BELTON — The crowd was much smaller than usual for the Texas Amateur Radio Club swap meet on Saturday at the Bell County Expo Center.
Ham radio enthusiasts normally pack the exposition building at the club’s two swap meets every year — one in March and the other in October, said Emery Chandler, TARC vice president. He estimated the day’s attendance at about 200 people.
“I talked to the Health Department and listened to what the county judge had to say,” he said, with reference to the coronavirus issue. The consensus of the radio club’s board members was to hold the meet, he said, and several visitors thanked him for going ahead with it.
Ham operators come to buy, sell or trade equipment and supplies, he said. Some of them like to collect older equipment. Chandler said he bought a ham radio just like the one he bought in 1974.
“There are radios here worth thousands of dollars,” he said.
Chandler’s longest distance radio contact now is a man in northern Japan who he talks to every night, he said.
“On ham radio, the gentleman’s agreement is that everybody speaks English,” he said. “You don’t know who you’re going to contact.”
Paul Newton of Huntsville has been a ham operator since 1964.
“A whole lot of us took a hiatus during work and kids,” he said. “We’re kind of getting back into it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
In the early days, ham operators worked on their equipment more, he said.
“The ones who didn’t, we called them an appliance operator,” he said.
Nowadays there are three or four major manufacturers of ham radio equipment, he said, and they produce what is called “software defined radio.”
“Nobody’s going to build a rig that’s going to do that quality of work,” he said.
Any six people at the meet could be operating in six different modes, he said. One could be communicating in Morse code. Another could be in the talking or “phone” mode. There is the digital mode, he said, and some operate via satellite, which is another mode.
Scott Kerr of Poetry is the president of Collins Collectors Association, which he said is about 2,000 ham operators around the world who collect, restore and operate Collins radios. These radios are used by amateurs, business professionals and the military, he said.
From an engineering and construction standpoint, he said, Collins led the way in manufacturing radios.
“That’s why the military liked their equipment so much,” he said. “It worked. And the Collins equipment that was built in the 1950s — 70 years old — it’s still working, and will perform as well as some of the newest amateur radio gear.”
Steven Lott Smith, North Texas section manager for the American Radio Relay League, said being a member helps to defend the spectrum of radio bands used by ham operators. The spectrum is always in jeopardy from cellphone companies, he said, and the ARRL lobbies Congress about it. The North Texas section covers 68 counties and has 4,400 members, he said.
“Education is a big part of our job,” he said.