Antenna party

Dayton’s annual Hamvention takes over Hara Arena

By Gary Spencer

For those of you out there who think that Dayton’s annual Hamvention at Hara Arena is a gathering of chefs and diners celebrating all things pork, I’m sad to report that this just isn’t the case. Hamvention is a 66-year-old, annual three-day festival for amateur radio enthusiasts from all over the world to network, attend workshops, begin building radios and get gear to fuel their favorite hobby, which enables this somewhat esoteric bunch to communicate on actual radio frequencies (yes, the same ones that house your favorite radio station) with each other, perform sonic experimentation, emergency broadcasting and whatever else they wish to do with their creations. I had a chat with Hamvention Media Chair Henry Ruminski to discuss a little history of amateur radio, Hamvention and how ham radio and the convention have evolved over the years. Seven? (That means “Are you ready?” in ham speak.) If the answer is six (“I am ready”), then let’s proceed to 37 (“Inform all interested”).

Tell me about Hamvention.

Henry Ruminski: Hamvention is the world’s largest amateur radio gathering. Each year it brings more than 20,000 amateur radio operators to Dayton.  Some come to see the latest technology which manufacturers announce at Dayton or have the first public showing outside their offices.  Others come with a list of parts or equipment that they are looking for knowing that Hamvention is the place to find it.  Some come for the forums which present information on a variety of topics ranging from theoretical discussions to practical sessions dealing with emergency communication and public service.  Many informal groups hold meetings in the evening of Hamvention. And for many it is a chance to have a face-to-face conversation with someone you usually talk to hundreds, perhaps thousand of miles away.

Can you give me a brief history on amateur radio? 

HR: Experimenters began working with radio in the late 1800s, and by 1910, so many people were testing their own homemade equipment that interference became a problem. To bring some order to the airwaves, Congress passed the Radio Act of 1912, which required amateurs to be licensed and limited the frequencies they could use. In 1914 Hiram Percy Maxim realized that for radio to be a useful long distance communication medium, it needed stations to pass on messages. He founded the American Radio Relay League, which today is the National Organization for Amateur Radio and has a significant presence at Hamvention. By the 1920s, hams were communicating across the Atlantic. Today, we use a variety of modes, including amateur satellites to communication, not only across town but around the world and into space to the International Space Station.

What should attendees expect at this year’s Hamvention?

HR: For the ham, there is an unbelievable variety of new and used equipment and accessories.  There are more than 500 vendor spots and more than 2,000 flea market spots filled with everything from the latest technology to antique radios from the ’20s. Even if you are not a ham, you should visit at least once. You might find a neat piece of software for your computer, a nifty solar charger for your cell phone or a great backup camera for your vehicle.  In addition to technology, there are vendors selling materials and demonstrating equipment for “makers,” whose interest might be 3D printings or robots [or] some other creative use of technology. There will be vendors with items for “preppers” and others who are into doing their own thing in a variety of fields. It’s not strictly radio anymore.

What’s the demographic like for Hamvention? Has the audience grown in recent years? 

HR: Anyone attending will immediately notice that older males dominate the attendance, but there are women and younger people also attending. The new technology is drawing the youth in.  There are now more than 700,000 people in the United States holding amateur radio licenses, the largest number ever. Some of the recent growth can be attributed to two factors: elimination for the Morse Code requirement and the interest generated by amateur radio providing emergency communication when normal systems such as cell towers and public service radios fail. Hurricane Katrina probably provided the best example of hams stepping in to provide communication when all other services were failing. A recent effort in the local area is to establish an amateur radio WiFi network, which could be used in an emergency to handle almost anything that needs wide bandwidth.  The push toward the STEM fields in schools may also be contributing to what appears to be a re-birth of interest among youth in ham radio.

Why do you think amateur radio continues to be a thing even in this technologically advanced age? 

HR: It’s hard to explain the appeal of ham radio, but there is a certain satisfaction in getting to talk to someone in Antarctica from a radio located in your home. People make a lot of friends they never would have met without ham radio.

Dayton Hamvention 2016 takes place Friday-Sunday, May 20-22, at Hara Arena, 1001 Shiloh Springs Rd. in Dayton. Tickets are $20 in advance for all three days and $25 at the door. For more information, please visit hamvention.org or contact info@hamvention.org.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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