Jacksonville Goes Ham


Ethan McLaughlin, Reporter

“Do you own a ham radio? You do now.”

This is what Herb Minton, a local ham radio operator, said to me when I told him I would be taking the test to receive my FCC ham radio license at the technical level. Herb was participating in the free flea market at the North Florida Amateur Radio Society’s (NOFARS) HamFest, their biannual event.

At these events, NOFARS has a “free flea” where anyone can set up a table and sell ham radio equipment, computers, radios, electronic components, tools and a myriad of other things. They also auction radios and equipment, and provide free FCC license testing so others may get their licenses and begin operating ham radios. 

So what is a ham radio? It is a radio that can reach many different frequencies of radio waves and communicate across these bands. Ham radio operators are able to communicate all over the world and even with the International Space Station.

Some users set up massive antennas in their backyards and have thousands of dollars worth of equipment, while others simply install a ham radio in their car or own a handheld radio. With the numerous repeaters in Jacksonville alone, and countless more across the world, users can communicate anywhere by hitting the right repeater or series of repeaters to amplify their signals.

Access to a global public communication network is a lot of power for anyone to have, so the FCC requires a license to operate these radios. There are three levels of license each permitting users to communicate on more frequencies than the last.

The exam to receive this license was being offered for free, so I decided to see if I could get my license at the festival. After three days of studying, I took the 35 question test and successfully got a license to operate a ham radio! While the FCC testing is a great resource for new hams like myself, the main draw of the festival was the flea market.

Photo by Ethan McLaughlin

With people selling electronics ranging from free to thousands of dollars, the flea was the place to be. I alone went home with a handheld ham radio (courtesy of Herb), some very nice hand tools, a full desktop PC tower, a box of possibly working handheld radios, chargers, and batteries, two VCRs, an air shutter release for vintage cameras, and the realization that I may be a hoarder.

There were approximately 50 tables selling various items. Gene Ahl was selling a wonderful selection of hand tools for a dollar a piece, and Matt Carr, a local maker and founder of MACARR LABS, was selling radio parts he personally designed, patented and 3D printed.

The free flea is great for another reason: the community. You can see friends that you haven’t seen in a while or maybe have only met on the radio waves. You can meet all kinds of new people who will immediately welcome you into ham radio. Herb handed me a ham radio for free just to welcome me to this great hobby. The people here were some of the nicest I have ever met. If you are interested in ham radio or electronics in general, the HamFest is the place to be.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].