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Amateur Event Continues to Pack ’Em In

Just a little flavor of ham, from James O’Neal

No motel rooms available for miles, packed restaurants, slow and heavy traffic—all typical occurrences for a particular early May weekend here in Dayton. It’s the annual “Hamvention,” regarded as the hamfest of hamfests, attracting radio amateurs from virtually every state in the nation and many foreign countries — more than 20,000 people most years. This is its 60th anniversary, and despite the poor economy, high cost of gasoline and the growing popularity of wireless Internet communication around the world, the three-day, in-person event shows no signs of slowing down.

And while this year’s show was a little less dramatic than the last — in 2011, someone out on the parking lot accidentally hacked into a sewer main while driving a tent stake — there was still plenty of action and excitement throughout its three-day run.

This sea of tents on the 2,000-vender space parking lot indicates the attraction of the annual Dayton Hamvention event. To see all the photos from the event, see the digital edition version of this article. Once again the indoor booth space sold out, and most of the outdoor tailgating spaces were filled as well. Foot traffic was high inside Hara Arena, the venue for this ham radio show of shows, making it hard to get around, just like in the NAB Show’s glory days. An untold number of dollars change hands here, both for the latest shiny new radio gear from commercial venders and the “junk” offered up by the flea market entrepreneurs.


So what’s the attraction?

It’s hard to say with any great degree of specificity. For many, it’s a chance to browse the tents and tailgates, picking out some item that you coveted early in your ham experiences but couldn’t afford; or maybe it’s a part you desperately need in order to repair your 1960 Heathkit transmitter. For others, it’s an opportunity to meet—face-to-face—some of those people with whom you’ve been “working” on the ham bands for years, but haven’t met yet because you live a continent or a world away. For still others, it’s a chance to show off your accomplishments in the area of ham radio, or conversely, to view the absurd—cars so plastered with antennas that mpg is probably cut by 10 percent or so, or humans so bedecked with solar cells that they could probably supply the power needs of a third-world village. For some, it’s an educational opportunity, with presentations on everything from digital radio to “Working DX From Your Bicycle.”

The exhibits floor is an interesting mix of all the big manufacturers of ham-related gear, companies that publish books and periodicals for the amateur crowd and even niche groups such as the Morse Telegraph Club, which demonstrates what the Internet equivalent of a century and a half ago was all about. Conversely, others groups are there with information on amateur radio satellite communications, moonbounce, and the latest in digital radio technologies.

Such diverse groups as the Boy Scouts of America and Salvation Army have a presence at the Hamvention.

“I’ve been a scout for 27 years, a ham since 1995, and have been doing this booth for the past five years,” said Matthew Murphy, Scouts on the Air administrator. “Our mission is to encourage ham radio among scouts.”

Scouts on the Air is a group dedicated to furthering amateur radio activity at Boy Scouts of America-owned camps and camping activities. Murphy said that he’s looking forward to the next year’s Boy Scout Jamboree, which will be held in New River Gorge, W. Va. It’s expected to attract more than 40,000 scouts from all over the world, and preparation and testing for amateur licenses will be part of that activity.

The Salvation Army wouldn’t miss out on the Dayton Hamvention experience either, as the organization places high reliance on the amateur radio bands for communications in aiding victims of natural and manmade disasters. A contingent of Army regulars was on hand to explain the organization’s SATERN (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network) system to attendees and to encourage new membership.

Regardless of their reasons for attending, everyone questioned at this year’s event said they wouldn’t have missed it for anything and were already making plans to travel back to the Hara for next year’s show (May 17–19).