Dayton or Bust, One Man’s Story

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Richard Constantine G3UGF describes his first ever visit to to the Dayton Hamvention.

 

 

Richard Constantine G3UGF describes his first ever visit to to the Dayton Hamvention.

 

Dayton Hamvention, reputedly the largest in the world, has been on my, ‘bucket list’ for more years than I can remember but always out of reach, until a lifetime opportunity arose this year for me to make the trip. You can read about it and watch YouTube videos but nothing can prepare you for the real thing.

Hamvention attracts some 30,000 international visitors and over 230 manufacturers, dealers and special interest groups large and small, to the Greene Country fairground at Beavercreek near Dayton, Ohio. It’s an annual event although only the second year at this new site.

Spread across six major halls, with names like Tesla, Marconi and Watt, they are surrounded by concession stands offering every kind of burger, pizza taco and ice cream imaginable. It also hosts the largest fleamarket/boot sale you’ll ever see.

The free, 60-page Show Guide lists 58 forums along with lectures in five centres, covering topics that include Homeland Security, Law, Parks on the Air, Balloon Sat, Kit Building, Emergency Comm’s, SDR, DMR, D-STAR, C4FM, APRS, DX, Microwaves, Remote operation, Contesting, Robots, Tropo Ducting and lots more.

Around the Hamvention are a whole series of satellite events, dinners and gatherings in the many hotels. The Topband Dinner, AMSAT Banquet, Contest Dinner and the DX dinner are just a few examples.

My hosts were the QRP-ARCI FDIM (Four Days in May) group, at the Holiday Inn. This gathering alone was attended by more than 300 international QRP enthusiasts, kit builders and suppliers.

Most gatherings host raffles and serious sponsored giveaways. At mine these featured 50 donated raffle prizes, including an Elecraft KX2 and KX3 and two high-end Begali Morse keys. My only prize was a keyer lead terminated with a 3.5mm jack…maybe next time?

 

Logistics

For any first timer, travelling with a seasoned friend or linking with a special interest group is a really good idea. I enjoyed a day of fascinating talks prior to the Hamvention, participated in events and meals each evening and met some of my all-time QRP heroes – that’s another story.

The show is some distance from the hotels and if you don’t fancy driving on the wrong side of the road, you need to make friends quickly or have the Uber App on your phone − reliable and cheap, as I discovered. I’m greatly indebted to Hans Summer G0UPL, Gary M1GRY and Stewart G3YSX for their various and generous help getting me around in Dayton because everything is a long way and our US cousins don’t walk!

The car parks at the Hamvention are massive with golf buggies ferrying visitors to and fro. There’s also a trailer park, camping area and several overflow parking sites elsewhere, with courtesy buses.

My strategy on day one was to walk the full length of the entire site, to the farthest point of the fleamarket area. From there I began systematically working my way around and back to the main show site. This proved to be a brilliant move because when the rain came, I bought an umbrella for $3 and kept walking, snagging a rare, mint condition Drake RV4 wattmeter for my collection, from the back of a truck, at a knockdown price.

I thrust dollars into the seller’s hand, in the nick of time, as a wet queue formed behind me. I drooled over a mint Collins KWM2A in a flight case, plus hundreds of cheap and not so cheap Ten-Tecs, Heathkits, Yaesus and Kenwoods. It was all there. My strategy paid off because by day two the huge footfall had again turned the racetrack market area into a mud bath.

There was so much to see and touch that I only made it back to half way on that first day.

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Day 2

My Day 2 plan started from the entrance gate, scanning the main halls and marquees, until I finally reached recognisable places. A good move and a revelation because the manufacturers’ stands were big. Yaesu displayed their new FTDX101D and Kenwood the TS-890S. Icom’s IC-7610 had pride of place on their stand. At 1.00pm and 3.00pm each day Icom attracted huge crowds by giving away goodies, including hand portables, mobiles and IC-7300 transceivers, simply for registering a name and callsign on their database. You had to be there to win, though. If not, they re-drew, to great excitement. Apart from the main three, some dealers’ stands were also very impressive, notably DX Engineering. They had eight fully manned electronic cash register points – I’ve never seen that before! One trick employed by many component and smaller dealers was to use large overhead video screens showing pictures of their stock – a really clever idea for a busy show. SDR makers such as Apache, Flex, SDRplay and Elecraft along with various amplifier and antenna suppliers attracted lots of interest. Something to be aware of is that US prices are usually shown less taxes. Thus, the price quoted is often not the price you pay. Large ticket items attract substantial taxes. The final price of my Begali key came with a ‘sting in the tail’. Oh, and several dealers only took cash.

 

Hamvention Scope

Unlike British rallies, the scope and ethos is much wider, with heavy accent on emergency communications, mobile, portable, outdoors, families and youth as reflected in the talks, forums and displays. Equipment on offer ranged from ‘interesting’ to what in our eyes would be quite bizarre, such as backpacks, portable antennas, ‘prepper’ equipment, solar panels, gun magnets for concealed weapons and, yes, saltwater batteries!

There are many keen YL and younger operators in the US. I smiled as one lady with children quizzed her partner about an HF rig, asking knowledgably about linear amplifier switching in remote mode and by how many decibels the dynamic range of the filters were better than her current station.

 

Tips

There is so much more I could relate about Dayton but the best thing I can say is that you really have to be there to get the full flavour of it. If like me you plan to cross this one off your personal list, here are some tips.

Link with a special interest group and/or travel with a friend. Book your hotel immediately you know the venue dates – they all fill up amazingly fast. Save money by sharing a room or find an airbnb quick. Book your flights early − don’t wait, because prices rise. Pay for a three-day Hamvention pass online. They give away pass prizes every day at the show. Make sure you have an ESTA to enter the USA (available online) in addition to your passport. Have medical and travel insurance in place because delays and cancellations in the USA are in general not covered by ABTA, airlines or any other scheme.

Allow extra travel days for delays and acclimatisation – I got grounded in New York for a storm. If you can, stay a day to visit the USAF National Museum near Dayton. It’s seriously ‘wow’ and it’s free:

www.nationalmuseum.af.mil

 

Finale

Finally, US amateurs (Hams) like to take time to talk and give you their calling card, especially when they hear your voice or spot your callsign. Most have theirs on baseball hats. One memorable conversation made me smile. I was asked many times about a certain small wedding in Windsor. One question was, “Would Meghan make Britain great again?” To which my reply was, “Britain has always been Great… it’s in the name”.

My advice on Dayton – don’t wait, do it once in a lifetime or you’ll regret it!

 

This article was featured in the August 2018 issue of Practical Wireless