This was the first opportunity I gave myself to attend the world’s largest amateur radio gathering the Dayton Hamvention and was it ever an incredible experience. Hams from all around the US and the rest of the world came in droves. I expect once the actual numbers come out they will well surpass 2022 attendance. My son Sean accompanied me to this event. We drove the twelve-hour journey from Monticello, MN to Dayton, OH.
The anticipation Builds In Line
We arrived Thursday evening with just enough time to get a good night’s sleep for the start of Hamvention. Gates opened at 9:00 AM and closed at 5:00 PM with the exception of Sunday where the show ended at 1:00 PM. Being the first time and not knowing what to expect we got there early at 7:00 AM. Which was good because that is when the parking lot opened. Besides vendors and volunteers we were probably the 30th car in the lot — and a huge lot it was.
Entering the fairground you go through gate 4 which is the main lot for attendees. Other gates were for volunteers, vendors, and such. You are first greeted by many volunteers that direct you where to park and a fleet of golf carts to take you to the gate where you can purchase tickets if you haven’t already. Purchasing tickets in advance is slightly cheaper.
At that point, you wait in line until the gates open. There was a Boy Scout tent set up and they were offering a ticket laminating service with lanyards and commemorative patches for sale, both items were a must and very popular. Other volunteers passed out a very nice program. It didn’t take much time until the parking lots started to fill up and the waiting line became extremely long. It was hard to believe I couldn’t see the end. Despite the wait my son and I had a great time talking with other hams in line, listening to stories and past experiences. The Hamvention also offered scooters, and wagons for a rental fee. As the excitement built the closer it came to the start of the show I started gearing up to follow the plan I strategically made so I wouldn’t miss any of the forums, hit the most important vendors on my list, and meet up with my favorite YouTube content creators.
Open the floodgates
9:00 AM and the gates finally opened, the scooters were able to get in a little sooner. You’re greeted by security “make sure to show those tickets,” and Michael Kalter W8CI was there to greet us all. I believe he was the main organizer of the event. (It was unfortunate that within this last year, DARA lost five of their main members due to untimely causes and the members had to come together to complete the organization of this year’s event.) There are many content creators that are filming the first entrants into the event, many that you will know and some you may not. The first building you come to is Building 1 “Maxim” DX Engineering, SteppIR, R&L, Kenwood, HamStudy, MFJ, Electraft, Radioddity, and many more!
Coming from Minnesota where we no longer have any amateur radio stores after the closing of Radio City, HRO Milwaukee is the closest we have now. Being hit with everything all at once was a bit overwhelming and all I could think of is that I didn’t bring enough money!
We perused the aisles rather quickly to see who all was there and on to the next building 2 “Tesla” The ARRL took up about a 3rd of this building, FlexRadio, Begali Keys, Lido Mounts, ICOM America, QRP Labs, Many Clubs were also in this space the RSGB, JARL, YLRL, RAC, DARC, DARA. Many more clubs and vendors.
The same strategy — hit them all and move on to Building 3 “Marconi” to see Tarheel Antennas, Yaesu USA, Ham Radio Outlet, West Mountain Radio, US Tower, Buddipole, GigaParts. and many more.
One thing I left out and really the first thing you do, once you get through the gate, is to make your way to Building 4 “Volta.” That is where you will find the “Prize Booth” You must drop the other half of your ticket into the basket as drawings start on the hour every hour throughout the event. There are monitors in the three big buildings to see if you won anything. My son Sean had a student ticket and he did win! I was not so lucky but because he was pretty excited it was all worth it for me. The Volta Building had YOTA and ARISS and the DARA Youth technology center and a few vendors and organizations Orlando Hamcation, Huntsville Hamfest, RFinder, etc.
Building 5 “Hertz”, HamSci, Courage Kenny HandiHam, Ham Radio Deluxe, QRP-ARCI, COMPACtenna, QCWA, Nuts&Volts, and many more.
Over the duration of Hamvention we visit most if not all of the vendor booths checking out new equipment turning knobs, navigating menus trying to come up with the best foolproof justification to buy that big-money radio, amplifier, or SteppIR antenna convincing ourselves that your wife or significant other will be just as happy as you are of that purchase – seems logical?
Check out the Hamvention website to see the full list of vendors. In addition, download the ARRL Event App which has all of the information you could possibly use or need in one place. I used it and came in handy at times.
There were 4 forum halls, all of them were easy to find and the schedules were pretty accurate. I didn’t run into any scheduling problems. The only problem was there just wasn’t enough time to see them all. The Hamvention website also has a complete list of the forums that were held.
Ham on a stick
I know people talk smack about the food vendors, prices, take it from me there was a huge variety of offerings sweet to savory, from typical fair food to restaurant-style offerings such as pork chop sandwiches, bourbon chicken with rice, Cajun food, homemade ice cream etc. There of course was a beer garden. You could buy soda as cheap as $2.00 and a bottle of water for $1.00 and they didn’t run out through the whole event. I hear they are making some changes next year to provide additional “ethnic” food offerings due to demand.
The flea markets to end all flea markets
The flea market… That is a sight to see… It is massive. You will have to go through the flea market several times in order to see even half of what is there. You then will probably run out of time. You can find absolutely everything there. A complete station from radio to antenna and everything in between in every mode possible. Motorola everywhere, linear amplifiers, boat anchors, early and late vintage. There are a few vendors in this space as well. This is where you will find the Parks On The Air (POTA) booth. They had a nice setup with various accessories for sale to ensure you have a top-notch activation. You can get any questions answered here. They are passionate about POTA and ready to help.
Many of the flea market vendors leave on Saturday night so Sunday gets pretty patchy but this is the time to get the best deals because no one that is still there wants to bring anything home so keep that in mind.
When Sunday arrives you can get into Hamvention free of charge. I think this is the only free hamfest where you can be exposed to the best of the best in what amateur radio has to offer in equipment, accessories, education & experience even if it is only for 4 hours. 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I know it is bigger than any hamfest in my own state if you compare those events to the Sunday schedule.
In addition to the vendors, food, forums, and flea market there are many things to look at or tour if you will. There are some very talented groups and individuals out there that have mobile ham stations in old news production vans, old delivery vans, trucks with trailers that have crank-up or hydraulic masts that go 50 ft with beams. Lots of EMCOMM vehicles. It gets you thinking of what you could do yourself.
Afterhours events beyond Hamvention
Hamvention is great and all but there are many great after-hours events after the Hamvention closes every day. Most of these are dinners that you need to register for and purchase tickets ahead of time to attend like the FlexRadio Dinner, TopBand dinner, Yaesu dinner, free pizza parties, etc.
Also, another event that I wasn’t able to attend this year was FDIM “Four Days In May.” This is an annual event that coincides with the Dayton Hamvention run by the QRP-ARCI. Check out qrparci.org to sign up if you are interested and get more information for next year. Put it on your calendar!
Notable moments for my son and I were meeting up with the many YouTube creators and one specifically Hayden Honeywood VK7HH he flew from Tasmania, Australia, and surprised the group and everyone else for that matter he was very kind and humble and even helped set my son up with Steve Goodgame K5ATA and strike a deal to get his license. The next highlight of this trip was meeting Carlos Ortiz, KD9OLN in person and making contact with him while he was parachuting over Xenia at 5,430ft on 146.45Mhz FM. What a memorable moment! I also met Jason Johnston of HamRadio2.0, Kyle AA0Z, Jason Oleham KM4ACK Ham Harder, T.O.-Steve KM9G, Tank Radio Frank KG5AHJ, Josh Nass HRCC KI6NAZ, and a few more, there were meet-ups at Jason’s trailer and at the Troll Pub downtown Dayton — it was a blast.
At the beginning of Hamvention I was thinking that this should be a week-long event that there was just too much to look at and explore with the time we had. By Sunday however, we were worn out. Maybe 2.5 days is enough for something like this. The cost for the whole trip and the time to drive or fly is well worth the experience and opportunity that Hamvention offers. This overview cannot possibly provide you with enough information and detail that you get from being there and experiencing everything for yourself.
If you have never attended or attended in the past, especially at the old Hara Arena, things are much better from what I heard from the annual attendees. One thing to note is that the restrooms were kept clean and were numerous, as well as plenty of seating scattered around in case you get tired. Make plans to go next year and make it your own experience. You will not be disappointed.
Thank you for reading about our journey until next time — 73 — Jeff, N0NQD (Monticello, MN)