Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Experiencing the Dayton Hamvention 2013

The Dayton Hamvention was this past weekend (May 17th - 19th) and after many years of wanting to go and not going for various reasons, I finally planned a day to spend there. This was also the first one since I received my ham radio license last year which gave me another excuse to go.

The Hamvention is an enormous ham radio swap meet that has been going on since the 1950s. While ham radio is a huge part of it, general electronic components are everywhere, so it is suitable for anyone who loves electronics. While I would have loved to get there on Friday morning to be one of the first ones looking for deals, prior work commitments forced my visit to occur on Saturday. The day started by leaving my house at roughly 6:00 am from Michigan to drive about 220 miles down to Dayton Ohio. The weather forecast for the day was sketchy at best with a 50% chance of rain all day, I decided to get there as early as possible to hopefully beat any rain. The location was easy to find, just a few miles off of I-75 and the towering antennas made it easy to spot. Upon arriving around 9:30 am, there was no rain and still plenty of parking in the field across from the venue, Hara arena.

After my initial ticket purchase at the front doors, I headed straight for the outside market area as there was no rain at this point and I wanted to start hunting for anything good before all the great items were picked over. Upon walking outside into the huge outdoor swap meet, the initial experience was overwhelming! The size of the outdoor swap meet was just enormous.

I started at the front and started hitting every row of booths on the east lot, followed later by the west lot. There was just so much good stuff! There was a lot of junk there too. Things like late 1990s computer hardware, old giant two-way radios, and random assorted telco hardware from the 1980s. I would say about 75% of the booths (a booth could be just the bed of someones truck piled full of electronics) contained interesting stuff. You would find people with just boxes and boxes of the strangest things. About an hour into the day the rain did start falling, so I browsed into one of the larger tents for a bit.

Once the rain subsided, I began more browsing. The selection of hardware and components was terrific. Looking for RF components was not an issue, the stuff was everywhere so I was extremely happy. Everything from new MMICs and cables / connectors to older used random brick oscillators and waveguides.

Later that morning I spent some time browsing the inside exhibits, all the big radio brands were there (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Alinco, etc). The DZKit guys were there too with their Sienna HF Receiver/Transceiver kit which was really impressive. It's a very high-end HF transceiver that you assemble. Most of the smd work comes completed on the boards, another 40 or so hours of assembly is required to complete including stage by state testing.

Mini-circuits had a booth there, being one of my favorite RF component suppliers I had stopped by to talk to them for a bit. I also talked with the Society of Amateur radio Astronomers along with the AMSAT people. I was happy to learn that their upcoming Fox-1 Satellite has an actual launch date scheduled in 2014. This satellite will carry a handful of experiment payloads along with the best part, an FM repeater. It will be nice to have a second working FM sat available besides SO-50.

A little after noon I met up with Chris Gammell of The Amp Hour podcast, it was the first time meeting him which was awesome after listening to the show for almost two years. We browsed around the booths for the rest of the day talking about everything electronic and looking for bargains. A little bit later that day we also met up with Dr. Gregory L. Charvat who was a guest on The Amp Hour which was equally as awesome. I had a bunch of questions for him regarding my radio telescope project, he was really informative and a great person to talk about RF to while browsing random electronic bits.

Towards the end of the show at 5:00 we started looking for any last deals before people started packing up their gear. While I didn't find anything, Chris came across an old HP frequency generator in perfect condition for $10. A lot of exhibitors who were not sticking around for Sunday starting just dumping stuff they didn't want in the trash. Some of it was scavenged by people, but most of it wasn't worth carrying back to the car even for being free.

As for my own purchases, I only ended up buying a few things: some SMA hardlines and cables, a nice brass WR-90 waveguide about 16" long (perfect for a 10Ghz slot antenna), a few mini-circuits attenuators, and a large lot of aluminum hardware (hexagonal standoffs and such). Looking back, I keep thinking about things I should have bought, but did not. I definitely needed more than a single day for this!

After 5:00 when the show was over for the day, a bunch of us headed over to a local bar which Chris had previously planned. There were about 20 people that had showed up total, most are other fellow Amp Hour listeners which was very cool. Shortly after 6:00 I decided to start heading home as I was completely exhausted, but not before Chris tore into his frequency generator to take a look inside.

Lessons learned:

Next year, arrive on Friday morning. I felt like a lot of booths tables had a lot of empty spots where gear had been sold. It seemed like everything good (test equipment and radios) was already gone by Saturday morning.

Bring a rolling luggage cart. I had one but forgot to throw it in my trunk. If you purchase anything heavy, it's a long walk back to the car.

And definitely spend more than one day there. A single day is not enough time to see everything. I probably only saw a quarter of the inside booths and still missed a bunch of stuff outside as well.

1 comment:

  1. Also, when you're there for more than one day, visit the Air Force Museum. Amazing.