Amateur Radio Fans ‘Ham’ it up During Festival

Published: January 14, 2007
By BOBBY HARRELL, staff writer

Lakewood, S.C. – Antenna equipment was among the wares on display during Saturday’s Hamfest.

Emmie Patience, of Belton, lived out her name during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. She was on her ham radio for eight days straight, acting as net manager for a network of radio operators during and after the hurricane, which devastated parts of Puerto Rico, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Patience and other radio operators got word to people out of state and across the country who were worried about their loved ones while telephone lines were down. People could get their information about Hugo from TV, but most wanted to hear from eyewitnesses, she said.

Patience didn’t mind talking on her ham radio every day for more than a week. “Well, when you know you’re helping somebody, you don’t think about the time,” she said.

Her passion for ham radio stretches back 27 years, so it wasn’t surprising that she came to the Greenwood Hamfest Saturday at the Greenwood Civic Center. Hamfest was created as a way for ham radio hobbyists to meet other “hams” (lingo for radio operators), attend forums and buy radio equipment, said David Zugsberger, president of the Greenwood Amateur Radio Society, the sponsor of Hamfest.

While ham radios become essential during disaster relief, hams are mainly in it for the hobby and the chance to talk to people around the world.

“It’s something we do because we like to do it,” Zugsberger said.

Hamfest brought about 350 people from all over the South to Greenwood Saturday.

People are required to have Federal Communications Commission licenses before they can be hams, but Zugsberger said it was harder to get one when he started in 1970.

The word “ham” used to be a derogatory term for the operators, but enthusiasts have adopted it for their own, Zugsberger said.

Getting into ham radios can be cheap or expensive, depending on how much you want to spend.

“It’s kind of like fishing,” Zugsberger said.

But the main reason so many people come to Hamfest is the fellowship, Zugsberger said.

Sometimes hams only meet each other in person once a year at conventions. The hobby attracts people who grew up in ham radio’s heyday, when it was the equivalent of today’s Internet, but younger folks are getting involved as well, Zugsberger.

Paul Walker Jr., of Abbeville, works as operations manager and program director for WABV-AM, but he was encouraged to come out to Hamfest by his friend Chris Johnson, of Taylors.

Walker said most people his age don’t know what ham radio is, but he’s interested in getting his license so he could talk to people around the world.

Hams are friendly, so Walker doesn’t think it would be hard to talk to other operators.
Johnson’s been a ham since 1973 and has talked to people as far away as Africa. He said he uses his ham to talk to people all over the world instead of using the Internet or a cell phone, because it takes a knack to work a ham radio.

“I could just as easily talk on the cellphone, but what is the challenge in that?” Johnson said.