A lifelong obsession with amateur radio started for Kevin Stockton as a teenager, snatching brief bursts of conversation with his father from far-flung destinations like Namibia and the Maldives.
The Arkansas native, now a speech therapist in the Cayman Islands, vividly recalls tuning in late at night to hear his father’s familiar voice crackle over the airwaves.
From there, his enthusiasm for amateur radio developed into a passion that will see him compete next month in the World Radiosport Championships in the U.S.
The contest pits the best amateur or “ham radio” operators from around the world against each other – challenging them to make as many “contacts” as possible with other enthusiasts across the globe in a 24-hour period.
The competition is deadly serious – competitors don’t sleep, some don’t even get up to go to the bathroom.
“I’m taking this as seriously as someone might take the World Cup,” said Mr. Stockton. “My partner and I will be up against the best operators in the world. There are teams from Russia, Japan, Africa and Europe.”
Mr. Stockton and his partner, Steve London, were selected based on regional trials in the U.S.
The scoring system for the competition, which involves trading personalized signals known as call signs with other radio operators around the world, means there are extra points for making contact with different countries.
And Mr. Stockton plans to check in on the Cayman Islands to see if he can score a unique connection.
“There is an amateur radio club down here and hopefully I will be able to make contact,” he said.
Both Mr. Stockton and his partner will be manning the dials for the full 24 hours.
“I’ve stayed up for 48 hours before, so it should not be too difficult but I think we will definitely need the odd Red Bull every once in a while,” he said.
Amateur Radio enables licensed participants to use short wave frequencies to communicate with peers from around the world. Licensed operators use their radio equipment to talk anywhere on earth, using different “modes of operation,” such as voice, Morse code, or any of several digital modes, also pioneered within the ham radio community.
Mr. Stockton and his father have built a fairly extensive network of aerials at their home in Arkansas. They have also built all 65 antennas for the competition, which seeks to level the playing field by requiring all competitors to use standardized equipment.
He said the competition would be purely down to operator skill, rather than the expense or the quality of the equipment.
With operators trying to make around four “contacts” every minute, he believes efficiency and a cool head under pressure will be the key skills required.
The competition takes place in New England from July 9 and involves 59 teams from 38 countries.