FreeFest will attract Ham radio fans to Bartlett

By Kim Steele

Bartlett Express Editor


When amateur radio fans descend on Bartlett next month for the Memphis FreeFest, they’ll find a virtual smorgasbord of communication information and equipment awaiting them.

The event, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 13, includes seminars, a meeting, testing, a flea market, a raffle and food. It will take place at the Bartlett Station Municipal Center, 5868 Stage Road. Admission is free, and the public is invited.

“This event brings a lot of people into the community and provides a nice venue to those developing their amateur radio skills,” said chairman Tony Brignole. “They can get electronic equipment and information on how to use it. We’ll have live human beings here who can answer their questions.”

The FreeFest, sponsored by the Mid-South Amateur Radio Association (MARA), is expected to draw about 500 ham radio operators from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Brignole said it is sanctioned by the American Radio Relay League, which coordinates national ham radio activity.

Special guests this year include ARRL Delta Division Director David Norris and Tennessee Section Manager Keith Miller.

Brignole said members of the government’s Military Affiliate Radio System will attend to discuss and refine emergency preparedness procedures and other communications issues. Also, Volunteer Exam testing for basic or upgraded ham licenses is available to anyone for about $10 in the morning.

Brignole said another big draw is the flea market, where attendees trade, sell or buy equipment such as two-way radios, amplifiers, microphones and power supplies. Brignole said the 91 indoor vendor tables are sold out, although there is still room outside for tables.

Each attendee will receive a ticket for smaller hourly door prizes, such as books and equipment. Also, tickets can be purchased for larger prizes, such as two iPad minis, a 32-inch LCD television, a two-way ham radio, two 20-amp power supplies, and $100 gift certificates for Fleming’s Steakhouse, Restaurant Iris and Bass Pro Shops.

Tickets are $5 for a book of six tickets, and $20 for five books of six tickets each.

Brignole said the proceeds from ticket sales for the larger prizes are donated annually to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Brignole said about $3,500 was donated last year.

Rick Kanschat, administrative director of support services for Le Bonheur, said the donated money is placed in the hospital’s foundation fund and distributed as needed. Kanschat said the 255-bed pediatric hospital specializes in brain surgery, cardiac care, nephrology, neurology and orthopedics.

“FreeFest has given us about $15,000 over the years, and any dollar that supports a sick kid is appreciated,” said Kanschat, also a member of MARA. “This money goes to our families in need, providing food, clothing, toys and free medical care. Every little bit helps.”