PLANT CITY – Ham radio operators like to say that they created the first social network.
Long before the computer age – and Facebook – amateur radio operators communicated with each other across continents. And more than 100 years later, the hobby is going strong.
Recently, hundreds of amateur radio operators, vendors and others gathered at the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds for Tampa Bay Hamfest, a two-day convention that included forums, exhibitions and more.
Plant City was selected for the 38th annual Hamfest for the first time because of its location between Tampa and Orlando.
Warren Elly, spokesman for the convention, said there are more than 50,000 amateur radio operators in the U.S. and an estimated 2.8 million internationally.
Elly said that amateur radio operators must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and all tests are administered by volunteers. He explained that with the elimination of the Morse code requirement, licensing has never been easier.
“It really made it more accessible,” he said.
The displays at Hamfest included a 1930s amateur radio restored by Stan Wood of the Florida AM Group. Wood said that the radio was built by a pilot and adventurer who used it aboard a ship he constructed in Hong Kong and attempted to sail to New York. The ship sank but the radio, built from parts at an airport in Manila, was salvaged.
The radio was capable of communicating great distances at a time when ham radio was not in wide use, he said.
“This (the radio) could talk halfway around the world in 1938,” Wood said, who bought the radio for $30 at an Orlando flea market and repaired it in two days.
“It only needed two parts after 75 years,” he said, adding that the radio still works.
Elly explained that the antique radio was significant because it helped pioneer long distance electronic communications.