WINDSOR — Patrick Drake stood outside the beano hall Saturday morning at the Windsor Fairgrounds, waiting for someone to unlock the building.

The 32-year-old from Richmond was waiting to take the test for a license to allow him to become an amateur radio operator at the Technician Class and transmit on amateur radio frequencies. Behind him, scores of people milled around the Windsor Hamfest, looking over the wares for sale at tables and catching up with friends face-to-face.

Drake, who is a technical sergeant in the Connecticut-based 103rd Civil Engineering Squadron of the Air National Guard, took part in an earthquake simulation exercise earlier in the summer in Wisconsin, where volunteer radio operators with the Salvation Army worked alongside the military and civilian responders taking part.

“I think it’s a good skill to have,” Drake said, crediting a co-worker who already has a license with sparking his interest. “I look forward to using it.”

To prepare, Drake said, he picked up the examination study guide from the American Radio Relay League and took practice tests online and on a smartphone app.

Bill Crowley, 74, is the section manager for Maine’s American Radio Relay League, and he’s been a ham radio operator for more than five decades. He was one of three supervising the exam takers Saturday morning.

The interest in ham radio rises and falls over time, he said. The blame for the most recent dip lies with the internet and the smartphone, he said, but interest appears to be rising again.

Maine has about 5,000 ham radio operators, including, Crowley said, former Gov. John Baldacci, whom he helped to get a license, and Rodney Scribner, Maine’s former state treasurer and state auditor, who was helping to administer Saturday’s exam.

But ham radio operators are active all over the planet.

Patrick Drake, left, and Dustin Hinds take a test during an amateur radio festival Saturday at the Windsor Fairgrounds in Windsor. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“It’s a great thing, too, for kids. You learn geography like it’s going out of style,” Crowley said, “because you talk to people from all these places.”

Along with Drake, Dustin Hinds was also taking an exam. The 44-year-old from Windsor was pursuing an upgrade to the General Class license, which allows him to transmit on additional radio frequencies.

“It lets you talk around the world,” he said, “and spend more money.”

Both Hinds and Drake – the only people to take the exams Saturday – passed their tests.

As he handed Drake his completed paperwork, Scribner invited Drake to join the ham radio operators who meet Wednesday mornings at Dave’s Diner in Gardiner to share information and talk.

 

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