DEVENS -- John Crovelli, of New Jersey, sits in a tent crowded with the finest radio equipment, turning a knob and pausing as Morse code pours over the airwaves.
"This station you're hearing right now is in Brazil," he said, decoding the language on Friday, July 11.
He scours the waves again and more intermittent beeps resurface.
"That's a station in Japan," he said. "How about that, huh?"
Crovelli and his teammate, George Demontrond, are one of 59 teams in the seventh World Radiosport Team Championship -- think Olympics, but with Morse code as a second universal language.
Amateur radio operators, or "hams," came from all over the world to New England this past weekend to participate in the 24-hour competition. The goal was to contact as many other "hams" around the world as possible.
And these participants mean business. Sleeping is not an option.
"If you're not operating, you're not winning," Crovelli said. "There's no question about it."
His team's equipment, he said, is worth about half-million dollars.
"This is pretty sophisticated compared to some regular amateur radio stations," he said. "You can see it's built for competition."
An antenna stands directly behind the tent, which holds a hodgepodge of gear. Two radios allow both team members to work at once, one talking to stations over a microphone and another through Morse code.
A referee placed at each site monitors the team all 24 hours to make sure it's properly contacting other stations and to keep an eye on energy levels. No team can run more than 10 watts of output power.
Each two-member team gets its own site, and this year, 10 were located in Devens. Terrain is equal in all 59 sites, so no team gets a geographical advantage.
On the phone, Crovelli said he can reach six to eight contacts a minute. Though Morse code contact is much slower, maybe at two to four per minute. He estimates reaching 4,500 to 5,000 contacts by the 8 a.m. finish time on Sunday.
Crovelli has been in amateur radio for 52 years, starting when he bought a used radio at age 10.
"I lived in a one-horse town in western New Jersey and it was my window on the world," he said.
At another site in Devens off Cavite Street, Team Cyprus sets up for the competition. Marios Nicolaou and Stavros Tsiakkouris both learned amateur radio in high school together while growing up in Cyprus.
"We're quite unique," Tsiakkouris said of his team. "Small countries don't typically have representation, because there's only 59 teams and obviously there's many more countries in the world than 59 teams."
The competition features only the world's absolute finest -- contestants had to submit their best scores from three years of competitions to qualify in one of the 29 divided regions of the world.
"These guys are the best in their area, definitely the biggest in their country," said Ed Kulchenko, the Team Cyprus referee. "But it covers a bigger area than just their country. They earned their spot to be here, it wasn't just a random drawing."
Starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 12, Kulchenko would be sitting in between both teammates and listening to them try to make contact with Japan, Russia, Italy -- anywhere. His headphones carry a frequency in each ear, one in Morse code and one in English.
Similar to the other site, an antenna is perched just behind the tent. It can automatically point in any direction at the touch of a dial.
The shift of a few degrees can mean the difference between talking to Alaska and Chile.
"Whisky one slash five, bravo, four, whisky, November," Nicolaou speaks into his headphone. Somewhere in the world, a female voice with an accent responds.
"Whisky 1, talk again?" comes a buzzing reply.
Nicolaou repeats himself a few more times. The two exchange a few technical words.
"Thank you and good luck in the contest," the voice rasps. "Bye bye."
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