The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, November 19, 2017 1:00 am

Ham radio devotees unite

Many continue to prefer device over cellphones

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Sherri Williams and her five siblings all earned ham radio licenses as young adults.

It was dad's hobby ... and his orders.

In his mind, a driver's license and an amateur radio license were almost a package deal. This was 30 or 40 years ago, well before every teen carried a cellphone.

“We all had radios in our cars, and we talked back and forth for safety,” Williams said. “Being in Oklahoma, there were always ice storms, and we were always in the ditch.”

Safety is just one of the reasons ham radio operators fall in love with the hobby. Some get a thrill from talking to people halfway around the world. Others like the technical challenges.

The 45th annual Hamfest & Computer Expo this weekend in Memorial Coliseum's Expo I and II appeals to each of those aspects and more. More than 125 vendors have booths, selling every sort of wire, plug, switch and adapter imaginable.

About 2,000 visitors have attended each of the past several years, according to James Boyer, Hamfest's chairman.

Williams, who drove up from Indianapolis with her husband, David, said it's fun to attend ham radio gatherings because the couple get to meet face-to-face with people they've known only as voices on the radio.

David and Sherri, who married 29 years ago, were brought together by their love of amateur radio. He was talking to her mother as mother and daughter took a road trip into Florida, where Williams lived. After they met up in person, sparks flew.

After the Williamses married, the Navy veteran kept in contact with his bride by radio during his deployments.

Bob Metcalf, who was also at Hamfest on Saturday, is an enthusiastic supporter of the hobby that allows him to connect with English-speaking people around the world.

“It teaches you electronics,” he said. “It teaches you geography, and it teaches you to communicate.”

The Spencerville man earned his license 50 years ago.

Ken Saylor, who earned his license 37 years ago, owns three radios and zero cellphones.

The Fort Wayne man emphasized how handy ham radios are in disasters. Hurricanes, for example, can wipe out cellphone towers and, with them, cellphone service.

“How'd that work in Puerto Rico?” Saylor asked, referring to cellphones. “If you need help, call a ham.”

Boyer, the event chairman, said the fact that almost 747,000 amateur radio operators are licensed in the U.S. means the transmitters and receivers are widely distributed, allowing communications to continue in the event of a natural or man-made disaster that takes out TV and radio station antennas.

“When all else fails, amateur radio operators are the first ones on the air,” he said, adding that hams also assist the National Weather Service in tracking tornadoes and other dangerous weather conditions.

An engineer by training, Boyer loves the technical aspect of his hobby.

“You can design and build your own radios,” he said.

For some families, a day without ham radio would be like a day without sunshine. Sherri Williams talked to her father by radio every day before he died. 

“It's always been our life,” she said, adding that the couple leave their radio turned on 24 hours a day.

Even so, Williams reaches for the phone when she wants to talk to her siblings.

David Williams thinks the popularity of cellphones has cut into the number of people who might otherwise have an interest in ham radio. He doesn't have to look far to find an example.

“We can't get our daughter to get hers,” he said, referring to a ham license.

Like many other younger folks, he said, she prefers talking on her cellphone.

sslater@jg.net

If you go

What: Hamfest & Computer Expo

Who: Organized by the Allen County Amateur Radio Technical Society

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today

Where: Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave.

Admission: $3

For more information: go to www.FortWayneHamfest.com


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