Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Hamfesting Like Crazy
By Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
ARRL Youth Editor
The last few weekends of January was all about burning gas and traveling across Missouri to visit two of the state’s great hamfests: the NKC Hamfest in Kansas City, and Winterfest in St Louis. Thankfully they were separated by a week, so this allowed me to take the two consecutive weekends to meet a lot of cool people and attempt to snatch up good deals. Although this was the intended plan, my natural tendency to help out ended up having more work than fun, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s all that it’s about: having fun and helping out.
North Kansas City Hamfest
Although not a large hamfest, the North Kansas City Hamfest draws hams across the Kansas City Metro Area to fill a gymnasium full of “boat anchors” that you would think are so heavy, they could bow out the wood floors. A few tables had working radios set up as demonstrations for sale, and a few local vendors had rows of tables of new-in-box radios and equipment. The ARRL also had a booth set up, with Missouri Section Manager Dale Bagley, K0KY, passing out brochures and flyers and signing people up for an ARRL membership. Brian “Shorty” Short, KC0BS, showed up, too. He invited me to go down to K0KU, the University of Kansas Amateur Radio Club to go play in the NAQP contest that was happening. I couldn’t say no to making friends with the enemy (K0KU and the Missouri S&T Amateur Radio Club W0EEE are fierce rivals)!
At the NKC hamfest, I also met Joe Andrews, KD0LOS, who is W0EEE’s first recipient of our Loanership program. I had come to find out that his local club’s president donated a Kenwood TS-570 to him, so we got to keep our ICOM IC-735, but I did give him plenty of antenna wire to help make his first antenna. Currently, he is well on his way to getting on HF!
The Hams in Space team of Kansas City also featured a very cool forum and demonstration of using handheld radios to communicate with satellites. Randy Schulze, KD0HKD, and his team of out-of-this-world hams brought several handheld transceivers and handheld satellite antennas for anyone to use for a pass of AO-27, one of the few Amateur Radio satellites still in operation. Joe made a few contacts, and many had a lot of fun.
After the hamfest, I had lunch with the Raytown Amateur Radio Club. During lunch, we talked about youth in Amateur Radio in detail after I mentioned my monthly column. I mentioned former ARRL Youth Editor Duncan McLachlan, KU0DM, and Rebecca Rich, KB0VVT, among others of prominent youth in Amateur Radio; the man I sat next to was Rebecca’s father! He was pleased to hear about her great impact on the hobby from the ARRL Youth Editor, and everyone had great ideas to contribute for the greater good.
The SLSRC Winterfest
The next weekend I arrived on the other side of Missouri, near St Louis in Collinsville, Illinois, right across the Mississippi River. This is where the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club (SLSRC) was holding their annual Winterfest Hamfest, a very big hamfest with thousands in attendance. I brought two other hams from Missouri S&T, one of whom had never been to a hamfest. We arrived early in the morning to get in free -- or rather help the vendors set up tables and collect tickets at the door. We did get a first look at all the great deals, but before I had a chance to pull out my checkbook, one of my friends from S&T snatched up the handheld transceiver that I was eyeing.
Following our initial overview of the convention, we collected tickets at the door, stamped hands for reentry and sold raffle tickets. We would work in shifts of two, which allowed one person from our group to browse the hamfest. A crowd of eager, early morning hams burst through the doors at 8 AM as we collected, tore and stamped hands at an alarming rate.
The crowd made its way through the entry doors, giving us some time to meander the populated aisles. Little did I know how many people I would encounter during my grid-style search of a new handheld transceiver: I ran into several Missouri S&T/W0EEE alumni, many members of my home club and even members of the local radio club from Rolla! I also shook hands with Bob Heil, K9EID, once again, and Jacob Keogh, KD0NVX, who is a super active young man who loves listening to numbers stations and other enigmatic or unexplained transmissions on the shortwave bands.
After my long journey through the convention center, I did not walk away with a new handheld transceiver, but I did snatch up some RF adapters, a 20 meter mobile “hamstick” antenna and some batteries for no less than $20. I also left with hundreds of picture from both hamfests.
The D-STAR project at W0EEE is almost complete. Our gateway server is up and running, but the repeater is actually off -- we discovered the old UHF antenna that supported our previous 440 MHz repeater has bitten the dust, and a replacement antenna will hopefully be going up by the end of the month. The next step in the project is getting our locals to use it!
W0EEE will be looking at getting a D-STAR capable radio and I’ve been busy at our local radio club meetings giving D-STAR presentations and demonstrations. The response has been mostly positive, but the cost of D-STAR equipment is still quite high for many. I’m sure in the coming year, the prices will drop as other manufacturers come out with their own line of digital equipment.
Until next month, 73!
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a sophomore 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.