Outside the State Fire Training Center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College on Saturday morning, several parked cars had mounted amateur radio mobile antennas.
This was no coincidence, as the building was the 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 trade antennas, parts and equipment from ham station operators and commercial vendors. .
Archie Mack, a member of the Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club, said the event typically attracts 250 to 350 radio enthusiasts within a radius of around 100 miles. He said that due to the lack of stores offering amateur radio equipment in the region, the event serves as a regional one-stop-shop.
“We don’t have a local hobbyist in our area so this is the closest you can buy locally,” he said.
Mike Haithcoat of Cincinnati-based Debco Electronics Inc. said the company has been at the event for more than 15 years. Frequented by many amateur radio events over the years, Haithcoat said one of the main draws is the face-to-face interaction between those who normally communicate only by radio signal.
“You can hear a voice and talk to someone on the air for years and you only know them as their call sign,” he said.
The event also included the possibility of obtaining amateur radio licenses with the help of on-site examiners. There are three amateur radio license levels, each of which correlates with additional opportunities.
While many just enjoy communicating over the radio, Mack said radio technology skills can be crucial in an emergency.
“When the cell phone towers fall, we will be the last ones standing,” he said.
David VanderMolen, a member of the Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club, knows this well. He volunteers with the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, using his experience as a licensed radio operator to assist areas in need. He has volunteered with the team for 15 years and has participated in national and international deployments.
Most recently, VanderMolen helped establish 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 capacity to make round trips to the United States. “