Hamming it up

Ham radio’s Hamvention invades Dayton

By Leo DeLuca

photo: Examining the tools of the trade: the biggest amatuer radio event in the world, Dayton Hamvention takes place at Hara Arena May 17-19

Dayton Hamvention celebrates its 62nd anniversary at Hara Arena May 17, 18 and 19. The long-running amateur (ham) radio convention got its start in the Gem City back in 1952 and has since become the largest in the world. Amateur radio operators (hams) travel from all corners of the globe to participate in the historic event.

While much of ham radio revolves around recreation, the pastime can also be a very serious endeavor. According to Dayton Hamvention Committee Member Henry Ruminski, “Hams are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and participate in a variety of radio activities. While much of it may be for personal enjoyment, such as talking to someone in a distant country or to another ham traveling through the area, it also has a serious side. It is called the ‘Amateur Radio Service’ because hams provide important emergency communications when other systems fail or are loaded during a crisis. When all else fails, amateur radio can get the message through.”

In fact, ham radio has come to the rescue during many of our nation’s gravest emergencies. Ruminski noted, “When cell phone systems crashed on 9/11, hams stepped in to provide communication. They also provided vital life-and-death capabilities until systems could be rebuilt after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma destroyed other communications. To prepare for real emergencies, many hams provide communication to a variety of public service activities such as races, walks, parades – any event where trained communicators are needed to ensure vital information is passed quickly and efficiently.

“However, most of the time, the 700,000 amateur radio operators in the United States are just enjoying their pastime, transmitting voice, data and pictures through the air without depending on commercial systems,” Ruminski added.

The Dayton Hamvention is the prominent avenue by which hams can enjoy their pastime. I had the chance to conduct a more extensive interview with Dayton Hamvention Committee Member Henry Ruminski in anticipation of the event.

How long has the Dayton Hamvention been the world’s largest amateur radio gathering?

Hamvention may have been the largest amateur radio gathering from the beginning. It definitely has been the largest for the last 40 years or so. – Henry Ruminski

Were there other ham radio conventions before Hamvention? 

There were hamfests before the Dayton Hamvention. However, none gained the size and reputation of Hamvention. -HR

Dayton’s John Willig had the idea for a Ham Radio Convention in 1950, but was turned down by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA). It wasn’t until Frank Schwab was elected President in 1952 that the convention got off the ground. Do you know why there was apprehension about starting the Dayton Hamvention (then called the Southwestern Ohio Ham-vention)?

There was hesitation because some wondered if enough people would attend to cover the costs. -HR

Are any of Hamvention’s founders or first attendees still involved?

I do not believe any of the original founders are still around, but Ron Moorefield, W8ILC, who is on this year’s committee, has attended every one and been actively involved for many years. -HR

This year’s theme is “DX Hamvention.” Can you elaborate on what that means?

“DX” is a symbol that refers to the distant contact. A Dayton ham talking to someone in Australia would be “working DX.” The 2013 theme, “DX Hamvention” reflects this important part of ham radio. “Hamvention is often an important DX destination for amateurs from all over the globe. Working DX is often a mix of magic, conditions and the diligent application of radio theory,” according to Charles Kaiser, KD8JZR, general chairman for the event. Kaiser noted that many attendees return each year to Dayton to meet other hams they have talked to on the radio. “The quest for that distant contact advances amateur radio on many levels so the Hamvention team is honoring DX in all of its forms this year,” Kaiser said. -HR

What’s the farthest you’ve seen someone travel to be part of Dayton Hamvention?

We have had people from Australia, China, New Zealand, India, Japan, etc.  -HR

In addition to hobby, ham radio can also be used during emergency situations, when regular communication channels fail? Have you ever had to use ham radio during an emergency? If not, do you have any uplifting stories regarding the employment of ham radio during emergencies?

I personally have only participated in “minor” emergencies such as the ice storm that blacked out most of eastern Ohio 25 years ago. Hams rode along with the emergency crews from outside the area who could not communicate with each other. Hams ensured that all crews were clear before an attempt was made to restore power. -HR

Do you have anything else you would like to add about Dayton Hamvention 2013?

Sales of flea market, inside exhibit spaces and advance tickets are running ahead of last year. The 400+ volunteers are working hard to provide our visitors with another pleasant Hamvention experience.  -HR

The 62nd Annual Dayton Hamvention takes place May 17, 18 and 19 at Hara Arena, 1001 Shiloh Springs Rd. For more information, please visit hamvention.org

Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeLuca@DaytonCityPaper.com

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