If you’re a radio amateur and getting to the world’s largest assembly of hamfest held in Dayton, Ohio, happens to be on your bucket list; you blew it! It’s not going to happen now! That big, big yearly gathering of hams in Dayton, Ohio —an annual event there for more than half a century — ceased to exist there with the 2016 show.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the three-day event “Dayton Hamvention” is still very much alive and well — but you’ll have to look for it in its new home at the Greene County Fair Grounds and Exposition Center, located in Xenia, Ohio, about 15 miles east and south of Dayton.
This year’s event — the 67th such gathering of the amateur radio faithful — officially kicked off Friday morning May 19 amid some amount of nervousness and trepidation (we all know it’s dangerous to monkey with success; look at what happened when the Coca-Cola folks introduced New Coke); however, according to the Hamvention’s media chairman, Henry Ruminski, there was simply no choice for the Dayton Amateur Radio Club, which sponsors the event.
YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN
“Hara Arena is gone,” said Ruminski. “Family cousins had to decide over the future of the arena, and they couldn’t reach an amicable agreement, so they decided to shut it down and sell the property.”
Ruminski said that a lot of club effort had gone into selecting a new site for the ham radio gathering, which goes back to 1952.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “Some 500 club volunteers spent untold thousands of hours searching out a new venue and then doing the planning work needed to ensure success at the new location.”
Vintage broadcast gear being offered for sale is usually a common sight at Hamvention flea markets; however, there wasn’t that much this time. This RCA-branded remote broadcast console/turntable package was among the more visible pieces.
Despite all of the planning, there were still some of the glitches that might be expected in such a large-scale move.
One of these was building space for commercial venders, as buildings at the fairgrounds site provided significantly less square footage that the Hara complex.
“We gained overall size,” said Ruminski. “The fairgrounds are much larger in general terms that Hara Arena was. We lost some paved parking lot … [and] obviously, the buildings here aren’t as large, so we have fewer square feet under building roofs. That’s why you see some of the large tents we have set up here. The reduction is probably 20 or 30 percent less, but that’s only a rough guess.
“We were able to accommodate everyone who applied for space in a reasonable time frame. We were getting requests two days before Hamvention who wanted spaces, and we had some people who applied earlier that we were not able to get in.
Ruminski noted that all of the “old time” or regular commercial exhibitors were accommodated and said that the flea market venders typically got the space they requested. However, some latecomers could not be accommodated at the new venue.
“Unfortunately, one of the things we’re going to have to look at next year is increasing the flea market space so we have more spots available, and maybe have some additional tents for the inside exhibits. Space wasn’t the greatest issue, but it was an issue.
“We’ve had some really great feedback. People like the atmosphere. They like the number of additional food venders. So, there are a number of very positive comments we’ve received.”
RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC JAM
“The negative — and we predicted it — is traffic flow,” said Ruminski.
“We knew that if everybody that wanted to come here came at the same time we would have a big problem. We put out directives, but a lot of people were upset.”
And opening day vehicular traffic flow did suffer. Primary entry to the fairgrounds is via four gates situated along the same two-lane road, which became saturated at least an hour before the 9 a.m. formal start time. Offsite parking was provided with shuttle buses, but not everyone availed themselves of this option.
Ruminski, speaking on the Saturday of the event, said that discussion among Hamvention planners had already started and that there would be numerous meetings about this before the 2018 event.
The location may have changed, but the name remains the same.
NO DISAPPOINTMENT HERE
However, by and large, hams are a reasonable lot and took the delay in stride, with no “road rage” being reported. Even the heavy rains that turned much of the fairgrounds to mud, and temperature swings from the 80s on Friday afternoon to the 50s on Saturday morning, did little to dampen the enthusiasm of attendees.
Long-time Hamvention attendee Jay Adrick, K8CJY, who is retired from Harris Broadcast, was asked for his impression of the new venue.
“Overall, not bad,” he said. “Certainly, better inside than [at] Hara Arena. The flea market yesterday was not too bad. The mud dried up pretty quickly. But of course, we had some rain overnight and we’ve got mud again. I don’t know what was worse, the flea market with all the broken pavement and the sewer line rupturing at Hara” — a reference to flooding of the Hara parking lot a few years ago when a tailgater ruptured a sewer main while hammering in a tent anchor — “or the mud at this flea market. Flea market traffic I think is down a bit a bit today, but the inside traffic appears to be up.”
A first-timer at the show, Steve Thomas, M1ACB, and a staffer at the Radio Society of Great Britain booth, was also upbeat about the venue.
“I think it’s in an excellent place,” said Thomas. “Yesterday, very warm, very different than today. I put the shorts on, and now it’s cooled off. It’s been great for us, though. It’s really important to connect with our international members in the U.S. People love our books, but [the Hamvention] is also a great way to talk to people and engage with our members over here in the States. We would absolutely do it again.”
For the past several years, Hamvention attendance has been in the 25,000 range, with radio amateurs journeying from all over the world to attend. According to Ruminski, despite the uncertainty associated with the move, final attendance numbers for the 2017 event looked as if they would exceed those recorded at the final Hara Arena gathering.