Ever since I have heard about ham radio and hamfests, there has always been whisperings of the “mecca” of all hamfests: Dayton.
For my non-amateur radio friends reading this, let me describe the “hamfest” experience. As a youngster, my Old Man dragged me along to various hamfests: get togethers where hams sold and traded radio gear, told lies about long distance contacts and chain smoked (this was the 80’s after all).
My earliest recollections of hamfests was the smell of cigarette smoke, stale coffee and burnt electrons. Piles upon piles of HF radios, antennas, old coax from 1963 and paper call books yellowed with nicotine could be found. Often there would be a screeching garbled voice from the PA system announcing raffle numbers. Throughout the years, I would be asked repeateledy by old hams attending the show the same questions over and over again:
“Are you ham? Why not?”
“Do you know morse code? Why not?”
After perusing piles of junk the OM would deftly negotiate a price on a radio or electronic gadget for his radio collection, and we would head home where he would promptly take a nap and I would continue my never ending childhood task of taking electronics apart with no clue how to put them back together.
Now as an adult, I have managed successfully to avoid hamfests for a better part of 20 years. However, nostalgia is a cruel bitch and rumblings online that this would be LAST hamfest at the (now defunct) Hara Area in Dayton, Ohio actually motivated me enough to head west to the incredibly boring state of Ohio.
If you thought hamfests were bad, the Hara Area just magnified the horror.
Think asbestos, lead based paint infused with mold and nicotine/weed residue. Imagine monster truck shows, big hair rock shows from the 70’s and hockey jock strap sweat and that should give you a good idea of the potpourri that infused the Hara Arena. Add a bunch of stinky hams who haven’t showered in a week and you the makings of a good ole time!
Prior to this year, I was never within driving distance to make it worth the trip. That changed when I moved to the DC metro area. I checked to make sure all my shots were current and carefully selected a shirt that hadn’t been washed in two weeks. Called the OM and told him we were headed to Dayton!
But first, some important Dayton Hamfest stats!
Broken Junk Radios that should be in the Landfill
Percentage of RF Intermod present in 5 square mile radius of the Hamfest
- Men Ages 50-110
- Men Ages 21-50
- Men Ages 2-20
- Women (All ages)
- Gender could not be determined
Number of times run over by a Rascal
Number of hot dogs consumed by attendees
Number of clothes washings required to get the Hara funk out
The OM arrived in DC unmolested by TSA and 8 hours laters we arrived at Dayton. We parked in the remote parking lot and took in the wide assortment of porcupine cars with the 26 different antennas mounted haphazardly.
We first hit the flea market as there had to be some golden treasures in the miles upon miles of tables with gear for sale. Surprisingly we didn’t see a lot of HF radios for sale, at least not as many as I thought I would see.
After walking 12 miles and not buying anything, we headed inside to the madness taking place at the Elecraft booth. The Elecraft KX2 was just announced and it looked like a fight might break out in purchasing them.
In anticipation of the new Elecraft KX2 I threw my KX3 in a trashcan as I would no longer need it. I posted the picture on social media and received many emails mostly poorly written insisting I was a bad person and I should sell the radio to them for $100. Apparently lacking a sense of humor, I was amazed at how many people thought I would really throw away a $1300 radio (that worked). Back inside, we walked the many aisles and checked out what everyone had to offer.
Being a big supporter of NPOTA, I stopped by the booth to say hi to all my fellow activators and chasers.
While in the booth I noticed a monitor playing a video, which happen to be my video. It was little strange to see myself on a tv screen when you don’t expect it.
I also stopped at the Alexloop booth and spoke to the owner, Alex Grimberg, PY1AHD. He was demonstrating his new bluetooth remote controlled Alexloop using a smartphone. Very cool for those remote installs!
Later in the afternoon, I attended an excellent presentation by George (KJ6VU) of Packtenna, on portable HF antennas.
The presentation was after lunch and the room was hotter than hades. I noticed several OM falling asleep in the back row which made me laugh.
After two days of the hamfest, the OM and I wandered over to the National Museum of the USAF. Having visited the Smithsonian Air & Space at Dulles, it was cool to visit another museum devoted to planes.
After the air museum, we headed back to DC and on stopped at Fort Necessity in PA to for a NPOTA activation.
Since attending Dayton, the Hara Arena has officially closed and the Dayton Hamfest has moved to a new location. I could write a thesis on the what Hara was to the Dayton Hamfest, but I think this t-shirt summarizes it quite well: