Show lets hobbyists really ham things up

Expo: Amateur radio enthusiasts and vendors find a weekend of fun outside the basement at the state fairgrounds.

March 29, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

At the Greater Baltimore Hamboree and Computerfest, one ham's junk is another ham's treasure.

"Every ham has the idea, `I can take this and build something with it,'" said Rich Adamy of Alexandria, Va., who was on his knees yesterday marveling at a rickety-looking contraption called an inductor. "Unfortunately, a lot of stuff does end up in the basement never to be seen again."

Adamy was one of thousands of amateur radio operators - or hams - who visited the expo at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium during the weekend. The annual fund-raiser for the 250-member Baltimore Amateur Radio Club has been growing for more than 30 years.

"By bringing buyers and sellers together, we make our budget for the year," said Doug Wittich, a club spokesman.

At least a quarter of the money is used to fund college scholarships, Wittich said.

This year, event organizers added a high-tech exhibit: a robot competition that held the attention yesterday of adolescent boys - future scholarship winners, perhaps - for hours.

Less concerned with the science behind the fighting radio-controlled machines, preteen audience members were mesmerized by "the fact that they rip each other to pieces," said Emmett Cummings, 11, of Takoma Park.

The more traditional part of the event, the flea-market-style fair, was decidedly more tame.

Vendors came from as far as Oklahoma and Missouri, loaded with boxes and bins of plugs, cords, meters, dials, speakers, radios, batteries, remote controls, antennas, coaxial cable, Morse code keys, transmitters, receivers, terminal lugs and computer monitors - just about every kind of widget, doohickey and thingamabob imaginable.

Exhibitor Jeff Goldman said he carts "2,000 pounds of stuff" to about 30 ham shows every year. Buying and selling ham radio equipment is a business for the Gaithersburg man, and one he considers "hard work."

But for many others, it's purely a hobby.

Frank and Daniel Koch of Lancaster, Pa., come each year to the "ham fest" to spend father-and-son time together.

Yesterday, Daniel, 17, happened across a beat-up Uniden VHF transceiver - which he considered a steal at $35. The high school junior planned to hook it up to his home computer and digitally transmit radio messages as text to friends.

"It's kind of like instant messaging, but only a little bit more complex," he said.

Some vendors admitted to bringing items for sale merely to appease cranky spouses - their own, or those of friends - who had had just about enough of the clutter around the house.

Experienced buyers know how to get around the wife factor, said Ian Keith of Alexandria. "If you can't sneak it in the basement window, bring it through the front door wrapped in a fur coat," he said.

There were many women at the show yesterday, some of them operators-in-training. The number of women involved in the ham radio world has grown significantly, event officials said.

That's good news for vendor Howard Cook of Kingstown, R.I. His van full of tools and equipment stands out at the many expos he attends because of an enormous sign on its side that reads "Girlfriend Wanted."

When asked by a woman if he'd had much luck finding a girlfriend at Baltimore's fest, Cook grinned slyly and said, "I don't know yet. Are you single?"

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