Editor’s Note: It is accepted practice in the field of personal blogging to apologize and come up with excuses when one doesn’t update their blog for a few months. I’m not going to do that. I’m here now. Move on and read.
For a number of years now, the Chinese have been shaking up the Amateur Radio market for beginning hams. Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to agree that Baofeng and Wouxun have definitely lowered the cost of entering the hobby, at least for UHF and VHF.
Yaesu FT-470 from the early 90s (hampedia.net Image)
I remember when I bought my first dual-band UHF/VHF handy talkie. It was a Yaesu FT-470. It was a beautiful radio. My dad drove me to Erickson Communications in Chicago to buy it. It had an MSRP of $395. I saved up real money for it (I think I was 16). And it was a brick. Probably the best HT that money could buy in the early 90s.
Modern Yaesu FT-60R (image hampedia.net)
These days, a similarly-featured dual bander from one of the “Big 3” radio manufacturers (Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu) has a list price around $200 (The Yaesu FT-60R is a good example), however there are finer radios with more features that hit $400 or $500 or so, especially when you get into digital modes like System Fusion or D*Star, or if you want GPS/APRS functionality. Which is why I bought my Yaesu VX-8DR last year — I wanted to be able to use APRS when I went to the HAM RADIO show in Germany. It is probably the finest radio I have ever owned, and when it was all said and done, I shelled out nearly $800 for the whole kit, including GPS, extra high-capacity battery, speaker-mic, and desk charger. Read more
Since 1989, I have been to many, if not most, of the annual hamfests in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Last year I was a bit disappointed in how much it had shrunk and I went on an editorial rant on how I would change things. Well, they did make a few changes that I had mentioned, and I think it was a bit better. Since they don’t seem to announce attendance, I don’t have any firm numbers. It’s still sad that in our current environment of successful and growing convention-style hamfests that Fort Wayne isn’t enjoying the level of success and growth that the Texas Ham-Com, Orlando Hamcation, or California’s Pacificon are seeing, given the many positive things going for Fort Wayne. In fact, so that I don’t come off as too negative, I’m going to quote myself from last year’s post and list the many positive things about the Fort Wayne Hamfest:
…let’s detail the many positive things that the Fort Wayne Hamfest has going for it:
Location — it is within driving distance from many areas of the Midwest and Great Lakes. Microsoft Streets and Trips lists the following cities within a three-and-a-half hour drive of the Coliseum: Chicago, South Bend, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Flint, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis. Another thirty minutes of drive time extends out to Milwaukee, Youngstown, Traverse City, Louisville and Lexington. And even here we’re almost reaching Pittsburgh, Peoria, and Springfield IL. Fort Wayne may be your standard “boring” Indiana town (I grew up in South Bend so I’m allowed to say that) but it’s not a bad place to visit. There are plenty of hotels there as well for those who don’t want to make it a day trip.
Venue — the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is a beautiful place with wide open exhibit halls and plenty of parking.
Time of year — The Fort Wayne Hamfest is held almost exactly six months before the Dayton Hamvention. Which means it’s held almost exactly six months after the previous Dayton Hamvention. Which means right about the time that you’re hankering for a nice large hamfest, it’s mid-November and time for Fort Wayne.
The downside to mid-November is the weather. This (and the layout of the Coliseum, probably) precludes outdoor tailgate sales and may affect participation due to the errant early winter storm.
Admission costs — Admission to the Fort Wayne Hamfest is only $5 for both days. It’s $4 for Sunday only but from what I saw this year on Sunday, very few people came. Some of the vendors packed up and left Saturday afternoon. The Hamfest used to have extended Sunday hours of 9 AM through 3 PM but this year it ended at noon.
The Coliseum charges for parking as well — it’s $5 per car per day with no in-and-out privileges. Come as a group and it’s not that bad.
Vendor costs — Vendors can rent a table for as little as $25. Premium tables are $50 and electrical hookups are $30. It doesn’t cost much to set up a place to sell stuff.
There were two positive changes from last year. The first was that the Sunday hours were extended to 2:00 PM. It used to run until 3:00 but last year, when it ended at noon, Sunday was a waste. Read more
It is difficult for any one of us to think about the Dayton Hamvention being held anywhere other than the Hara Arena. After all, the Hara has been the home of Hamvention since 1964. Those of us die-hards that attend the Hamvention each May have a love-hate relationship with the place. We love the fact that it hasn’t collapsed on thousands of fellow hams. We hate the fact that the plumbing is woefully inadequate, as demonstrated during the “Great Poopocalypse of 2011“:
The above video also demonstrates the quality of the asphalt parking lot. It hasn’t seen a new coat of asphalt in decades. Luckily, there were enough potholes to contain the million or so gallons of liquid caca. Inside the building isn’t much better — water stains on the walls and ceiling tiles, dim lighting, wet bathroom floors… I have editorialized about this a few times in the past. I had a good write-up in the qrz.com forums in 2012, and also on my old personal blog in 2009.
Let’s be honest here. For all of it’s faults, the Hara Arena isn’t really a bad place. The family-owned complex has been struggling for some time, but much of it is because it has faced stiff competition from convention centers and arenas that are subsidized by the taxpayers or by large universities (like Wright State University’s Nutter Center). Read more
The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Hamfest has always had a place in my heart. My first time in Fort Wayne was in 1989, just a few months before I passed my novice license test at the age of 14. My elmer Bob Kehr KA9MDP took me to that swap, I think it was a couple of months after he took me to my first hamfest in LaPorte, Indiana. After the LaPorte swap, which was held at a fairground, the Fort Wayne Hamfest was like going to a professional trade show — it was (and still is) held at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, which is a very nice, clean, well lit facility. I can’t remember if it was a one-day or a two-day swap, my memory is telling me that it was Saturday only but that may have been because we only went on Saturday. Also, I’m relying on my memory here again, I believe that it was only held in the EXPO1-2-3 hall. At some time in the future it got too large and for some time the Hamfest also used the EXPO-4 room (I think that’s the room under the ice rink/basketball arena, I’m not sure). Sometime in the last 5-8 years the Hamfest has shrunk back into EXPO1-2-3.
Last weekend (November 15 and 16) was somewhat of a disappointment that started at the beginning when I bought my ticket and walked to the EXPO rooms. Instead of buying the ticket in the rotunda and walking straight into EXPO-3, I had to walk all the way down the hall to the side entrance to EXPO-1. I discovered why as soon as I walked in. EXPO-3 had been partitioned off. This had the initial effect of making the place seem more crowded, as they had stuffed the Hamfest into a smaller space. I think I know why they did this, over the past few times I have visited the Hamfest, it had some wide open spaces where tables had been in the past. So this had the effect of mitigating the negative effects of seeing open space.
The physically smaller event could be blamed on the smaller number of vendors and dealers. Attendance seemed kind of bleak this year as well, and some of that could be blamed on the smaller number of vendors which could in turn be blamed on the smaller number of people, ad nauseum.
The first thing that people bring up when someone complains about a dying hamfest is the “eBay excuse.” People don’t wait to go to a hamfest to buy something when they can get it almost instantly on eBay or from a commercial online vendor like AES or Ham Radio Outlet or the countless other vendors online. I have never accepted the “eBay excuse” because there are more reasons to go to a hamfest than just to buy stuff. Read more