WINDSOR — Patrick Drake stood outside the beano hall Saturday morning at the Windsor Fairgrounds, waiting for someone to unlock the building.

The 32-year-old from Richmond was waiting to take the test for a license to allow him to become an amateur radio operator at the Technician Class and transmit on amateur radio frequencies. Behind him, scores of people milled around the Windsor Hamfest, looking over the wares for sale at tables set up in rows, searching out the location of the business meeting in the Exhibition Hall, and catching up with friends face-to-face.

Drake, who is a technical sergeant in the Connecticut-based 103rd Civil Engineering Squadron of the Air National Guard, took part in an earthquake simulation exercise earlier in the summer in Wisconsin, where volunteer radio operators with the Salvation Army worked alongside the military and civilian responders taking part.

“I think it’s a good skill to have,” Drake said, crediting a co-worker who already has a license with sparking his interest. “I look forward to using it.”

To prepare, Drake said, he picked up the examination study guide from the American Radio Relay League and took practice tests online and on a smartphone app.

The American Radio Relay League is the national association for amateur radio in the United States whose goal it is to advance the enjoyment of amateur radio. Nationally, the organization has more than 160,000 members.

Bill Crowley, 74, is the section manager for Maine’s ARRL, and he’s been a ham radio operator for more than five decades. He was one of three supervising the exam takers Saturday morning.

“This is traditionally the last one of the year in Maine,” Crowley said.

The interest in ham radio rises and falls over time, he said. The blame for the most recent dip lies at the feet of the internet and the rise of the smartphone, he said, but interest appears to be rising again.

Maine has about 5,000 ham radio operators, including, Crowley said, former Gov. John Baldacci, whom he helped to get a license; and Rodney Scribner, Maine’s former state treasurer and state auditor, who was helping to administer Saturday’s exam.

But ham radio operators are active all over the planet.

In 1964, when Crowley was in the Navy and stationed off San Francisco, he connected with U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was in San Francisco for the Republican National Convention before he won the nomination.

He said he also had been in contact with the late King Hussein of Jordan, just one of many political leaders who have been hams.

“It’s a great thing, too, for kids. You learn geography like it’s going out of style,” he said, “because you talk to people from all these places.”

Along with Drake, Dustin Hinds was also taking an exam. The 44-year-old from Windsor was pursuing an upgrade to the General Class license, which allows him to transmit on additional radio frequencies.

“It lets you talk around the world,” he said, “and spend more money.”

For Hinds, ham radio has been an on-again, off-again pursuit. He first started with ham radios when he was 20 and in the Air Force, but other concerns supplanted his interest. Now, he said, he wants to reaffirm his skills and be able to access the high-frequency bands.

Both Hinds and Drake — the only people to take the exams Saturday — passed their tests.

Drake said he felt pretty good about his level or preparation.

“I have a radio, and I am working on getting the rest of the accessories and parts I need to get it all set up,” he said.

While he thinks he’ll pursue the General Class, and eventually the Extra, which allows access to all ham frequencies.

Whether he knew it or not, in getting his license, Drake joined a community.

As he handed Drake his completed paperwork, Scribner, who was presiding over his 100th examination, invited Drake to join the ham radio operators who meet Wednesday mornings at Dave’s Diner in Gardiner to share information and talk.

“It starts at 6 and goes to 7:30,” Scribner said. “You can come at 7 and have a cup of coffee, if that’s all the time you have. You can get acquainted. We’d love to have you.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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