About 400 people gathered Sunday in Bethpage to tune into the annual Ham Radio University Educational Conference, where experts said the service is making a comeback nationally.
Amateur radio enthusiasts spent several hours at Briarcliffe College participating in more than 20 educational forums and hands-on workshops. Ham radio uses radio frequencies to communicate around the world without the Internet or cellphones.
During the conference, keynote speaker Dave Sumner, chief executive of the National Association for American Radio, outlined the state of amateur radio across the world.
Sumner, speaking to a packed classroom of more than 100 people, said in the United States — where there has been steady growth in the number of new ham radio licenses obtained by individuals in the past decade — there were 32,077 issued in 2015.
He attributed the increase to a greater societal emphasis on public service and emergency communications, more natural disasters and a tradition of volunteerism among ham radio operators.
However, licenses peaked in Japan in 1995 and Europe has been on a steady decline.
Sumner noted that there have been a few “bright spots” in China, Thailand and Indonesia in recent years. He added that being perceived as irrelevant and fighting for competition and attention, and antenna restrictions, are threats to ham radio volunteerism.
In the future, Sumner added, Ham Radio University should look to advance the art, science and enjoyment of amateur radio.
At the conference, many attendees participated in forums on topics including transmitter hunting, cable theory and Ethernet connectors.
“Ham radio is a public service that can be beneficial during times of an emergency,” said Brian Malone, 59, of Massapequa Park, a licensed amateur radio operator who wanted to attend the antenna and emergency management forums.
He said he used ham radio to contact family members during superstorm Sandy.
Lee Williett, 88, said he had no intentions of looking at Sunday’s conference agenda.
Williett, of Baldwin who became an amateur licensed radio operator in 1978 and attends every year, walked in and out of different classrooms until he came across a workshop that interested him.
“You can go all over the world,” he said, referring to being a licensed amateur radio operator. “It’s all about doing something good. Just the idea of being able to help people.”
Ham University chairman Tom Carrubba said the organization, a collection of local radio clubs, started in 2000 to “share knowledge” and “all facets of amateur radio,” including emergency communication such as 9/11, when ham radio was used.
There are more than 760,000 amateur radio licensed operators nationwide, Carrubba said.
A Federal Communications Committee test was also available for individuals who want to obtain or upgrade their amateur radio license.
To obtain one, a person must pass a technician and general test consisting of basic electronics, FCC rules and regulations, in addition to the FCC test, organizers said.
Licensed amateur radio operator Robin Brandvein of Baldwin said she loves the camaraderie displayed at the annual conventions.
“I don’t feel compelled to communicate with people around the world. I do it for emergency services, when cellphones go out,” she said.