Hams at Dayton

Hams start going to Dayton for the technology. They keep going for the people.

Dayton, Ohio becomes the center of the amateur radio universe every third weekend in May. That’s when the Dayton Amateur Radio Association holds Hamvention, the largest gathering of radio amateurs in the world. This year, approximately 30,000 converged for the event.

Most people start going to Hamvention for the technology, and there was plenty of that this year. All the major manufacturers were there, including (in alphabetical order) Elecraft, Flex, Icom, Kenwood, MFJ, and Yaesu. There were some less well-known manufacturers there, too, including Alinco, HobbyPCB, QRPLabs, and QRPWorks. They were joined by a host of niche suppliers, who make and sell everything from antennas to Morse Code keys to batteries. And, of course, there’s the flea market, where you can find all kinds of weird and wonderful electronic stuff.

People come for the forums, too. The theme for this year’s Hamvention was Innovation! and many of the forums emphasized this aspect of amateur radio. This year’s forum lineup included presentations on digital communications, software-defined radio, fast-scan TV, and Linux-based ham radio software.

People over technology

Technology was certainly the initial draw for me, but it’s not why I keep returning. I didn’t buy a single thing this year. What keeps me going back are the people. Every year, I meet old friends, hams who I’ve only met on the air, and make new friends.
Last year, for example, I had dinner on Saturday with a fellow with whom I’d had many CW contacts, but never met in person. In fact, because we were operating CW, I’d never even heard his voice. We hit it off so well, that we again met for dinner this year. Not only that, we expanded our circle to include several other hams who we’ve worked before.

Here’s another example. On Friday, an old friend came up to the booth to say hello. As it turns out, he was recently elected to the board of directors of the Quarter Century Wireless Association (QCWA). About 15 years ago, I was a member of QCWA, but let my membership lapse when I became disenchanted with the organization.

One of the reasons for my departure was that they actively discouraged me from starting a chapter here in Southeast Michigan. Their reasoning, as I recall, is that there was already a chapter in Michigan, even though its activities were mostly on the west side of the state. That made no sense to me at all.

This didn’t seem to make much sense to my friend–the newly-elected QCWA board member–so we plan to explore this further at a later date. Who knows? We may yet form a SE Michigan chapter of QCWA.

This is just a small sample of the people I met this year. I also got to talk to some podcasters and YouTubers, a couple of fellows who recognized me from reading my blog or listening to me on the ICQ Podcast, and hams out in the flea market who had some interesting stories about the stuff they had for sale. You never know who you’ll run into, what stories they’ll tell you, and what you’ll learn from them.

It’s meeting people that keep me returning to Hamvention. If you’ve never been to a Dayton Hamvention, I’d encourage you to go at least once. If you do, I”m going to guess that you’ll go back, and it won’t be for the technology, but for the people.

Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com).hen he’s not at Hamvention, he teaches ham radio classes and operates CW on the HF bands.