By Jason Terrell
Special to the Bartlett Express
After a two-year hiatus, a large group of amateur radio operators from around the region were able to meet in person at the Bartlett Municipal Center for the annual Memphis FreeFest ham radio gathering Saturday, April 9.
Sponsored by the Mid-South Amateur Radio Association (MARA), FreeFest was last held in person at the same location in 2019. It was scheduled to happen in 2020 but was shifted to a virtual event at the last minute thanks to restrictions on public gatherings in the wake of COVID, according to Art Barnett, call sign WA4PSS, MARA’s treasurer.
The event offered participants free entry and free table space to sell equipment, and a raffle raised money for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
Barnett said the event raised more than $4,200 this year for Le Bonheur. Over the years, it has raised more than $60,000, including 2022. They expected overall attendance would be down from 2019, which included the number of vendors.
“Our number of dealers was down a bit. We knew that would be down some,” he said.
As he had in past years, Jerry Hodges, call sign AD4QP, and his wife came up from Ripley, Mississippi, to sell some equipment and visit with fellow hams such as Terry Cox, call sign KE5LWY, from Belmont, Mississippi. With no club in Ripley and a radio repeater that doesn’t work thanks to a lightning strike, Hodges, who has been a ham for 30 years, connects to other hams through a repeater and amateur radio club in neighboring New Albany.
Manning the American Radio and Relay League (ARRL) table was Ham Radio YouTuber and teacher Steve Goodgame, call sign K5ATA, from Oxford, Mississippi. Goodgame served as a computer science/STEM teacher at Lafayette Middle School in Oxford where he also taught kids about amateur radio.
“I was fortunate that I had building and district administrators who listened and understood the value of hands-on experience and skill-building,” he said in an e-mail. “As a result, nearly 60 people were licensed/upgraded in the school over three years.”
His success with his middle school program and YouTube channel brought him to the attention of the national office of the ARRL and he is preparing to move to Connecticut to work for the radio association on a national level as its education and learning manager.
Also dropping in was fellow ham radio YouTuber Brett Wicker, call sign K5YVY, who drove to Bartlett from New Albany. Wicker, who works in law enforcement, started his YouTube channel, K5YVY Amateur Radio, as a way to relax.
“It clears my mind of everyday stuff,” he said.