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Author Topic: Dayton Hamvention -- the best show on Earth  (Read 21384 times)
AD8BC
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« on: May 11, 2012, 11:21:16 AM »

It's that time again.  Getting ready for the best of the best -- the Dayton Hamvention.   
Before anything bad happens (raw sewage, anyone?) put on your waders, grab your Purell hand sanitizer, and lets make sure we give the fine folks at Dayton Amateur Radio Association all of the kudos for putting on this fine event.

Now I have a bone to pick.  Not with anything associated with the Hamvention -- but with all of the complainers and haters.  One of my big pet peeves in life is people that complain, but they either: 1) continue participating in the activity that brings them despair, or 2) don't step up to the plate to change things.  In ham radio, as in the rest of life, these people exist.  In droves.  In some organizations, however, these people are critical to the success of others -- for example, in the average radio club, 10% of the people do 90% of the work.  However, the 90% of people that don't do squat still pay the dues, so it makes life a whole lot more fun for the remaining 10%.  But that cannot possibly hold true for DARA - if only 10% of them are putting on the Hamvention, that must be one gigantic club.  But I digress.

So I'm going to address each one of the complaints that I hear each year.  This is all my opinion, folks, so I may be wrong.  To some I will be wrong about everything.  That's fine.  Also all figures I am using are either from observation or sourced somewhere on the web.  But it's close enough.

#1.  The Hara Arena is a dump.
   Yes.  It is.  It's no McCormick Place, to be sure.  It is said that it has been a dump for over three decades.  Probably has been for much longer.  I've only been going for 8 years and it hasn't declined that much.  Frankly, it doesn't have much further to decline.  But, if it does fall down, remember that Hamvention is only 3 days a year… if the building does fall down, there is a better than 96% chance that it won’t happen during Hamvention.  Always look on the bright side of life.
   However, it hasn't fallen down yet.  It still (presumably) has an occupancy permit.  And there seem to be enough emergency exits, so I'm not worried about getting trampled.
   The Hara is, probably, dirt cheap to rent.  That is another thing we need to keep in mind.  Remember, the DARA is a charity.  Run by volunteers.  I’m sure that cost enters into EVERY discussion they have about Hamvention.  I work for a Global Fortune 500 company, and cost enters into every discussion that we have at work.
   The bathrooms, frankly, are pretty bad.  At 9:30 on Friday morning, they are Amoco gas station bathroom quality.  By 10:00 they are awful.  Although the number of female hams is embarrassingly low, we can be somewhat thankful that most of us are males.  Because 90% of what we need to do in the potty we can do standing up.  The other 10% we can usually hold.  When the time comes where we cannot, you simply need to plan far enough in advance to ensure you find a stall with an adequate supply of toilet paper, and swab the seat with Purell.  When you reach this point, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
   And this bathroom talk brings us to a corollary:
#1a.  The geyser of sewage in the flea market.
   I’ll give you that one.  This was unfortunate.  It happens.  I was surprised that most of the Hara bathrooms empty through a single 5” sewer main (from looking at the cleanout plugs).  I have seen complaints that this was DARA’s fault.  Absolutely not.  The responsibility falls on Hara for this.  They are the landlord.  I have also seen reports that DARA could have been responsible for a (name your favorite plague-like disease) outbreak if one had occured.  Nope, still Hara (although I imagine that DARA would have probably been sued as well).  Should DARA have shut down the Hamvention?  Probably not.  Should the Montgomery County health department have shut the place down?  Probably.  But they didn’t.  Why?  Because if the county told everybody to go home, there would have been less money spent in the county.  That’s my opinion only.  Really, though, it was cleaned up and patched up relatively quickly.
#1b.  The Hara Food
   I’ve heard all sorts of complaints about the food.  Seriously—what do you want from these volunteers that run the food booths – filet mignon?  It’s hamfest food.  And I think it’s pretty darned good.  Especially the Hara Pizza.  And yes, there’s a dive-style bar on site too should you need a bottle of cold brew.  Good enough for me…  and there are decent restaurants to hit afterwards as well (RIP “Shuckin’ Shack”)
#1c.  (Consumer Electronics Show/ ProMat/(insert trade show here) was much nicer than Hamvention.  Why can’t Hamvention be as nice and clean?
Because this is not a trade show.  It’s a ham radio convention.  If it were a professional trade show everyone would be going around in suits and ties.  And then I wouldn’t go.  And besides…  look at us slobs!  At least I wear a clean T-shirt.

#2.  Dayton (the city) is a dump.  The Hamvention should be moved to… (Columbus.  Indianapolis.  Fort Wayne.  Timbuktu.)   
Dayton has unfortunately fallen on hard times.  However, Dayton is (hold on to your hats…) WHERE THE DAYTON AMATEUR RADIO ASSOCIATION is based (hence the first “D” in DARA).  Do you honestly expect the DARA, who, by the way, puts the entire Hamvention on for us, to even attempt to move the Hamvention out of state?  Do you understand what kind of an undertaking this event is?  This thing is big.  Luckily, they can do it in their backyard.  The DARA is a great bunch of dedicated people.  And yeah, their radio club’s treasury is probably larger than your net worth.  And mine.  But they aren’t superheroes.  Can you imagine the logistics if they tried to move it far away?  The Columbus Fairgrounds have been mentioned frequently, and that might be doable, but it’s still a stretch for DARA.  And even if they could move it,  people would be upset with the change.  Attendance would likely be down the first year, and this would reduce the revenue at a time where they are probably paying for a higher-cost venue
   Now look at it this way.  Although it is a dump, the Hara Arena is the IDEAL place for this convention.  Just enough inside space.  Just enough outside space.  Yeah, no parking, but they deal with this well.  But the entire event has evolved into something that perfectly fits into the Hara Arena.  Can you imagine the planning it would take to massage the Hamvention into a different space?
#2a: But I’m willing to pay $50 for a ticket if they moved to a more expensive venue (yes, I’ve heard that one before too)
Really?  And you’re complaining about the $4.00 gas you need to buy to get there?  (see below).  Again, price goes up, the number of cheap-ass hams that buy tickets goes down.  In an era where everybody is complaining that attendance is going down (actually it’s not, see below) this would make it go down much faster.
#2b. The ARRL should move Hamvention….
   Believe it or not, I have heard this one.  THE HAMVENTION IS NOT OPERATED BY THE ARRL.  IT IS RUN BY DARA.  DARA literally owns the Hamvention trademark.
#2c. The Hamvention is too far from my house.  They should move it around each year.
Sorry you chose to live in (insert your city here).  Why don’t you start your own DARA-quality club and see what you can do with it.
Seriously, to be fair, Ohio hasn’t been the mean population center of the USA since 1870.  So, to be fair to everybody, somebody in Wright County, Missouri needs to step up to the plate and put on a Hamvention-quality show before the 2020 census moves the population center further West.  (Seriously, the population of Wright County, MO is 17,955 (2000).  A Hamvention there would more than double the population… )

3.  The Hamvention, like ham radio, is dying.  We should just let it die.
Ham radio is not dying. 
Let me say it again.
HAM RADIO IS NOT DYING.
Sure it isn’t growing by leaps and bounds.  That’s our fault.  But there are over 700,000 licensees in the US.  Sure, not every one of them is active.  THAT’S OUR FAULT TOO.  But, let’s assume for a second that every attendee to the Hamvention is licensed, and that every attendee is a US citizen.
In 2011, 22312 people attended Hamvention (which was the highest since 2002 and a 13% increase from 2010).  With the above assumptions, 3.2% of the licensed amateurs in the US attended last year.  That’s not bad.  Not stellar, but not bad… and not dying.  Attendance has increased steadily since 2008.  Still not bad, in this era of high gas prices…. And that brings us to:
3a. Gas prices will keep people from coming to Hamvention.
With all due respect, shut up about gas prices.  Per gallon, gasoline remains one of the cheapest fluids on the planet. 
Let’s make some assumptions.  Let’s say you live in Davenport Iowa and want to go to Dayton.  Let’s assume a round trip of 1000 miles and that you get 20 miles per gallon.  That’s 50 gallons of gas.  Assume gas at $4.00 a gallon (a bit high for right now).  That’s $200 of gas.  Not too bad for a long weekend trip.  But it’s so much higher than when it was $3.00 per gallon a few years ago.  That means the cost of gas for this trip went up a whopping $50.  Big whoop.  You’re only paying $20 for a show ticket.  But if you’re smart, you can bring a friend or two and watch your share of the gas take a nosedive. 
3b. The economy will keep people from coming to Hamvention
I can see this happening.  But, on the other side, people need something to look forward too, especially when times are tough.  I’ve been going each year since 2005.  Here are the numbers, somewhat unofficial but close enough…
2005: 20,411
2006: 20,324
2007: 19,318
2008: 17,250
2009: 18,877
2010: 19,750
2011: 22312
I did notice 2007 and 2008 going down… but I also noticed 2009, 2010, and 2011 steadily increasing… what the hell happened in 2011 to bring that kind of an increase?  Sure, 2011 was nothing like 1991 through 1995 where it was between 33000 and 35000 each year (wonder what the bathrooms were like THOSE years..)  But you can’t tell me that the economy significantly affected the attendance between 2008 and today.  If it did, can you imagine the crowds that would have come?

#4. There are better hamfests
   Yes.  There are better hamfests.  But this isn’t a hamfest.  It’s a convention.  It is out of the league of a mere hamfests.  Hell, it’s out of the league of other conventions.  Ham-Com in Texas (not far from my home) is fantastic.  It’s two days, it’s bigger than most hamfests, it’s in a nice facility… but it’s no Hamvention.  I can do Ham-Com in one morning.  The flea market is small.  It’s still great, mind you, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Hamvention. 
Your local hamfests are important, believe me.  Never stop going to them because you think Dayton is better.  Hamfests are crucial to the hobby.

Look…seriously; there are two kinds of people who attend Hamvention:
#1   Those who look forward to the event each year.  We make our hotel reservations 11 months in advance.  We order tickets as soon as the website offers them.  We look to YouTube for K0NEB’s photo montages.  We walk the flea markets and exhibits over and over.  We look forward to seeing old friends, and meeting new friends.  We look forward to seeing old junque and new junque.  We marvel at the new Kenwood or Yeasu that is so expensive it requires financing.  We make fun of the guy selling the cheap automatic wire strippers that break after the third strip.  We buy bags of Anderson PowerPoles and PL-259s “just in case” even though we have a drawer full of them at home.  We still love the magic of radio and the magic of Hamvention.

#2   Those who go to Hamvention to complain about the food, the architecture, and the city.  They complain at the Hamvention.  They go home and complain online.  Then they come back the next year to complain some more.  Heck, at least DARA is making some money off of them.

Which group are you in?
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W8JX
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« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2012, 07:27:19 PM »

Nice comment but tell you what I know what they paid in the 90's (about 6 digits)  and I know it is far more now and the could have bought their own facility with money they gave Hara over the years and leased it out to others. There is nothing charitable about Hara. One year Dara got hooked into a $250,000 repave job for Hara too. I also question last years numbers because last i heard to had not even hit 20K. I go mostly for flea market anymore as there is a lot less vendors inside. Increased rent and lower traffic/sales drove several vendors away.
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HAMFESTS
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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2012, 02:04:59 PM »

Dear OM,

I go to hamfests to get parts and support the club instead of belonging to a local club that I don't have time to be a member of.

A lot of the complaints are lodged at DARA are because many think that DARA can put pressure on the owners to make some repairs. This may or may not be true. W8JX may shed some light on this. But from his earlier posts it seems unlikely.

Many realize that DARA can't control what online does, or gas prices, the economy, Hara, or what the city does. They do the best they can at Hara. There are lots of reason attendance is down and people complain.

You're right, they really can't move it, or move it far because the people that volunteer wouldn't be local anymore. In the other thread on Hamvention there were many good suggestions on what to do and we can only wish that some of those suggestions could happen if possible.

But some of the people that complain have a point. Would it hurt the owners of Hara to at least do some work on Hara other than a coat of paint on the cinderblock walls? We aren't talking rebuilding from the ground up, more like upgrade one of the bathrooms every 3 years. I'm for keeping much of it to keep it's charm, but the last time I was there some of the ceiling tiles looked like were going to fall on someone in the arena. (that's like from 30-40 feet up)

The price of a ticket to me as an attendee is a good deal for three days, but I have heard some of the tailgaters grumble about the taligate area prices in recent years. It's tough to balance the prices for the small guys and make enough money to cover the cost of renting the place for 3 days. It was great seeing in the old days guys that were making things in their workshop and selling it at Dayton to see if the market liked what they had and possibly start a business from their idea. My dad and I bought a 5 element 2m quad from a couple of guys inside one building and it worked great, but never saw them again.

I long for the days when the economy was doing great and companies were almost throwing old equipment out and employees were dumpster diving and selling it at Dayton to make a few dollars to pay for the trip. It was a win-win for both the buyers and sellers. Like the Radio Shack tent that sold stuff they would normally throw out from returns but offered it at great discounts at Dayton. If you had the same item at home they were a great parts source. Or the old PC boards from a project that was never developed but could be used for a ham project.

What I'd like to see, as in previous posts, are constructive suggestions on what someone would do with Hamvention given the current limitations. Lots of us out-of-towners don't understand many of the limitations and logistics that DARA has to deal with such as holding an event for 20,000 people. I'm sure that DARA would love to grow the hamfest if possible.

Overall I think it's a decent venue and could be much better with a little TLC from the Hara owners. There are few other hamfests that are still great going to even if the weather is bad. I do plan on going back sometime soon.

I'd also like to see a thread where people give one dislike and one like about Hamvention instead of an all negative reply. I think it helps DARA see that there are lots of things we like about Hamvention and we hope the traditions keeps going.

73 and Happy Hamfesting
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W8JX
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2012, 04:12:37 PM »

Hara has DARA over a barrel and long has. They know that DARA is backed into a corner and cannot easily move so they squeeze them and do not put any money into improvements. The small 6inch sewage line that failed last year dates back to late 40's when it was first built and was a smaller facility too and should have been upgraded/replaced many years ago before they built golf course. If Kenwood, Icom pull out of show it will die. (not discounting Yaesu's presence but they are not in main arena). It is not that I want to see it die but its best days are behind it unless they make some big changes to get vendors and crowds back.
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G3RZP
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2012, 04:18:43 AM »

I see that there's chances of T storms forecast for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  So hopefully there'll be no problem flying in tomorrow (Wednesday) and any T storms Monday will be later in the day and my 1025 departure to Chicago will be OK. Needs to be because I leave on a business trip to France on Wednesday...

So it will be 20 years since I first came to Dayton. Only missed two since. The good Muslim makes a pilgrimage to Mecca: the good ham makes a pilgrimage to Dayton at least once in his life. Tradiitons have built up - the Black Hole gang at Hooters on Thursday night, a number of them at Spaghetti Warehouse on Friday, then Consuelo's Saturday, and a very few of us at Jay's on Sunday.

My biggest regret at Dayton. The first year I went, there was a guy in the flea market selling low speed 12 volt DC motors pulled from equipment for $1. My regret is that I only bought 2!

Looking forward to the show....see you around


Now if Dayton had a competitor to Hara, that could be real interesting......
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HAMFESTS
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2012, 12:52:37 PM »

W8JX,

Thank you for replying, it gives us all a better understanding of how things are.

73
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W8JX
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2012, 05:10:56 PM »

I see that there's chances of T storms forecast for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  So hopefully there'll be no problem flying in tomorrow (Wednesday) and any T storms Monday will be later in the day and my 1025 departure to Chicago will be OK. Needs to be because I leave on a business trip to France on Wednesday...

I live here and weather is fine and looks good this weekend too. Expect low to mid 80's and mostly sunny. Slight chance of rain Monday night and into Tuesday. We were pretty wet and stormy late April and first part of May but things have settled down nicely for a while.
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K3GM
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2012, 05:51:45 PM »

.....Now if Dayton had a competitor to Hara, that could be real interesting......
Have you been to Friedrichshafen?
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73BRAHMA
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2012, 05:39:18 PM »

Hara had a total re-pave job- when I was about 10.  I remember. That's 40 years ago.  The Hamvention is probably one of the biggest events, if not the only annual event, that dump still has on its books.  It's DARA's event, but they don't have anywhere else to host it.  So they either find another place, or cancel it.  Kenwood, ICOM, Yaesu, and all the other emerging players probably would MUCH rather showcase their wares somewhere else.  Hara arena is an out and out embarrassment.  Sure, it's fun, and has been a tradition, but now it's also a tradition that showcases the entire market, in a dump.  The market will eventually seek other venues.  It will happen.

As for the people or organization that owns Hara, they are bleeding that place for all it's worth. 20,000+ people in three days at $25 a pop? Let alone concerts and whatever else?  Yeah, the Dayton economy might be in the toilet, but so are many other places, and I can't see people continuing to go to Hara it they are suddenly given another choice.

DARA is in a tough spot.  Kudos to them, but the market leaders need, and probably desperately want, to market their stuff in a better venue.

As for the flea market?  They can be set up anywhere.  Offsite, in multiple sites.  The inside vendors and major market leaders could have their setups in a smaller venue, with outlying flea market setups.  Someone at DARA needs to stand up to Hara and say "enough".
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KD8DEY
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2012, 09:28:21 PM »

I live here and weather is fine and looks good this weekend too. Expect low to mid 80's and mostly sunny. Slight chance of rain Monday night and into Tuesday. We were pretty wet and stormy late April and first part of May but things have settled down nicely for a while.

We live close enough that with a good wind and even better aim I could hit your antenna with a loogie
(Or do simplex)
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KC9HTV
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« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2012, 06:00:38 AM »

Very well put AD8BC. I've worked as a volunteer at Hamvention a few times and DARA is well aware of Hara's shortcomings. There just aren't that many places they could use with enough space for both indoor vendors and the flea market. As much as Hara probably costs them it's probably peanuts compared to a relatively new venue like the downtown convention center. The funky bathrooms and general condition of the place just kind of add to the charm for me I guess.
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W8JX
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« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2012, 11:44:16 AM »

Very well put AD8BC. I've worked as a volunteer at Hamvention a few times and DARA is well aware of Hara's shortcomings.


Yet they do nothing about it. this is 2012 and Hara has very few areas with any cooling at all on warm days. Owners of Hare have Dara over a barrel as Dara is afraid to change.

Do you ever watch them draw tickets? They grab a big handful and the game is over for other 99%+ still in barrel. Never seen anyone else draw like this. They need to do that right and pull on ticket at a time but like staying with Hara they stick with old ways. .


There just aren't that many places they could use with enough space for both indoor vendors and the flea market. As much as Hara probably costs them it's probably peanuts compared to a relatively new venue like the downtown convention center.

Is well into 6 figures peanuts?

The funky bathrooms and general condition of the place just kind of add to the charm for me I guess.

Love this. The show relies on big Vendors like Kenwood, Icom, Yeasu and others to come there and spend 10's of thousands of dollars just being there and we need to "charm" them with lousy bathrooms and such. How long do you think this dog will keep hunting?
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KC9HTV
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« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2012, 12:22:03 PM »

Very well put AD8BC. I've worked as a volunteer at Hamvention a few times and DARA is well aware of Hara's shortcomings.


Yet they do nothing about it. this is 2012 and Hara has very few areas with any cooling at all on warm days. Owners of Hare have Dara over a barrel as Dara is afraid to change.

Do you ever watch them draw tickets? They grab a big handful and the game is over for other 99%+ still in barrel. Never seen anyone else draw like this. They need to do that right and pull on ticket at a time but like staying with Hara they stick with old ways. .


There just aren't that many places they could use with enough space for both indoor vendors and the flea market. As much as Hara probably costs them it's probably peanuts compared to a relatively new venue like the downtown convention center.

Is well into 6 figures peanuts?

The funky bathrooms and general condition of the place just kind of add to the charm for me I guess.

Love this. The show relies on big Vendors like Kenwood, Icom, Yeasu and others to come there and spend 10's of thousands of dollars just being there and we need to "charm" them with lousy bathrooms and such. How long do you think this dog will keep hunting?

I'm sure that if you can find a place that will meet their needs for less money, they'll welcome your suggestion. Do you know of such a place? As for the last line, I was stating what I like about the place, not suggesting that we "charm" anybody.
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KD8IWZ
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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2012, 04:49:17 PM »

FWIW: a few days before Hamvention, WHIOTV (dayton local channel 7) had a report on the Dayton businesses who had the most unpaid property tax. HARA was #6. On May 16 the Dayton Daily News reported Hara is delinquent by $385,496. Any thoughts?
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W3DBB
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« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2012, 04:51:50 AM »

Is the $385,496 for one year or is it for more than one year? Last I knew the Hara Arena was owned by the Wampler family of Wampler Meats fame. From the sound of things Dayton is in the same trouble as Detroit, Cleveland, Erie PA, Buffalo NY and countless others. Does Hara Arena host any other events besides the Dayton Hamvention? Frequently when slumlords either abandon or are in the process of walking away from a facility property taxes go unpaid. Not saying that is the case here, but the combination of unpaid property taxes, financial situation of the city, and lack of maintenance to the facility are not good signs.
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