Joe Eisenberg was a 20-year-old college student at the University of Nebraska in 1975 when he went on the “mother of all weekend road trips” and attended his first amateur radio convention in Dayton, known as Hamvention.
“It was pretty mindboggling,” says Eisenberg, who lives in Lincoln, Neb. “And it was so much fun that I decided I have to go again.” So he did go again. And again. And again. In fact, this year’s Hamvention May 19-21 at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Expo Center will mark Eisenberg’s 37th trip to Hamvention.
Eisenberg is just one of the estimated 27,000 people who will attend Hamvention from all over the country and the world, says Michael Kalter, spokesman for Hamvention. He says Hamvention is the largest gathering of amateur radio operators in the world. The three-day event will include exhibits, a flea market, forums, education sessions and amateur radio license exams, he says.
It’s the first time the event will be conducted at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Expo Center near Xenia, says Kalter. Hamvention was conducted at Hara Arena since 1964, but because the arena closed last year a new site for the event was needed this year, says Kalter.
Attendees to this year’s Hamvention should like the new venue, he says. “It’s a beautiful place,” says Kalter. “And the county and the city and the township they’ve all bent over backwards to be sure that we get everything we need,” he says.
That includes bringing in a high-speed internet line into the fairground’s buildings and AT&T has agreed to bring in phones line for whoever needs them, says Kalter.
Esther Pierson, secretary for the Greene County Agricultural Society Board of Directors, says, “We’re only glad they have chosen us to not only showcase our fairgrounds but that we can help them promote an even better Hamvention than they’ve ever had.”
Pierson says for the first time about 90 camping sites will be available on the fairgrounds to Hamvention attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis. “Everybody is verypleased to be able to just step out of their motorhome and onto the actual Hamvention grounds rather than having to drive many miles,” she says.
Eisenberg says he is excited about the new venue. “I think it has a lot of potential. Obviously it’s not as big inside as Hara Arena, but I think it has a lot of promise to become that way.”
The promise of 27,000 people converging on one location near Xenia has business owners and government officials excited about the tremendous economic impact that the amateur radio convention brings.
“It has been reported in meetings we’ve attended that the Hamvention has an average economic impact of up to $17 million,” says Lee Warren, public relations coordinator for the city of Xenia. “We strongly feel our area hotels, restaurants and retail businesses will positively benefit from the convention and it will favorably impact the community as a whole.”
Brian Pietrzyk plans to attend his fifth Hamvention this year, driving to Dayton from his home in Ontario, Canada. He’s one of those attendees who will give the community a favorable economic impact. “It’s a once a year outing and I probably drop two or three (thousand dollars),” says Pietrzyk.
Not only do attendees spend their money on flights, hotels, car rentals, restaurants, entertainment and other businesses around the area, they also come to Hamvention to get the latest gadget for their amateur radio hobby.
“Since I’ve retired I’ve been slowly been saving up for equipment that I’ve pretty much wanted all my life,” Pietrzyk says. “I save all my big ticket purchases for (Hamvention),” he says.
Eisenberg’s spending habits match Pietrzyk’s. He saves extra money, such as a Christmas bonus, all year long in order to have enough money to buy what he wants in Dayton.
“(Hamvention) is the only chance to see new products and try new things out and buy things and just go through that flea market that just has tons of neat stuff and be able to take it home with you,” says Eisenberg. “I always look forward to Dayton like a kid looks forward to Christmas.”
Hamvention has become the Mecca of amateur radio enthusiasts not only because of the large number of vendors who bring the latest equipment, but also because the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, which runs the Hamvention with about 600 volunteers, is constantly looking to improve the experience, says Kalter.
“We always try to seek for improvement year over year, like how can we put on a good five-star event?” he says. “How can we make people want to come back? There’s a lot of passion to see this through to make it right.”
The most important element of the amateur radio convention, however, is the people. “It’s seeing friends that I only get to talk to on the radio and seeing them in in person,” says Eisenberg. “Because it’s these personal friendships that are really the key to amateur radio. And it’s lifelong friendships that you gain from these contacts on the radio.”
Pietrzyk agrees. “In the ham radio world … you’re pretty much always making new friends on the air,” he says. “I’ve made lifelong friends over the air.”
And many of those friends on the radio come to Dayton once a year to meet in person and experience the world’s largest amateur radio convention. It’s something many of them look forward to all year.
“My year revolves around Hamvention,” Eisenberg says.
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