The Clay County Fairgrounds were packed on Saturday morning with amateur radio enthusiasts looking to find their next radio treasure and connect with the people behind the call signs.
Vendors from across the state have joined the Wabash Valley Amateur Radio Association for its annual Turkeyfest Hamfest Radio and Computer Expo, but for association president Kevin Berlen, the event is more than just a flea market.
Berlen has been passionate about electrical processes and amateur radio – also known as amateur radio – for more than 40 years, a love affair sparked off by old batteries his father brought home from work when Berlen was a child.
He then met a classmate in elementary school with a similar passion, and the two began to experiment with a shortwave radio that the classmate received as a birthday present.
“This thing was like a magic mystery box for us,” Berlen recalls. “It was just this piece of equipment on a table with a speaker on it, and all these lights in it, but when you turned it on, you heard voices from Russia, from North America. South, from UK, from all over the world.
“The whole experience captivated me. From there I entered a class, got my first amateur license at age 14 and have been there ever since.”
Berlen was able to turn his childhood passion into a career, currently working as a broadcast engineer responsible for a number of radio stations in the Wabash Valley.
“My interest in amateur radio and electronics has allowed me to pursue this career and it has worked very well,” said Berlen. “I make a living doing exactly what I love to do as a hobby. It couldn’t have worked better.”
One aspect of the operation of amateur radio that Berlen says is particularly interesting is emergency communication following a disaster.
He described the potential of amateur radio in the face of disaster and said many fans at the exhibit could one day save lives.
“If we have a type of widespread disaster where the utilities are down, the cell phone networks and the public phone are down, you can take that equipment and plug it into your car battery or a generator, put a cable a tree and you are in communication with the whole world, ”Berlen said.
“You don’t need any kind of infrastructure, everything you need is in this radio and the antenna that comes with it. It might be the only thing that bridges the gap between what’s going on in your area, whether it’s total devastation or an episode with the New Madrid fault, and you can provide immediate communication inside and outside that disaster area. “
Berlen said Saturday attendance was lighter as the event is only in its second year and is still being established, but said hosting local events allows radio enthusiasts to participate without having to travel.
Journalist Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex.