Connecting for fun, connecting to help

W hen I was a little girl my father had this old, metal box. The front of it had maybe 10 dial knobs and this tiny screen that eased a needle around in a semicircle. He would pull the box out on clear nights, when we could see every star in the sky. Sitting outside, […]

Hamvention returns for 67th year,
spotlighting service to the community   

The sprawling marketplace is a treasure trove for gearheads.

By Megan Garrison

When I was a little girl my father had this old, metal box. The front of it had maybe 10 dial knobs and this tiny screen that eased a needle around in a semicircle. He would pull the box out on clear nights, when we could see every star in the sky. Sitting outside, the backyard illuminated only by the light of the moon, he would pull a small microphone to him. With a single click, audible to only me and him, he would then transmit his voice out into the world.

Back then, I always imagined that his voice was stretching across oceans. That someone in another country could hear him. That his voice, with this little metal box, was heard across galaxies, that someone, somewhere was given hope because of the same voice that had always read me bedtime stories.

And that’s exactly what he used to do. He would transmit bedtime stories through a little, old, metal box, at the edge of a backyard in Texas. I never knew for sure, and I still don’t, if anyone was actually listening. But I was. I always listened.

Ham, or amateur radio broadcasts have been officially recorded as being around since 1909, when the first Blue Book was published to list all of the active stations. However, for most radio enthusiasts, we know that its origins began much earlier.

In 1873, physicist James Clerk Maxwell presented a theory of the electromagnetic field, which said that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. This theory was then tested on the idea that light undulates in the same way as electric and magnetic waves. The very combination of light and electricity eventually produced radio waves.

By 1901, Guglielmo Marconi had communicated across the Atlantic Ocean with a radio device. This led to the height of amateur radio broadcasts that needed a Blue Book to list them all. However, the United States government became concerned with the amount of broadcasts that could interfere with official national radio correspondence and approved the Radio Act of 1912, which required amateurs to be licensed and restricted to the single radio wavelength of 200 meters. In 1914, Hiram Percy Maxim founded the American Radio Relay League, in the hopes of organizing the amateur radio broadcasts in any given region. By 1960, the first two-way messages were being sent to the Moon.

Between 1914 and 1960, there was a coming together of amateur radio broadcasters, in a certain town we all know and love. Starting in 1952, the first meeting, the beginning of the Hamvention, graced the Dayton region to connect those who had a need
to communicate.

Coming up on its 67th year, last years attendance spiked to 29,296 attendants. What started as an idea has now succeeded in drawing people from all over the globe, with every continent represented except Antarctica. People from Australia, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and many African countries make their way to our humble city to find what they need among the other ham radio enthusiasts.

Henry Ruminiski, who has been on the planning committee for Hamvention since 2004, now manages the media correspondence for the convention first got involved in amateur radio when he got his license in 1967. Over the years, he has found himself getting involved more when life allowed it. But with retirement came more time to dedicate to his passion.

“Hamvention’s biggest draw is that it’s an annual event where you get together to see the people you see once a year,” said Ruminski. “It’s an opportunity, with all the vendors there, to find the one product they couldn’t find before. Most people come to buy something, a lot just come for the experiences. We have various forums that people are interested in.”

Ruminski cites the growing popularity of amateur radio for bringing in such a crowd. By the end of 2017 there were 748,136 registered amateur radio licenses through the FCC, a number that has steadily increased since 1999.

“Thanks to digital technology, young people are becoming more interested,” said Ruminiski. “There is definitely a rebirth right now. Another big thing was the effort during Hurricane Katrina. That was the first big time that the only communication coming out was by ham radio. Ham can step in when all else is wiped out. Now people want to get involved for the emergency communication aspect.”

Michael Kalter, the spokesperson for Hamvention and one of the co-chairs of the awards committee, has been an avid fan of amateur radio for many years. Through his work with Hamvention and several national organizations like the American Radio Relay League and the National Association for Amateur Radio, many local community organizations and programs have been implemented.

“We donated proceeds from the Hamvention to help the National Weather Service,” began Kalter, when speaking about the event’s involvement in the community. “We’ve made significant donations to the Veteran’s Association, and even put in a station at the local VA to help veterans communicate and get involved. It’s been a
wonderful program.”

Some of the other programs include a scholarship system in place through the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, donations to support the Amateur Radio Relay League that provide scholarships and help build radio technology around the world, and the Radio Satellite Amateur Corporation that builds satellites to put into orbit to make communication possible to less accessible regions of the world. They also help with the amateur radio organizations that work in the NASA space station, making it possible for astronauts that are homesick to speak with any number of ham radios down on
the Earth.

“We concentrate a lot on working with ideas and programs for youth,” said Kalter. “We have an adventure group that we support. We go out to different schools and speak.”

It goes to show that Hamvention strives to be a part of the community. Which is why their theme for 2018 is “Serving the Community.”

“The theme is based upon the idea of how do we really communicate and what is the best way to assist and help in an emergency? We have an amazing communications vehicle, and we can deploy that in an emergency.”

Amateur radio does, in fact, do just that. This year’s Special Achievement Award will be presented to three ham radio broadcasters who worked to provide help in an emergency. Heriberto Perez, KK4DCX; Victor Torres, WP4SD and Emilio Ortiz, Jr., WP4KEY were on the ground in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit. The Category 4 storm would be the strongest to make land in the region in nearly 85 years. With 155 mph winds, it’s no wonder that all forms of communication were demolished.

Except for ham radios
These three men took their local equipment to a broadcasting station and worked to bring in health and welfare services through communication with rescue committees, saving thousands of families. More than 45 ham operators across the United States transmitted more than 4,000 messages that connected loved ones between the two areas in a time of crisis.

Ron Cramer, Hamvention’s General Chairman, said “During recent disasters, including hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico and wildfires in the West, amateur radio operators were once again called upon to provide emergency communication assistance when regular services failed or were overtaxed.”

This feat was made possible through the often-cited “basic” technology of amateur radio. While the term “ham radio” might have begun as a joke about “ham-fisted” broadcasters who couldn’t master Morse Code, it is now one of the last standing forms of communication in any given national or international crisis.

“In the amateur radio community we are very connected. That’s what we do, we communicate,” said Kalter. “We keep our ears to the ground. We talk to a lot of people about it. These three men just did an outstanding job.”

Kalter himself had a moment of victory when faced with an environmental disaster. On April 25th, 2015, an earthquake struck Nepal that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured close to 22,000.

“International communication is very important,” said Kalter, when speaking about the event. “When the earthquake happened in Nepal, I happened to just have my amateur radio on, and I was listening to an emergency network. People called out for connections in India. And very quickly I answered that I had connections. They were already beginning to send a contingent to Nepal. I sort of became a center point to get communications out of there. What happened was a fella had sent me an email that said, ‘My wife is over there and she is stuck on a bus between Nepal and Tibet and the road was impassable.’ They could not move. The woman had a satellite phone, so her husband gave me the coordinates and I was able to send those out immediately to my friends in Nepal and they sent a helicopter to the rescue.”

It is stories like these that happen often in the ham radio world that is bringing people to the convention. The connections and miracles that this “old school” technology can bring is usually the only and best option when populations are facing tragedies.

My father still has that little metal box. And when I spent time in Mongolia and Somalia, I would use my own small metal box to talk to him halfway across the world. The comfort that brought me when there was no other way to connect got me through some homesick days and tough decisions.

I know that in an emergency, I will bet my life on the ham radio operators. After all, they connect, they communicate, and they know what to do when the rest of the world’s technology turns off.

The Dayton Hamvention 2018 will be at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Expo Center, 120 Fairground Rd, Xenia, OH 45385, May 18-20. You can purchase tickets online at or the day of the convention.

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Megan Garrison grew up in the small town of Lampasas, Texas, spending her time immersed in Ernest Hemingway novels and dreaming of being a journalist one day. Now she attends the University of Dayton and is hard at work studying to be a war-time correspondent. Though she is very goal oriented and works hard to achieve her dreams she also loves to have a little fun. She DJs her own radio show on Flyer Radio and makes it a point to attend great movies and local concerts. But her greatest love will always be books.

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