Socorro Hamfest Marks 75 Years of Local Ham Radio, Oct. 20, 2005

Contact: Dave Finley
(505) 835-7302

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 20, 2005 -- Socorro's amateur radio operators will celebrate the 75th anniversary of ham radio in Socorro as they host electronics enthusiasts from throughout the Southwest at the 16th annual Socorro Hamfest on Saturday, October 29. Sponsored by the Socorro Amateur Radio Association (SARA), the New Mexico Tech Amateur Radio Association (TARA), and the City of Socorro, the hamfest will be held at the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Admission is free and the public is invited.

"This year's event is special, because we're looking back at 75 years of ham radio in our city, and a long tradition of public service by ham operators," said Ed Wood, SARA president. Socorro's Mayor, Ravi Bhasker, cited the volunteer service of the city's ham operators in a proclamation designating October 29 as "Amateur Radio Recognition Day" in Socorro.

Socorro's radio amateurs have provided a wide range of services to the community, including communications support for athletic events, training classes for potential hams and for weather spotters, and emergency-communications exercises. SARA members currently are converting a trailer donated to the County by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) into a mobile emergency communications command post.

For nearly 30 years, SARA has maintained a repeater system atop M Mountain that greatly extends the effective range of handheld and mobile radios, providing reliable communication over a wide area. This system, which can operate on batteries in case of a power failure, is available for emergency communications and search-and-rescue missions.

"While ham radio is a fascinating hobby, it also serves as a valuable resource for communities when disaster strikes and other systems, such as telephones and police radios, often fail. For example, more than 1,000 amateurs from across the U.S. served for weeks on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, providing vital communications for local authorities, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other agencies," Wood said.

Socorro's ham-radio tradition began modestly, in the autumn of 1930, when Donald M. Cook and Clark E. Rodenberg arrived in town to begin their studies at New Mexico Tech (then New Mexico School of Mines). They were the city's first amateur radio operators, appearing in the U.S. government's official list of licensees the following year. There were fewer than 100 hams in the entire state at that time. In 2004, SARA obtained Cook's callsign, W5AQA, for the local repeater, putting the city's first callsign back on the air.

Amateur radio activity continued sporadically through the years. In the 1950s and 1960s, according to longtime local hams, there always were a few operators in town. When staffers from the NRAO began arriving in 1974 and 1975 to build the VLA, several hams were among them. In May of 1976, nine local hams formed SARA.

The young organization got busy quickly, putting the local repeater system on the mountain that same year, and participating in its first Field Day, a nationwide emergency-communications exercise, in 1977. Following a SARA licensing class that trained six new operators, the local ham population reached 38 that year.

By the 1990s, Socorro boasted more than 100 licensed radio amateurs, giving the city nearly five times the average national percentage of hams. That accomplishment led to Socorro being dubbed "Ham City, USA" in a 1996 radio magazine.

This year's hamfest continues a tradition begun in 1989 with a small swapmeet in the Macey Center parking lot. The event moved to the City's Finley Gym in 1991 and grew that year to attract several hundred hams from throughout New Mexico and surrounding states. Because of Socorro's central location, the local hamfest is one of the best-attended radio events in the state.

This year's event at the firefighters academy will feature lectures, demonstrations, door prizes, displays, a radio-electronics swap meet, and commercial electronics vendors. Admission is free.

In addition, the hamfest will feature working amateur radio stations and a hidden-transmitter hunt. Literature on amateur radio and a wide variety of electronic equipment will be available.

Examinations for amateur radio licenses will be given at the hamfest. The examinations begin at noon, with registration for the exams beginning at 11:00 a.m. While the hamfest is free, there is a fee for the examinations. In addition, examinees must bring photo identification and the original plus a copy of any amateur radio license or examination certificate they may have.

For more information, see the SARA Web page, at http://www.socorroara.org/