Outside the State Fire Training Center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College on Saturday morning, several parked cars were decked out with mounted amateur radio mobile antennas.
This was no coincidence, as the building was site of the 41st annual Elizabethtown Radio Hamfest.
Hosted by the Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club, the event offered attendees the opportunity to buy, sell and swap antennas, parts and equipment from ham station operators and commercial vendors.
Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club member Archie Mack said the event typically attracts 250 to 350 radio enthusiasts in a roughly 100-mile radius. He said because of a lack of stores offering amateur radio equipment in the area, the event serves as a regional one-stop shop.
“We don’t have an amateur place in our area, so this is the closest you can get to buying locally,” he said.
Mike Haithcoat of Cincinnati-based Debco Electronics Inc. said the company has been setting up at the event for more than 15 years. A frequent of many amateur radio events throughout the years, Haithcoat said a major draw is the face-to-face interaction between those who normally only communicate via radio signal.
“You can hear a voice and talk to somebody across the airwaves for years and you only know them as their call sign,” he said.
The event also included the opportunity to earn amateur radio licenses with the help of on-site examiners. There are three amateur radio license levels, each of which correlates with additional opportunities.
Though many simply enjoy communicating via radio, Mack said skills in radio technology can be crucial in times of emergency.
“When the cell towers go down, we’re going to be the last ones standing,” he said.
Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club member David VanderMolen knows this well. He is a volunteer with the American Red Cross’s Disaster Action Team, using his experience as a licensed radio operator to help areas in need. He has volunteered with the team for 15 years and has been on national and international deployments.
Most recently, VanderMolen helped set up communication in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, spending about two weeks there.
“It was extremely important there,” he said of radio communication. “They had enough capability where they could transmit back and forth to the United States.”