September 2, 2009
Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
The Southwest Arkansas Ham Radio Club is hosting the 40th annual Queen Wilhelmina Hamfest September 11-12 in Mena.
What started as a picnic lunch 40 years ago by a little over a dozen enthusiasts has grown into an event that fills the lodge and campground of Queen Wilhelmina State Park every year. Last year around 500 participants made the venture to Rich Mountain for the event including Congressman Mike Ross, who is an avid ham radio operator. This year marks the first time the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Delta Division, which includes operators from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, will be at the event.
The agenda for the weekend includes vendors, VE Testing (for operators to get licensed), a BBQ and banquet, and forum meetings for ARRL and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services)/RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services). Rick Roderick, Vice President of the ARRL will be the guest speaker at the event. Greg Butts, director of Arkansas State Parks, is also scheduled to present an award honoring Hamfest as the longest continuously operating event in a state park.
Ham radio (which is just another word for amateur radio) allows people to talk across the globe wirelessly. Operators are known as “hams.” Along with being a hobby, skilled operators are often called to act as emergency communicators during disasters. During Hurricane Katrina, ham radio was the only method of communication available. According to the ARRL, a ham radio is the most powerful wireless communication tool available in the world for people to use. When regular lines of communications are down (from say power outages or downed cell towers) these radios still work.
Larry Rogers, who has worked the event for the past 12 years and is chief executive officer of the board for the Southwest Arkansas Ham Radio Club, said that when his town (Greenwood) was hit by a tornado in 1968, hams came and provided the radio operations needed. In 2001 the town was hit with a winter ice storm and operators gathered and helped the ambulance, police, and army get things back in order.
There are many bands on the radio spectrum that are used by everyone from military to commercial radio. According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, ham operators have 26 bands (a specific range of frequencies) they can tap into.
“You can talk to people across the world or across the street,” said Bill Glassco, who has attended Hamfest since 1978 with his wife Toby, who is also a ham. Glassco said that unlike other types of radio, an FCC license is required to use a ham radio. He also mentioned that using voice is just one way operators can communicate with each other. There are other options such as Morse code, which is kind of like the original texting. And the possibilities don’t end there. “There are so many ways to communicate I don’t even know all of them,” he laughed.
No matter what mode of communication is chosen, a connection is usually formed. “We come from all stations of life and it doesn’t matter because we are all talking about radio,” said Rogers. “Because of this hobby I have friends all over the U.S., people I otherwise wouldn’t have met.”
More information on Hamfest can be found at www.qwha.org.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"