Hamvention 2018

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The following provides a report by WA4THR and N4HCI of the 2018 Hamvention experience and a comparison of the 2018 Hamvention to the 2017 Hamvention, which was the first Hamvention occurrence in the new venue.

The "Dayton Hamvention" moved to Xenia's Greene County Fairgrounds in 2017, due to the closure of its long time HARA host facility.  WA4THR, Vic, and N4HCI, Bob, attended the 2017 Hamvention first occurrence in the new location and we formed certain opinions of the new facility in comparison to Hamventions in the older HARA Center, which we had also attended in 2013.  We decided to return this year, not only for the Hamvention experience, but also to compare this year with last and see what last year's lessons learned might have caused to be changed this year.

After learning that some other ECARS members/users were attending, we set up a simplex frequency and established a text group to coordinate setting up eyeball QSOs and WA4THR, N4HCI, K9ARM, NJ2US, K1VLB, and W3ZR  were able to meet.  We  were able to meet up with K9ARM and NJ2US right away at the entrance, coordinating on 146.55, and shortly thereafter caught K1VLB on his inaugural Hamvention visit on the same frequency. Later we ran into W3ZR, another ECARS member, while wandering through the facility.   The group text communications proved very useful and was completely private to the members of the group.  As expected, use of any simplex 2 mtr frequency must be shared with other Hamvention attendees but we were surprised to hear the amount of non-voice 'noise' on 146.55 simplex frequency from those using digital modes to keep their comms private and to only break squelch if the incoming call met encoding criteria.  This is a VERY RUDE way to use the band because every other user of the frequency has to listen to the frequent static bursts from their digital comms on the FM frequency.  Those using digital modes really should move to the different area of the band set aside for that. 145.55 would have been perfectly OK for DMR, but 146.55 is specifically for FM simplex. The periodic blasts of digital noise were very irritating. Otherwise using an agreed upon frequency certainly helped coordinate eyeball QSOs.

What has not changed - the weather.  The timing of Hamvention is that it occurs when there is a high probability of rain.  This was not so obvious when using the HARA Center  as all exhibits and the food court were in a single extended building and protected by the building's roof.  Last year, heavy rains the night before Hamvention opened, resulted in creating soggy fields for parking and they quickly became very muddy messes that were difficult to drive through.  We even got stuck for a short while in 2017.  This year, the rains did not precondition the parking fields from rain the night before, but they occurred several times during the day of the Hamvention, and were beginning to have the same effect on the parking fields by the time we left on day 1.

Also, what has not changed much is the nature of the exhibit venue, which is a series of buildings and large tents situated around a small courtyard.  Exhibitors were set up within these buildings and tents.  This year there seemed to be fewer tents but there were still a couple of large tents set up and this year they seemed mostly to house the non-ham related exhibitors (USPS, a gutter and roofing exhibit, outdoor suspended chairs, medical evaluation for knee problems, construction tools, etc.)  In 2017 the heavy drenching rains of the night before resulted in water flowing through the tents and causing exhibitors some problems and a fair degree of bad will.  This year, we did not see such impacts but it may  have been more due to the lack of heavy rains the night before than to any preventative measures.  The daytime rains of 2018 did tend to control when one ventured from one exhibit hall to the next, and did result in little use of the bleacher seats set up for resting of attendees inside the main exhibit area, but had little other impact.  By noon, it seemed to have passed for a few hours and the outdoor food trailers, of which there were many, did a brisk business feeding the attendees.

Almost all Ham vendors are now in buildings, with only a couple of large tents holding some “overflow” vendors. The buildings are not as open and well lit as parts of the old HARA venue, but they are improving each year (see typical bldg to right). There are covered walkways between several of the buildings, which helps with the rain, as well. It is neat to see new equipment and vendor plans that we might not otherwise learn about for months. Several had new rigs and we had a nice conversation with Mike Dishop about the new Ten Tec factory he is building in Sevierville. He planned to be producing ham gear again before the end of the year, starting with the Eagle.  We enjoyed learning about a solid-state, WiFi controlled HF amplifier kit available from Germany and had a long discussion about the control philosophy in the SteppIR antennas. The current popularity of loop antennas was interesting, many set up in easy to tote travel bags for portable operations. It was a treat to see the youth building where a room full of kids were busy soldering up circuits very professionally under the watchful eyes of adult tutors at each station, and to talk with the teens building robot vehicles, although the rain kept them inside this year. And if you needed “something”, you would surely find it as just about anything ham-related was available from the many vendors inside.

Outside was another clear improvement by DARA and the Greene County Fairgrounds officials. The racetrack tailgate area had been redesigned with rows and paths all covered with a crushed macadam to a fairly good depth, making a walking path similar to some bike or hiking trails…no mud and comfortable to walk on. A few tailgaters were even parked along the paved areas leading up to the racetrack. One could cruise through the area and swing into the mostly-tented vendor spots to look at interesting stuff.

While walking to the tailgate field, we passed a Toyota Prius with way too many antennas on it, so we stopped and talked to the owner.  Apparently he is not even a licensed Ham but he has undertaken to record all the local repeaters with the stated intention of creating an archive of local Ham radio activity.  The picture shows the quintessential Ham car, which he says is mostly driven by his wife.

And we can’t fail to mention the vast assortment of food vendors set up between the buildings! The smells were wonderful and sure made our stomachs start growling.

Shuttle carts were used in 2017 and 2018 to help attendees get from the main gate to/from the parking fields but they seem far fewer in number this year and even less available to use than the reduced numbers would indicate.  In 2017, in addition to more electric carts that in 2018, they also used several tractors pulling open wagons having bench seating. While these tractors and trailers were seen to be present this year, none of them were seen in use.

We decided to arrive at Hamvention an hour after the gates opened in hopes of benefitting from less traffic congestion on the drive in and no standing around waiting for the gates to open.  In fact, we did enjoy those benefits.  Whereas in 2017, it took us 45 minutes to drive the last 1-2 miles to the facility, this year there was no such congestion.  However, we also noticed that there were sheriff's department and state trooper vehicles at every intersection we passed through on the way in and out.  It is hard to draw positive conclusions but we noted that the talk in operator was advising people coming from our direction to turn on a different road than our GPS was suggesting and we opined that this year the authorities may have been dynamically adjusting the recommended approaches in response to traffic conditions has they developed. Work was clearly done to smooth traffic flow and keep cars out of the downtown area, so well done DARA! Besides 2 talk-in frequencies there was a running information channel on 2m as well as on 1620 of the AM broadcast band, with good information about the traffic and routing. we almost felt we were supposed to call ATC with “information bravo” as we arrived. Parking on site was still on grass, and that does turn to mud with rain and repeated vehicle passages, but we had less trouble departing than last year.

The showing of international exhibitors was improved over 2017.  British, German, Japanese and Canadian amateur radio organizations were present and several British, German, and Italian vendors were set up and displaying and selling their wares in addition to the big US and Japanese radio companies.

Magnetic loop antennas are growing in popularity if their increased presence in 2018 is any indication and their quieter receiving characteristics seem well suited to QRP use as most of the magnetic loop antenna designs that we observed were limited in their transmitting power output capability, although DX Engineering and Inco had full legal limit magnetic loop antennas that seemed constructed to survive a nuclear holocaust.

The coolest thing Vic (WA4THR) saw? Hard to decide among the all of the innovative ham gear, but it just might be the miniature arcade video game kit. Pretty pricey (around $50), but the result was a working video game in an authentic looking miniature cabinet, perhaps 2 ½” tall, complete with a working joystick and buttons to play a classic game seen on the miniature screen. Amazing!

We learned this year that there a mini-convention of QRP vendors and aficionados, known as Four Days In May (FDIM), that occurred with “open sessions” on Thursday and Friday.  WA4THR and N4HCI attended the vendor exhibits at the Fairfield Holiday Inn and it was well worth the effort.  The vendors present were not the giants of the Ham world, but they were all focused on the growing arm of Amateur Radio that believes that less is better and FDIM gave them an opportunity to strut their stuff out from under the shadow of the larger vendors and crowds that they generate. Many of these exhibits also show up in Hamvention but it is much easier to talk with the vendors in the less crowded FDIM venue. 

NON-HAM Activities  
There is a lot to do and see in near proximity to the Hamvention.

The USAF Aviation Museum is phenomenal and comparable, if not better, than the national Air and Space museums.  WA4THR has been four times and N4HCI three times and it is always worth going back to.  K1VLB reported going this year and his "after action" report was very upbeat.  This year, Hamvention coincided with the 75th anniversary of the return of the Memphis Belle (WW2 B-17 Heavy Bomber) to the states after having 25 combat missions.  The not only was an excellent presentation of the Memphis Belle and the WW2 European bombing campaign, but also included a large encampment of dedicated WW2 re-enactors who were presenting a WW2 air field in Britain during WW2.  The re-enactors were unpaid, and brought their own gear with them, but were clearly dedicated to the idea of realistically portraying the life of those who lived these wartime experiences.  Listening to them talk was fascinating.

There is a Wright Brothers Park run by the National Park Service in downtown Dayton that is well worth seeing and includes an historical presentation of the parachute.

There is a small WACO (pronounced with a short 'a') Aviation Museum  in Troy OH that presented the history of the Weaver Aviation Company, reportedly once the largest aviation company in the US, and during WW2 a builder of the troop gliders that ferried troops and hardware into Europe.

We even were treated to an impromptu tour of the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology display of the history of welding equipment and enjoyed several excellent meals at area restaurants.

Overall, real improvements for the biggest Ham Radio convention in the world, and local news reports said over 30,000 visitors were expected. If you haven’t been, put this on your bucket list!

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