Youth@HamRadio.Fun: A First Timer’s Adventure at the Dayton Hamvention:
By Sterling Coffey, N0SCC
ARRL Youth Editor
About three years ago, I became familiar with the idea of hamfests -- a convention of hams who go there to take their exams, check QSL cards, buy stuff from traveling vendors and flea marketers, as well as win prizes and participate in lectures or activities.
My local club, the WA0FYA Zerobeaters, puts on a hamfest every July -- I attended my first one in 2008. I estimate about 300 to 500 people wandered the hamfest at any given time. I sold tickets and talked to several people who were interested to see young people at the hamfest. There, I took and passed my General license test and missed passing the Amateur Extra examination by a slim two questions. Still, it was a very rewarding experience -- despite not winning any prizes.
I began to seek other hamfests. In the St Louis area, three hamfests take place throughout the year, with the biggest one being Winterfest, a name that sounded like a winter rock concert or sports event. I went to Winterfest the next year and was surprised at the size of the convention center and the number of events that took place -- foxhunts, antenna and circuit building, as well as several forums and lectures. Unfortunately, I could not stay for long, but I did get to see and meet some cool people.
One of them was Bob Heil, K9EID. Bob is a famous microphone and sound equipment engineer, and worked with popular bands like The Eagles, The Grateful Dead and The Who, as well as Peter Frampton, who popularized his “Talk Box.” At Winterfest, he inspired me to purchase one of his headsets, as well as a small mixer that has the capability to modify the equalization of its inputs. Thanks to that, I have received several good “Official Observer” reports from hams who look out for both good and poor sounding audio, as well as operator etiquette and technique. Bob also runs a weekly web cast called Ham Radio Nation, where he features guests like Gordon West, WB6NOA, and Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, of The Eagles and talks about the many topics of ham radio.
Trip to Dayton
Winterfest was the last hamfest that I attended. Each year, the Dayton Hamvention passed by, and each time I could not go for two reasons -- it’s too far for my parents, and our high school graduation occurred at the same time. I was in the band, so I had to stay to play Pomp and Circumstance.
This year, I was finally out of high school and in college. My classes ended on May 6, but yet again Dayton still seemed out of reach. Upon becoming the ARRL Youth Editor, I was asked if I could go to Dayton, but I kept teetering on “maybe.” But one week before classes ended, I had a snap of determination and let the ARRL know that I was going to Dayton to work with the Youth Lounge. My editor, Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA, connected me with ARRL staff who worked with me to get me a room in a booked city. I began to organize a way to get there and people to bring, yet by the week before the convention, those plans flopped, with my friends having prior commitments. I almost gave up hope on going until a “silver” lining lit up my dark sky. Before calling back to cancel my plans, Ward Silver, N0AX -- who lives in the St Louis area -- offered me a ride to Dayton. I accepted and it was set. I was also excited to meet the man who graduated from the University of Missouri-Rolla (now the Missouri University of Science and Technology) and gave W0EEE a name for itself.
So the trip began. After meeting up with Ward, we left his house about noon Wednesday to get to Dayton at 7 PM, an hour ahead of central time. We had the radio set on 6 meters, yet for the entire trip, we heard one meteor ping and made a ground wave contact going through Indianapolis. Since the radio was so quiet, Ward and I talked about all sorts of stuff, from how to improve the college’s station, to how AM broadcast array antennas work. A short time after 7 PM, we arrived at my hotel in Dayton. I had a room all to myself -- a personal first, which made me feel wonderfully independent. I unpacked and fell asleep to wake early for the Contest University.
My Experience in Dayton
The Contest University was a pre-Hamvention consortium for rookie and expert contesters alike. It featured several lectures throughout the day, covering many topics like antenna and station design, contest tips, and even debuted the new “Youth Contest University,” where younger hams can go and learn about contesting. There I met Brian Short, KC0BS, who was featured on Ham Nation, and who does a lot of work with kids and works as an emergency communications coordinator in the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network.
The next day, the work began at the ARRL Youth Lounge, a place where kids of all ages are welcome to hang out and participate in activities to win prizes. Working in the youth lounge was a great experience and really enabled what was just a hobby to take hold as a foundation toward my future career. I got to meet many kids, both hams and not, including a kid -- Jesse Greenberg, W2EEO -- who wore a backpack resembling a porcupine, judging from the amount of antennas sticking in many directions from it. Jesse has been involved in many radio events, such as W1F, Field Day at Peconic Amateur Radio Club and many ARISS events on Long Island, New York. Jesse was the control operator for his elementary school’s ARISS contact on February 2, 2010. He is the youngest ham ever to be licensed in the Cayman Islands (ZF2WR) and enjoys operating with his dad there after scuba diving during the day. He is regularly control op of Baiting Hollow Scout Camp, AA2BH.
I also met and worked with Andrea Hartlage, KG4IUM, former ARRL Youth Editor and current Southeastern Division Vice Director -- a very high position for such a young woman. She is very active on the “personal relations” side of ham radio, recruiting young hams and giving talks about youth in Amateur Radio while traveling across the country. She also is busy at Georgia Tech where she is majoring in aerospace engineering.
Finally on the list of people I’ve met was almost the entire ARRL staff, as well as a special guest, Masayoshi Ebisawa, JA1DM, a representative from the Japan Amateur Radio League, all who took me to dinner more than one night. It was great to talk about four-square antennas, towers, emergency communications and transceivers. It was a so neat to the people who maintain and improve our hobby all the time.
One thing I could not forget to mention was the rest of the Hamvention -- the thousands of people and three huge rooms that seemed like an endless showcase of Amateur Radio equipment and vendors. The many forums covering many more topics, including a youth forum in which astronaut Doug Wheelock, KF5BOC, paid an unexpected visit. I walked outside and after walking maybe two miles, saw just about every flea market vendor there was. It was unbelievable. I did have some spending money, but I was dumbfounded as to what to buy. I settled on a set of ham sticks that I got for a friend interested in getting his car on the air, as well as the 2011 ARRL Handbook.
For me, the Hamvention came to a close. I packed up once again, this time packing all kinds of books and business cards, as well as the ham sticks I purchased. I met up with Ward at Hara Arena, and we began home. I had a once in a lifetime experience on the ride home. We had the radio set to 6 meters again, and just like a few days before, it was quiet. We drove through Indianapolis, when suddenly the radio exploded with what sounded like 50 people in a room having conversations. My first 6 meter opening was occurring, and Ward made a few contacts, and then let me have the microphone so he could focus on driving. I made a few excited contacts, and as soon they came, they were gone, and I experienced why it was called “the magic band” -- because openings are short and random.
A few miles down the road, we hit some rain, and suddenly it opened up again. I picked up the mic and started again. I began a little ragchew QSOc talking about Dayton. The rain rapidly picked up so much that we couldn’t see, and hail began to pat on the windshield. Ward’s grip on the wheel began to tighten as I tightened my grip on the mic, still in a QSO. He said he could hear the hail hit the window and told me I should focus on driving, and then I told him that Ward Silver was at the wheel, all while the hail grew in intensity, and like 6 meters, the hail and rain ceased and the sun came out. The person I was talking to was stunned as I was to have a conversation with someone driving through hail. To me it was a very cool experience.
Dayton was an incredible experience and I plan to attend each year now on, bringing friends with me. For now, check out the youth part of the ARRL website. Also, listen to me on the air, for my 80 meter antenna and radio is finally up and running. I am looking on getting an NVIS setup for more local contacts. Any comments on the column? Send me an e-mail! Thanks for reading!
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a freshman majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Interested in wireless communications from a young age, he welcomes e-mail from readers.