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VENTURA : Fair to Draw Thousands of Ham Operators

In a corner of an exhibition hall at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, Fred Martin of Thousand Oaks was chit-chatting with Japan, Nebraska and Butte, Mont.

“He just asked if I copy him,” Martin said Friday afternoon, listening to a rapid series of dits and dats from a ham operator in Japan. Suddenly, a louder signal blotted it out, and Martin was visibly annoyed.

“Somebody stepped on us,” he said, scowling as he looked around for another operator causing the interference.

Like Trekkies, stamp collectors and comic book aficionados, amateur radio enthusiasts have a culture all their own. This weekend, up to 3,000 ham radio operators--from novices to experts--are expected to swarm to the Ventura County Fairgrounds and the Ventura Holiday Inn to indulge their favorite hobby at HamVenture ’93.

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There will be seminars on new technology and the role of ham operators during disasters, a contest requiring entrants to tap Morse code with their left foot, a swap meet and a trade show displaying all the newest gadgetry.

Novices will also have a chance to take a licensing test, and licensed operators can upgrade their status. The FCC recognizes six levels of operators, from beginner to expert.

Admission to HamVenture--which will open at 7:30 a.m. at the fairgrounds--is $15 per person, and tickets to a banquet tonight are $30. The banquet will feature a talk by D. Kent Cullers, a mathematician who is working on NASA’s Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence project.

For Martin, 51, the regional convention of the Amateur Radio Relay League is a chance to swap stories with others who share his hobby of six years.

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“We’re all radio hams and we’re all nerds,” he said, admitting he spends countless hours communicating with strangers around the globe while his family sleeps.

“I guess it’s considered strange that we don’t like TV and would rather play with electronics in our spare time,” added Martin, who works at Point Mugu as an electrical engineer.

But Jeff Reinhardt, who handled publicity for the convention, insisted the nerdy image of ham operators is changing as the hobby attracts a broader spectrum of people.

Changes made by the FCC two years ago now make it possible for beginners to get a basic license without memorizing Morse code, he said.

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“That used to be a big barrier to people coming into the hobby,” he said.


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