It may come as a surprise to many, but but contrary to its seemingly descriptive name, a "hamfest" has nothing to do with the ham we eat, with pigs, or in fact with food of any kind. Instead it is a "convention of amateur radio enthusiasts, often combining a trade show, flea market, and various other activities of interest to amateur radio operators" as Wikipedia describes it. "Ham" is simply a slang term for a licensed amateur radio operator who likes to communicate with similar hobbyists around the world.
And just in case you weren't aware, Shelby, N.C., is home to one of the biggest (and longest-running) hamfests in the United States, with an annual attendance of 5,000-7,000 people, according to Ben Melvin, chairman of the Shelby Hamfest. This year's 59th annual Shelby Hamfest will be held Sept. 5-6 at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.
According to Melvin, most of the Shelby Hamfest attendees are local folks or from the Southeastern United States. "But, in the past, we have had some come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand," Melvin says.
Most come for just an afternoon or a day, but many will actually arrive on the Sunday before the event to camp and meet other attendees. "Some people make it into a vacation," says Melvin.
Festival goers attend for many reasons, Melvin says, but most are amateur radio operators who relish the chance to visit with folks they talk with on the radio during the rest of the year.
Amateur radio operators trace their history back many years, often providing valuable services to the community. During the Korean War, for example, ham radio operators worked with the military to provide phone patches allowing service men and women to place calls to their families in the United States. With the advent of cellular phones and the internet, such services are no longer necessary, but amateur radio enthusiasts still provide an important backup communication system for county and emergency services. "We partner with the Emergency Managment Service and the American Red Cross and other such groups to provide communication in emergency situations," Melvin says.
No matter the motivation behind their involvement, attendees of the Shelby Hamfest are sure to find something of interest at the two-day event. A wide assortment of vendors, a flea market and daily raffle prizes are among the offerings, and participants will also have numerous opportunities to take the test to become a licenced ham operator. Vendors at the festival sell new and used radio equipment, along with electronic and computer hardward and software.
For more information about the Shelby Hamfest, visit the event website at shelbyhamfest.com, call 980-295-5151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By APRIL HOYLE SHAUF
Special to Shelby Shopper