Category Archives: Hamfests

From the Heart: Why we are saddened by the loss of the Hara Arena

Last fall I had the opportunity to visit the Hara Arena when it was empty. Before that date, I had been to the Hara on 11 occasions, each May from 2005 through 2015. Each time it was full of happiness and life and RF energy. Sure, it was ugly, but it was a happy place. When I visited last fall and drove around the empty parking lots, it was more than ugly.

It was lonely.

It was longing for an event to make it come alive again!  It was longing for the days that Wayne Gretzky played his first professional hockey game on the Hara ice.  It was longing for the days when the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead and AC/DC and The Who would rock the arena.  It was longing for the days where high schools would hold their proms and people would have their wedding receptions in the Ball Arena.  Nowadays it had to settle for gun and knife shows or the occasional toy show.  But once a year, ol’ Hara got to host a three day Hamvention where the place would really shine.  OK, so it would shine like a polished turd, but it still would shine.

Each May at the Dayton Hamvention, people from all over the world, representing all seven continents, come together at the Hara Arena and celebrate their individual interests in one of the most varied of hobbies–Amateur Radio. The flea markets are full of antique radio equipment, the estates of silent keys, and equipment being sold so that the seller can buy new equipment. Inside the arena the manufacturers come to show off their new, fancy radios, and other vendors sell everything from RF connectors, LEDs and Arduino boards, to cheap imported wire strippers and super glue. The meeting rooms are packed to the gills with the forums, where the hams come to learn something new.

And the whole thing happens in an arena and conference center that probably shouldn’t exist anymore. And, after the Comic Book and Toy Show on August 27th, it will cease to exist at all. At least as anything but an empty shell.

Some of the regular attendees love the place and think it has character. Some hate the place and come anyway and complain about it. And some refuse to come to Hamvention at all because it is a dump.

And it is. By all stretches of the imagination, it is a dump. There is not a white ceiling tile in the place. Each year a different plumbing fixture fails and is not repaired or replaced. The audio system in the main arena failed last year. The electrical system is scary. An attached outbuilding became unattached two years ago. And who could forget the day the main sewer line erupted in the flea market. The health department should have shut us down that day, but they didn’t and we made the best of it.

If it was so bad, then why did attendance rise every year from 2008 (17,253) through 2015 (25,621)? 2015 was a 48% increase over 2008. And although the attendance dropped by a few hundred from 2015 to 2016, it was only by about one or two percent.

I think I know the answer.

The Hara Arena is like the crusty uncle that nobody in the family really talks to all year, but he comes to the family reunion every year and tells the best stories and dirty jokes. You’ve heard all of the jokes and stories before, and they get tiresome at times, but for some reason you look forward to hearing them. And you miss them a little bit after the reunion is over.

And we just found out that our Uncle Hara is going into Hospice and won’t be around at the reunion next year.  And instead of us thinking about how we will never hear his stories and dirty jokes again, we are thinking about how we will never again be able to walk the dark and dingy halls under the Arena stands.

We will never be able to walk up the ramp in Audio Alley again.

We will never again get to wait at the big roll up door for the inside exhibits to open at 9:00 AM.

We will never again tromp through the mud to get to a Rumpke port-o-potty.

We will never again be able to navigate our way through the exhibit halls using the stains on the wall and the ceiling.

We will never again sit in the arena in the tiny seats and strain our ears during the final prize drawings.

We will never again have the internal argument about either buying the $8 bus pass or paying $20 for the nearby private parking.

We will never again purchase a cheap ham sandwich on a bun, or a slice of Hara pizza.  We may not even get cheesecake on a stick!

Next year, we will be in snazzy new digs.  We’ll probably have real concession stands and maybe even restrictions on outside food (or drink!).  The facilities will definitely more modern and better lit.  The plumbing will work.  I’m sure the paint will be relatively fresh.  By every tangible standard, our experience will be a hundred times better.  As we were all overwhelmed at out first Hamvention at Hara, we will all get to be overwhelmed again as we learn once again to navigate our way through.  “Where’s Gordon West?”  “Where’s Bob Heil?”  “I need PowerPoles but can’t find Quicksilver.”

It definitely won’t be the same.  And it will be a major undertaking for the talented folks at the Dayton Amateur Radio Association.  They will need to rearrange the flea market and inside exhibits — something that hasn’t been necessary in 52 years.  They will need to deal with new contracts for the facilities.  They may even need to negotiate with trade unions to allow the exhibitors to set up on their own.  And I guarantee that it will take a few years to make everybody reasonably happy.  And I know that there will be hiccups next year.  We all need to remember that we need to support the Hamvention folks 100%.  They are all volunteers and do it for the love of giving us a place to go each May to celebrate our mutual interests.

Some have wondered why the Hamvention has been held in a deteriorating dump for so long.  It’s because the Hamvention has grown into the Hara Arena.  It just fits.  Moving it elsewhere will demand substantial changes to the experience for both attendees and the vendors.  And I think that that is what we are all most curious and anxious about right now, as we await the final announcement of the new location.

But curiosity and anxiousness aren’t all that we are dealing with.  We are mourning the impending loss of Uncle Hara.  And we are saddened that we will never have any more Hara experiences to pass on.

To the Wampler family: I am sure that your feeling about the loss of your business are hundreds of times stronger than ours.  I’m sorry that the infighting in your family has taken this toll on all of you.  I know you tried.  We will all miss you and your efforts to give us the best experience that you could.  Thank you for 53 great Hamventions!

To my friends at the Dayton Amateur Radio Association:  We know that big changes are coming and we know that decisions will need to be made.  We all have high hopes and we all know that you will get it done.  Don’t be discouraged by those who choose to complain and whine, but please listen to those who thoughtfully make suggestions and provide constructive criticism.  And most of all, thanks!  Thanks for providing us this wonderful convention each year and thanks for having a contingency plan and thanks for committing to bringing us a 2017 Hamvention!

Rest in Peace, Hara.  We’ll miss you.


(Published from DFW, Texas)

Hamfest Review: HAM-COM 2015 in Irving, Texas

2015 Ham-Com, the first to be held at the Irving Convention Center (AD8BC Photo)

For the first time in a number of years I was able to attend Ham-Com.  The Dallas-Fort Worth area has been host to this popular ham radio convention for 38 years.  Over the years this gathering has been held in Arlington and Plano, and this year it found a new home at the beautiful Irving Convention Center. Read more

Hamfests: Checking in from Friedrichshafen

DSC00316Three days have gone by quickly here at the HAM RADIO/Maker World show at the Messe Friedrichshafen in Germany.  I had every intention of doing blog posts at least a couple of times from here but this has been three days of pure exhaustion.  Good exhaustion though.  Dayton-esque exhaustion.  I took over 400 pictures and it was murder getting them to Picasa over this hotel internet connection.  But I will tell you all about it, I promise!  I might even do a KØNEB-type slideshow if I can think of a suitable song to go behind it.  Joe already used “Der Kommissar” last year so I need to think of something else–maybe “99 Luftballons” or something like that.  Probably not the theme song to Hogan’s Heroes–that might be too over the top.

In a nutshell, it was a fantastic show.  Really, be prepared, I’m going to try to talk you into coming here sometime.  I may not come every year, but I’d be willing to bet I’ll return to this show sometime in the next five years or so.  It’s that good.

Tomorrow I go to London for a few more days of vacation (er-holiday) before I return to the ‘States on Friday in time for Independence Day (which they may still not be too fond of in England so it all works out).

Auf Wiedersehen!

Published from Friedrichshafen, Germany.



Hamfests: (Unconfirmed) Hamvention Attendance Tops 25,000!

Screencap from Facebook, June 16 2015

Screengrab from Facebook, June 16 2015

Last night on Facebook, Jeffrey DeVoe posted that 2015 Hamvention General Chairman Jim Tiderman has announced that the Hamvention 2015 attendance was 25,621.  Now I don’t know Jeffrey but he lives not far from Dayton so he’s probably a member of DARA (or knows one) so I’ll trust him enough to pass on this announcement.

This is really good news!  This year beat out last year (24,873) as the best year since 2001, when the attendance was 26,151.  While we have a long way to go until we have record attendance (the record attendance was estimated to be 35,000 people in 1994).

In my May 29 post, I was iffy on making a prediction… but I did make one, and I was right:

So, you ask my opinion about this year’s attendance: I believe we hit the elusive 25,000 barrier. Some say no, and some say yes, but I was pretty satisfied with the crowds this year. It was a little difficult to judge based on the weather (when it rains everybody goes inside) but in my opinion Friday was more crowded this year than last year.

To put things into perspective I put my Excel skills to use below to demonstrate the trends since 2000.

ScreenHunter_66 Jun. 16 21.16

Published from DFW, Texas

Hamfest Review: Dayton Hamvention 2015

Some of the members of our Hamvention group - Joe K0NEB, Bill AD8BC, Bob KA9MDP, Kristen KB3OQV, Gregg N8ONW, and Brad W8PAL -- in the flea market at Hamvention 2015

Some of the members of our Hamvention group – Joe KØNEB, Bill AD8BC, Bob KA9MDP, Kristen KB3OQV, Gregg N8ONW, and Brad W8PAL — in the flea market at Hamvention 2015 (Photo Credit: N5KH (I think))

Another Hamvention has come and gone!  This was my 11th Dayton Hamvention, my first having been in 2005.  I decided after my first that this would be an annual thing for me and so far this goal has been met.  And so far I haven’t been disappointed.  This was also a special year for me because my Bob KA9MDP, my “Elmer” from 25 years ago, was able to attend, along with a few of my other friends from Dallas–Will N5KH, James N5BKL, Max N5BSA, Ken N2VIP, and Dhiren K5FPP.  I saw a bunch of other friends from Michigan and Indiana as well.  It was a great time and, as always, it went by quickly. Read more

Editorial: How To Sound Intelligent when Complaining about Hamvention

Hamvention 2015 officially ended this past Sunday at 1:00 PM EDT. (watch my blog for a hamfest review in a few days).  In my opinion, it was a great show.  There were only seven to nine (depending on who you ask) open vendor booths inside, the outdoor vendors and attendees looked to be about on par with last year.  There was no poop volcano, the stands didn’t collapse during the closing ceremonies, ceiling tiles didn’t fall on people (although some had fallen in the year since Hamvention 2014, so that was a distinct possibility). There was, of course, the unfortunate audio problems during the prize draw (the fault of which may have either been the DARA microphone/cable or the Hara Arena sound infrastructure.  I’d guess the latter.)  There were reports of some thefts from the flea market vendors but that happens every year.  Most aggravating were the reports of cars getting broken into that were parked in the big yard at the private residence across Basore Rd.  Anyway, come Sunday evening, the flood of complaints began (as they do every year) on the Hamvention Facebook page, followed by the rash of half-assed suggestions.  So I, your humble host, posted “AD8BC’s guide to successful and intelligent Hamvention complaining.”  Thought it should be posted here for easy reference: Read more

Hams Around the World: It’s official, I’m going to Germany for HAM RADIO in Friedrichshafen

Joe Eisenberg KØNEB at the 2014 Dayton Hamvention

Joe Eisenberg KØNEB at the 2014 Dayton Hamvention

After waffling about it for a few months, I finally made the decision–I’m going to attend the HAM RADIO show in Friedrichshafen Germany this year in June.  I got bit by the bug when Joe Eisenburg KØNEB (the famous Cat-In-The-Hat hat wearing photog famous for his annual photo montages of the Dayton Hamvention) decided to go last year.  After watching his Dayton-esque Youtube Slideshow of the show (embedded below), I decided it was something that I needed to do at least once.

I was able to swing some free hotel room nights (using a big backlog of Priority Club points) at a brand new Holiday Inn Express within walking distance of the Messe Friedrichshafen (roughly translates to the

The Messe Friedrichshafen, home of the HAM RADIO show in Germany. (Photo credit: Joe Eisenburg, KØNEB)

The Messe Friedrichshafen, home of the HAM RADIO show in Germany.
(Photo credit: Joe Eisenberg, KØNEB)

“Friedrichshafen Fairgrounds”).  I will fly into Zurich, Switzerland and take the train to the ferry terminal at Romanshorn, from which I will cross Lake Constance and land at Friedrichshafen. Read more

In the News: Fort Wayne Hamfest article – This is why you issue detailed and well written press releases for amateur radio events

So I caught this in on the WANE-TV website in Fort Wayne today about the Fort Wayne Hamfest that I attended this weekend.  This is why radio clubs need to draft detailed and well-worded press releases when you hold a public event.  Look below at the text of the article I copied in.  After each paragraph I break in to describe “interesting” text that can either be blamed on an incompetent reporter or an incompetent editor.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Amateur Radio, also known as Ham Radio, is a hobby that features licensed participants whom operate communication equipment. The Fort Wayne Hamfest & Computer Expo was November 15 and 16 at the Allen County War memorial Coliseum.

1) “whom operate?” I’m fairly sure this is an inappropriate use of “whom.”
2) “licensed participants” — this is iffy.  “Licensed radio operators” would have been a better phrase.
3) Missed the capital “M” in “memorial”

Read more