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)