recovered its subscriber base.
And Then Along Came POTA
Parks On The Air (POTA) was a game-changer. It has been a phenomenal success. The essential element of “rapid deployment” was still there but the strictly formatted exchanges of RaDAR are not. A POTA QSO only requires an exchange of callsigns to be valid (although RST reports and QTH are usually exchanged as well).
Initially, Parks On the Air offered RaDAR awards but these were recently withdrawn because of an essential discrepancy between the two programs. RaDAR involves moving after 5 contacts. POTA activations require 10 contacts. Oh sure, RaDAR operators can make 10 contacts too, but anything after the first 5 only slows them down when they need to move on.
POTA activators usually move on to another park to get credit for another activation. The only time constraint is to complete individual activations within the same UTC day. RaDAR Challenge participants are seeking multiple deployments within a narrow window (typically 4 hours) so they need to keep travel time down to the minimum. That would often mean moving only 1km on foot – and probably staying within the same park.
Where Does RaDAR Go From Here?
I owe a lot to Eddie ZS6BNE and others like Greg N4KGL. Greg has done so much to promote RaDAR in North America. RaDAR gave me an outlet for my passion for rapid deployment field radio. I confess that POTA has me in its firm grip now. Every day can be a POTA day whereas RaDAR Challenges come only every few months. When I call CQ POTA the hungry hunters are on me like foxes on a henhouse. If I call CQ RaDAR I get to listen to dead air most of the time. I wish it weren’t so.
Where Does RaDAR go from here? I hope it can adapt and evolve but that is for others to decide. The rules have changed to widen its appeal but a lot more RaDAR operators are needed to achieve a self-sustaining critical mass. The big question is, what will it take to achieve that? To learn more about RaDAR visit https://radarops.co.za/.