Calling all hamsters!
The 6th annual Gray Hamfest is expected to draw between 800-1,000 folks today to the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray. It’s all about the bonding of ham radio operators where tales will be told, items will be sold and the tradition of volunteering their time, equipment and expert techniques to provide service to their communities is reinforced.
They actually carry the monicker “hams.”
Years ago, Western Union operators would send messages by hand. You’ve probably seen them in movies tapping away. When their work was sloppy, they were said to have hands like hams. There are several stories of how the name came about, but this was Gray Hamfest Chairman Charlie Stuchell’s first choice.
“A lot of what goes on is tailgaiting, but dealers come in and set up tables, and we also have people who show up that are big enthusiasts but not operators,” he said. “The event also is a good opportunity for camaraderie and fellowship.”
Amateur radio operators from eight states are expected.
There will be multiple vendors, lots of free tailgating and trading radio related items and equipment in flea market sales, exhibits and a good opportunity for old friends to gather and visit.
Parts and new equipment dealers from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia as well as Tennessee will bring items for what will be an outstanding shopping opportunity for hams.
“Many older hams are selling equipment and gear they don’t use on a regular basis because they are down sizing and there are some great deals on used radios and many classic radios,” Stuchell said.
The Hamfest is sanctioned by the American Radio Relay League. There will be a license testing session at 11 a.m. today for those wanting get into the hobby or advance their class of license. A major attraction of the Gray Hamfest is the more than $2,500 worth of prizes including state of the art transceivers, power supplies and ham hobby related items.
The nonprofit group donates annually to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
The event originated in the early ’80s, but bickering and disputes between the hometown clubs in Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport lead to the event going black for awhile, Stuchell said.
“After not having a Hamfest for about five or six years, a group of us decided to form a Gray Hamfest Association with no ties to any local club,” he said. “We had a benefactor who underwrote the cost of our first event. We’ve been able to pay that person back. Now, all the money that doesn’t go to St. Jude’s is put into an account which is see money for us to continue to keep the event going.”
Ham radio is known historically as an important means of communications backup for the federal government in times of emergency.
When you hear on the radio or television that a severe weather report from “trained spotters” has been issued, hams are usually those trained spotters. They are not paid, but licensed operators are many times the eyes on the ground that initiate messages to the general public.
One of the vendors setting up Friday was Amateur Sales, a Chattanooga business owned by Mark McAllister who sells all kinds of radio and electronic-related items.
“I’ve been a ham operator for 22 years and got into the sales end of it a few years ago,” he said. “We are experimenters at heart. But this also is a service community. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the first communications were from those of radio operators like us. We act as a backbone to traditional emergency services.”
When hams aren’t involved in emergency communications, they get a kick from just listening and talking to other licensed hams worldwide along with experimenting with radio communications.
“I’m an old schooler,” said Fall Branch resident Eddie Rowland. “It’s just a hobby for me, and I enjoy this for the socializing for the most part. We get on at a certain time at night and do what we call ‘rag chewin’.”
That’s a hamster’s code for small talk, or passing the time.
A person wanting to become a ham radio operator must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. In the Unites States, there are three license levels, or license classes. And you can’t just go buy one like a fishing licence; you have to earn them.
To earn a Technician Ham license, which is the entry level license, you’ll need to pass the “Technician” written exam. The General Class Ham license is the second level and the most popular class. The highest level of ham license is called Extra Class.
Gates open at 6 a.m. today for dealers and tail gaiters to set up. The main doors of the Farm and Home Building (the main arena) will open to the public at 8 a.m. Parking and tailgating is free with admission.
For additional information, call Stuchell at 538-3868 or Ed Mueller at 212-1485.