May 22—XENIA — Following a two-year hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dayton Hamvention returned to celebrate 70 years of what is now considered the largest amateur radio convention in the world, according to organizers.
"Amateur radio is a very interesting hobby of service that people all over the world communicate with," said Michael Kalter, spokesperson for the Dayton Hamvention.
Amateur radio, or ham radio, enthusiasts use the technology to talk to each other across town, around the world, or even into space. Ham radio operators have played a vital role during emergencies, severe weather and natural disasters, when traditional communications are not available. Today, there are more than 700,000 amateur radio licenses in the U.S. and roughly 2 million worldwide.
Along with its usefulness in times of crisis, Kalter said amateur radio allows operators a unique chance to promote a sense of comradery between individuals of varying cultures across the globe.
"We have the opportunity to spread a brotherhood/sisterhood and friendliness in the world and we try hard to do that," he said. "That's one of the exciting things; you can get on the radio one evening and talk with someone from the Middle East, Germany, Russia, or wherever and we're able to dispel a lot of myths or rumors (about our countries) that way."
The Dayton Hamvention attracts visitors from numerous countries who travel thousands of miles to gather with other amateur radio enthusiasts.
Thomas Wrede, of Germany, said he's attended the Hamvention around 20 times. An engineer by trade, Wrede has been part of the German Amateur Radio Club for 51 years.
"I started because of interest in electronics and communications. When I started, kids didn't have handheld (devices) they could use to Skype the world," he said. "Now, my main interest is talking to people and building friendships, but also doing technical experiments."
Eric and Lourdes Lowery, of Ypsilanti, Mich., have attended the Hamvention three times together. Eric said he first began experimenting with amateur radio in the early '80s.
"I've always been into radios and transmitters and I really started with CB (citizens band) radios," he said. "It's fun to be able to talk with people around the world straight from radio to radio rather than over a phone line."
Sponsored by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, Hamvention drives an estimated $33 million in economic impact in the region, according to the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Radio enthusiasts gather to mingle with likeminded folks, attend forums, view exhibitions and peruse the wares of indoor and outdoor flea market vendors, which offer a massive assortment of antique radios.