Documentary: Coconino Amateur Radio Club at The Grand Canyon Marathon

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Canon XH-A1

Canon Rebel T2i

Audio Recorder: Zoom H2

Editor: Final Cut 7

I’ve always had a curiosity toward amateur radio. It probably stems from my dad’s lectures about electricity, given to me in my early youth. (Since then I’ve annoyed my friends with them.) In spring, I checked out a ham radio field day in Doney Park, Ariz., and found it intriguing, so I decided to focus a documentary on what some would call a dying hobby.

What I found during the making of this video is that ham radio is not dead. In fact, it’s well alive and has found its place in the public service field. Ham radio operators work to coordinate relief efforts for natural disasters, such as the recent Schultz fire in Flagstaff, the tornados in Bellemont, etc. On the side, ham hobbyists help provide communications for various events, including marathons.

Northern Arizona is a great venue for marathons. Trails and scenery are vast, readily accessible, and close to great towns and cities. The Coconino Amateur Radio Club regularly helps provide communication for these marathons. Most recently, they worked with The Grand Canyon Marathon, a combination half and full marathon that runs along the south rim of the Grand Canyon and continues along a forest service road to Tusayan, Ariz. at the IMAX theater.

I drove to Tusayan from Flagstaff on the afternoon of the 5th to meet with the radio club and the rest of the marathon folks. With video production, to make a shoot go smoothly, you need to have everything planned out well in advance. I was honestly worried about this one since I knew very few details until the afternoon before the race. Thankfully, the safety coordinator and the club were able to help me set up a time table for shooting locations that fit the approximate schedule of the runners. This was a challenge, since I wasn’t allowed to drive along the rim, but it was all figured out.

When planning, I did know that spending the night in Tusayan was the most convenient and cheapest way to get to the pre-setup rendezvous at 5:30 a.m. Unfortunately, my blankets failed me, and as the van filled with cold (i.e. below freezing) air, so did my bed. I slept a total of 2.5 nonconsecutive hours that night and begrudgingly drove to the local gas station to get an energy shot.

On meeting the radio club, I was given a portable scanner and plugged it into my audio recorder and a magnetic antenna for the roof of my van. (Having never had an antenna on a vehicle, this thrilled me to no end.) By 6:30, the crew was ready to caravan to the canyon. Sunrise was looming. This is where the documentary opens.

The bulk of the marathon lasted until about 2 that afternoon. By then I had a minor sunburn, but I didn’t care. The views, the people, and everything about that morning was spectacular. I was told a story about a blind woman who ran the marathon’s first event in 2008, and again this year, who ran with her service dog, a golden retriever. It was stories and people like this that made this shoot tremendously exciting. Everyone was friendly and just there to have a good time.

Events/shoots like this one are really what make me happy in life. Opportunities to be creative and capture stories and retell them in an exciting way give me such a rush. While I was in Tusayan, I decided to take advantage of the dark night sky. Below, after the documentary, are two star-scapes I took the night before the marathon. The first is a 5 minute exposure, the second a 7. Click them for more detail, and note the red and blue blotches in the backgrounds. No, that isn’t camera gain/ISO noise. (Shot them at ISO400.) Those are distant stars and galaxies. Truly awe-inspiring.

Coconino Amateur Radio Club at The Grand Canyon Marathon from Kyle Anderson on Vimeo.

(Watch in HD!)

5 minute exposure at ISO400, f/5.6. Click to enlarge.

7 minute exposure at ISO400, f/5.6. Click to enlarge.

About The Author

Kyle Anderson
I'm a media and IT professional and JavaScript developer who worked most recently as an Associate Broadcast IT Engineer (Tier II) for CNN in Atlanta. One of my life-long goals is to help bridge data divides - missing connections between software systems and data stores - promoting inter-system communication and automation. Many of the projects described here reflect this goal in some way or another.