Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Dayton 2009 -- a Smashing Success!
Being a first timer, I didn't know what to expect. My expectations were somewhere around the local hamfest level, just with more people. I was in shock by the end of the first day, as I can't think of any hamfest I've attended that even comes close to Dayton. As far as my expectations go, Dayton surpassed them several times over and is now in a league of its own.
If you ever go to Dayton Hamvention, the first thing you'll notice is the attendance. The numbers of cars with antennas, the churches and shopping centers making small fortunes off parking, as well as the mob at the gates, it's all just too obvious that this is a big deal. But it wasn't just the overall attendance that amazed me -- the youth turnout was spectacular! Even just walking to the door, I saw an amazing number of young hams anxious to get in. Once inside, it was phenomenal to see how many more were there. One gathering was in the ARRL EXPO area at the ARRL Youth Lounge, ran by my predecessor Andrea Hartlage, KG4IUM, and her father Scott, KF4PWI.
The lounge was packed the entire event, and Andrea and the ARRL did an excellent job of hosting it. They had a multitude of attractions, including beading Morse code bracelets, learning Morse code, the "Are You Smarter than a Technician" game show and of course, fox hunting. I don't believe I ever saw the lounge empty after the gates opened each day -- there was always something going down. Private astronaut Richard Garriott, W5KWQ, even stopped by to visit the next generation of ham radio.
I was pretty impressed with the number of young people hanging around the ARRL area in general, and even more impressed by how many of the staff got them involved in various activities. Whether it was kit building, Scouts, DXCC card checking or Field Day, the staff did something to get young hams involved.
Leaving the ARRL booth and hitting the floors surrounded by all the vendors was amazing. Never have I been in one place with so many big names in ham radio, all willing to take the time to talk with me. If we go the arena, we find my personal favorites: SteppIR Antennas and ICOM Radio. I got a chance to talk with Mike, K7IR, about his inspiration for the SteppIR antenna and his love of radio that started at a young age. I found even more going on at the ICOM booth, as Mark, M0DXR, was not the only young ham there; I bumped into a good friend of mine, Cal, K0DXC, several times, as well as a few other young hams.
But Hara wasn't the only place to go and have fun. A few miles away at the Crowne Plaza hotel, there was always something afoot. The Hamvention is also famous for its "nightlife," the suites and dinners. Each night there is something going on: Friday night it was the DX Dinner, and the Contest Dinner was on Saturday night. I attended both -- I was the only ham under 18 at the DX Dinner, but I was in better company for the Contest Dinner.
Afterwards, there was always much to do. The North Coast Contesters hosted a killer suite each night with plenty of people, food and fun. On the upper floors you could find some other fun suites: The Society of Midwest Contesters had a presence once again, as well as the Bavarian Contest Club and some other clubs around the country (and world).
On Saturday night, the Kansas City DX Club -- my club -- hosted its annual pileup competition, which meant a night I'd spend working! The pileup competition consists of a five minute recording made of various calls prepared by Tom Hammond, N0SS, then put into a pileup. This year was a tough one, with the average score being in the mid-20s; the winner copied 51 calls correctly. It was also a big step for the club, as this was the first year that we moved to computer entries, expediting the scoring process.
Besides everything to do at the suites, all the people to talk to and stories to hear, I had the most when I went to a suite and talked with the older hams. Almost wherever I went, some old contester or DXer would approach and begin talking about the fluctuations in the number of young hams active in Amateur Radio. They would tell me stories of the camaraderie they enjoyed as young hams with their friends and what they've been doing to allow younger generations to enjoy the same experiences.
The fun I had at 2009 Dayton Hamvention, whether at Hara or Crowne Plaza, is unmatched. The people to see, things to do, stories to hear and friends to make, after experiencing all that at Dayton 2009, I'm assured that Amateur Radio is moving in the right direction. After talking with countless old and young hams alike, I think we are truly ready for the challenges that lie ahead in keeping the Service alive and well.
I'd like to thank ARRL News Editor Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA (my boss!), and ARRL Sales and Marketing Manager Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R, for helping to make my first Dayton a phenomenal experience. They both bent over backwards for me and everyone else, which is why Dayton Hamvention is definitely the most popular hamfest in the world.
--Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM
Duncan P MacLachlan, KU0DM
ARRL Youth Editor