Generations of radio lovers gather for ACARC’s annual Hamfest


Two people sit at a folding table. A man in a blue shirt and light brown shorts stands in front of the table. A "register here" banner hangs above the table.
Club organizers discuss the three-day calendar for Hamfest, which took place at the Dryden Gun Club. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)


DRYDEN — Radio enthusiasts gathered at the Dryden Gun Club on a Friday afternoon, drawing participants from next door and across the state. Members of the Apple City Amateur Radio Club, or ACARC, set up their trailers, traded equipment, camped for three days, shared their knowledge and learned more about amateur radio. 

From June 7 to June 9, ACARC held their 56th annual Hamfest.

ACARC consists of members from all walks of life. Jerry Isenhart, a club member, got his first ham license at 13 while still in the hospital. Little did he know that ham radio would lead him to an award-winning career in journalism. He became the owner of KOZI Radio in Chelan at the age of 25 and credits his success to ACARC and Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

Jerry Isenhart, an ACARC member, got his ham radio license at 13 and went on to own KOZI Radio by the age of 25. He credits ham radio and ACARC for launching his award-winning journalism career. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)

“It is amazing this is how I got my start,” said Isenhart. “Ham radio taught me a lot about electronics and pulled me out of my shell. Because of that, I got a job in radio. Amateur radio is the foundation of how my career got launched.”

Amateur radio is a hobby and service involving the learning and practicing of basic radio technology. People use radio to communicate locally and internationally without Wi-Fi or cellphones. The Federal Communications Commission allocates designated radio frequencies for amateur radio use. These frequencies, known as “amateur bands,” span various parts of the radio spectrum.

To become a ham radio operator, one must apply for a license from the FCC. There are different levels of licenses, each granting different operating privileges. These include the amateur extra class, general class and technician class. Members self-fund their equipment and local clubs provide opportunities for trades and giveaways.

A large quantity of radio equipment is set out on a folding table outside.
Radio gear is out on display for members of the Apple City Amateur Radio Club to trade at Hamfest. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)

At Hamfest, experienced radio operators offered classes and hosted activities for members to practice their radio skills. Leaders also proctored FCC radio license exams for beginners.

Ham radio is also crucial in emergency communication. When traditional communication systems fail, such as during a natural disaster, ham radio operators provide critical communication links. They can quickly set up and operate radio networks that facilitate emergency response and coordination efforts.

One popular activity, the “Bunny Hunt,” involves club leaders hiding a few transmitters in the area for other members to find. This challenge simulates an actual emergency, such as locating a crashed plane. At the event, members train for worst-case scenarios.

ACARC is part of The American Radio Relay League, connecting members globally. With members worldwide, the organization is prepared to act quickly in times of crisis. When cellphone towers and electricity are down, ham radio operators maintain communication networks, ensuring vital communication links remain operational. They also facilitate coordination and support for first responders.

Salvatore Spagnole, left, is the president of the Apple City Amateur Radio Club. Matt Kosma, right, is part of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)
Salvatore Spagnole, left, is the president of the Apple City Amateur Radio Club. Matt Kosma, right, is part of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)

“This is a hobby, there are no paid positions,” said Salvatore Spagnole, president of ACARC. “If there’s an emergency, we’re the people you don’t see who help set up the first line of communications. We share our expertise with police, fire departments and any aid organizations that need us.”

For Matt Kosma, who is part of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, what began as a way to talk to friends has intertwined with his professional life. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service works with Chelan and Douglas counties to prepare for any emergency. This membership is only available to licensed radio amateurs trained to respond to emergencies.

“We can come in with radio antennas. We know how to put that together and set something up from nothing, anywhere, anytime. If there is a hurricane or tornado, we have our equipment up in an hour and are ready to run long-distance communications,” Kosma said.

A gray shirt is pictured. The shirt has an Apple City Amateur Radio Club patch on the sleeve. On the front of the shirt, there are many world flags surrounding the phrase "contact the world with ham radio."
The Apple City Amateur Radio Club hosted their 56th annual Hamfest from June 7 to June 9. This shirt was one of the many prizes members of the club were able to win at the event. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)

Amateur radio not only connects people globally, but also extends into space. Sometimes they bounce signals off the moon to talk with people across the world.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station allows students worldwide to speak with crew members on the space station. Nine host organizations, including the Pacific Science Center in Washington state, have been accepted to plan events in 2024. Once their equipment plans are approved, students will be able to chat with NASA.

During the third weekend in June, amateur radio clubs across the country will place receivers in public parks and connect with each other without power. This event allows community members to see ham radio in action and be inspired to get involved.

One man in a black shirt sits in a chair. Another man in a blue shirt stands. They are both in front of an RV.
Members of Apple City Amateur Radio Club camp at the Dryden Gun Club. (Credit: Renee Diaz / NWPB)

ACARC will host a Field Day in Wenatchee from June 24 to June 25. Scheduled times and locations are yet to be determined.

Hamfest is one of many community events ACARC hosts throughout the year. It is a place where old radio friends can connect and learn more about the hobby they love.

“Coming here today is amazing because I see all of these old friends or friends of friends that I don’t see every day. What an opportunity, what a joy it is to be here,” Isenhart said.

Reneé Dìaz reports for NWPB in collaboration with The Wenatchee World and the Murrow College of Communication Local News Fellowship Program.