Hamvention, May 17th – 19th 2019, is the mecca of ham radio conferences in the US and you should go! Dayton is only a 5-hour drive away and it’s a relatively easy drive. Even if you just got your ham license a few weeks ago, a seasoned ham or everything in between, Hamvention is one event you don’t want to miss. Even if you can’t go this year, make plans to attend at least one in the coming years, as it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Visit the Hamvention website for all the info I’m about to give you below.
Why should you go to Hamvention as a new ham? There are many reasons, some are obvious and some not so obvious. When you think of Hamvention, maybe the thought of 25,000+ people packed into a hotel ballroom or conference center just roaming around probably comes to mind. Maybe you think of it as just another local hamfest on steroids, or maybe you think it’s just for hams who have “more experience than me” or “I’m not going to get anything out of it as a new ham”. Nothing is further from the truth. Hamvention is an experience filled with education, awareness and fun. What you put into it, is directly proportional to what you get out of it. Where else can you go to talk about your favorite hobby with thousands of others?
I’ve been attending Hamvention off and on for 10 years. Last year was my first experience at the new Xenia Fairgrounds, and it was very impressive compared to days at the old Hara Arena. The new Xenia Fairgrounds touts much nicer facilities, more space for vendors, forums and better food for the weekend. Every year the small improvements really make a big impact for the attendees and it shows. For those who have not attended Hamvention at the new location or need some new fresh ideas on why they should attend, here are my thoughts starting with the basics.
Finding a hotel room the weekend of Hamvention is almost impossible if you wait until May, but here are some tips to snag a hotel or place to crash for the weekend. Airbnb is a website where people rent out spare bedrooms, guest cottages and whole houses. I’ve noticed the ham community doesn’t know much about Airbnb or they shy away from it, so you might be able to rent a whole house for less than $100 a night. Split the costs with some buddies and you can spend the extra dollars on that new radio! If you can be flexible in your schedule, calling the week of Hamvention directly to the hotels might snag you a room from those who cancel at the last minute. I can guarantee you the Crown Plaza (downtown Dayton hotel where all the activities are held) always has last minute cancellations Monday through Wednesday of Hamvention. A little bit of persistence might go a long way for getting a good deal on a room in a prime location.
Things To Do Before Hamvention
Get a call sign & name badge. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but your call is your brand so wear your name badge with pride! I purchased a badge from HamCrazy.com and it’s held up over the years. I display my call, name and hometown to let everybody know where I am from. Purchase your Hamvention ticket ahead of time to save some bucks as they are more expensive at the door. Look at the weekend forums schedule and decide which ones interest you and make a plan. Take some advice and program the forums times into your phone’s calendar and set the alarm. It’s amazing how many forums I’ve missed over the years because I’m walking around the convention not paying attention to the time. Bring an umbrella because it WILL rain. Plan your route on when to leave the STL area and if you have a radio that has APRS, set it up now and monitor 146.520 (national 2m calling frequency) on the road. You’ll be amazed by how many people you can chat with on Hwy 70. Figure out where to park for the weekend at the fairgrounds. Do you want to try and park on the fairgrounds grass field? Maybe take a shuttle in? There are lots of places to park, so do some research. It doesn’t take a lot of planning to have a good time at Dayton, but a little goes a long way to make your experience that much more pleasurable.
Hamvention Pre-Conference Activities
There are many activities Wednesday and Thursday before Hamvention that you might be interested in. My favorite is Contest University on Thursday. For $85 you get a whole day of forum speakers, contesting knowledge and access to the best contest mentoring you could ask for with breakfast, lunch and t-shirt included. These forums are geared towards the new contester. If you like contesting and think it’s something you’d like to know more about, this is the place to be on Thursday. There is also the Four Days in May conference starting Thursday morning for $40. FDIM is all about kit building, operating QRP (less than 5W CW and 10W SSB) and getting the most out of your rig with a battery and a small amount of watts. The Wednesday night before Hamvention, join Bob Heil (K9EID) and others at the Crown Plaza for a live recording of HamNation and stay later for a free pizza party! Many clubs sponsor free pizza parties every night of the week during Hamvention at the Crowne Plaza Hotel so come hungry! The pizza party is a great way to meet new hams and learn from others, as it’s a very open environment. You can also join Neil Rapp (WB9VPG) on Thursday at the Spring Hill Suites just south of Dayton for a recording of Ham Talk Live where Neil gives all the last minute Dayton updates including the dreaded weather report!
Hamvention Non-Conference Activities
There are tons of activities on top of the pre-conference events that you might find interesting during the weekend. There are banquets every night of the week for different organizations. AMSAT (Amateur Radio Satellite) and The Tuson Amateur Packet Radio (TAPR) group get together to hold a banquet on Thursday night. Flex Radio has a Thursday and Friday night banquet. TAPR hosts their dedicated banquet on Friday night along with the D-STAR InfoCon meet up. On Friday the FDIM group has a homebrew contest/show and tell just south of downtown the famous Top Band dinner is held. You don’t want to miss the “Working By Numbers” band at the Crowne Plaza starting at 10 PM on Friday night. It’s a don’t miss opportunity to get a good ham radio laugh in and see Ward Silver (NØAX) playing classic rock hits ham radio style! If you’re into contesting, the Contest dinner on Saturday is a great time to put a face to all those first place scores you see in the National Contesting Journal. If you’re into Reddit, there is usually a meetup Saturday afternoon where everybody shares what they have purchased, what cool things they have seen or learned during the weekend, so check the /r/amateurradio sub. And finally, on Saturday at 6 PM, the Warped Wing Brewery in downtown Dayton is hosting a YouTube meet-up where you can meet your favorite ham radio YouTube star. As you can see, there is plenty to do during the weekend, the hard part is fitting it all in!
Leave plenty early to get around, as 25,000+ hams in one location can cause a small traffic jam on Friday and Saturday morning. Program the Hamvention talk-in frequency into your mobile or HT (146.940 (-) PL123.0) to get all the latest info about parking, weather and general updates. They broadcast information at regular intervals to keep attendees informed. You can also sign up for text messages on your phone by texting hamvention19 to 888777. Arrive early to Hamvention, as Friday and Saturday are the most crowded. Hit the flea market early to grab that deal, as, by Saturday afternoon, it’s pretty slim pickings. Some of the radio vendors set up in the flea market because of the lower cost to rent, so you might be able to grab a good deal on a new radio. Hamvention is a great place to pick up smaller items that might be more to ship than they are worth like extra PL-259 connectors, Anderson Power Poles or good grounding straps. Anything you would want to find in amateur radio is found at Hamvention. Roam around the buildings and take in the sites of those new radios or maybe a radio you’ve been looking at but haven’t been able to put your hands on it. Stop by all the major resellers and see what types of deals they are running. You might be able to snag another 10% off if you buy directly at Hamvention. Attend some forums. Ask questions. Introduce yourself to others and be friendly. You never know who might help you out or give you some good advice while sitting eating lunch. Use Hamvention as a learning opportunity and try to make the most use of your time. Have good conversations with other hams, attend the forums, learn something new!
If you had enough of Hamvention, Dayton is home to the Air Force Museum, which is free admission and it’s awesome! You can easily spend the whole day there so get there early. If the museum isn’t your cup of tea, you can always stop by Mendelson’s, a store that has everything under one roof. It’s closed on Sunday, so make appropriate plans. When driving through Indy, stop by Fry’s electronic store on your way back home. Fry’s is like Micro Center on steroids with a “Gateway Electronics” stuck in the middle of it. You can easily spend a couple of hours in Fry’s just looking around. The Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting on I-75 just south of Dayton has extended hours during Hamvention and offers a free and VIP tour for $45. Also, remember to monitor 146.520 on your way back as you can catch some good conversations on what deal was made or how many times Fred ran over someone’s foot on his scooter. It’s a nice way to wrap up the weekend by talking to others how you spent your Hamvention.
Go to Hamvention. If you’re a newer ham, this is the place to be to see new things, learn about new technologies, ask questions of mentors and just have fun. This is a great hobby to experience many different aspects and a great place to get exposed to all of it in one weekend. Attend the forums, see what interests you and learn as much as you want about that subject. More importantly, enjoy yourself at Hamvention. This is your hobby. This is your ham radio.