Going to Dayton

From Dayton, Ohio

One reason I ended up in radio news was my childhood interest in AM and shortwave radio listening, which then led me into the amateur radio hobby. And often when you get bitten by the ham radio bug, you end up going to Dayton, Ohio.

This weekend, thousands of amateur radio operators from all over the United States, and all over the world, will flock to Dayton for what is known as the “Hamvention” – a convention of hams along with the makers of all kinds of radio and electronics gadgets and gear.

“It’s a special kind of group,” said Retired Navy Admiral Scott Redd, who sports the callsign K0DQ. “It’s like going fishing, only it’s going fishing for technology.”

I ran into the Admiral and a number of other ham radio friends at one hotel in downtown Dayton which has become the focal point for a group of amateur radio operators who specialize in contesting – basically, they try to contact as many people as possible all over the world in a certain time frame, usually over a weekend.

Many of them have their own personal antenna farms or they travel the world to operate from some far-flung island location for a weekend of fun.

And just like when you turn the dial in hopes of finding them on the radio, when you walk into a ballroom jammed with fellow hams, their big smiles and strong handshakes remind you there’s more to them than just their ham radio callsign.

“I keep coming back to Dayton just to see all the friends that I talk to,” said Paul Newberry, who had flown in from Georgia. “There are people here from everywhere.”

Newberry said he’s been to ‘about 25’ Hamventions in Dayton – “This is about eighteen in a row,” he said, his voice carrying a soft southern twang that is instantly recognizable on the radio as he phonetically says his callsign N4PN – “N-four-Poppah-No-vem-buh.”

As the pizza and beer flowed, Redd, Newberry and others told stories on Thursday night of how they got into ham radio – often around the age of 13-17 – and how it still provides them with a window to the world.

Around the room, there were hams from Germany, England, Japan and more. There were guys who had dragged all kinds of equipment to remote islands in the Pacific in order to let the world contact a rare country.  Others who started a business related to their hobby.  One pair that’s running what amounts to a ham radio ‘olympics’ this summer near Boston.  Guys that specialized in climbing tall radio towers, and one who held on while a tower fell to the ground and lived to tell the story.

There are a lot of those stories, as an estimated 25,000 ham radio operators will be in Dayton this weekend, making it the world’s largest ham radio gathering.

“When you come to Dayton, it’s a passion,” said Admiral Redd.

He should know. At age 69, Redd still thrashes much younger competitors in worldwide radio contests.

Like me.

While a number of us also saw old friends, we also got to meet some news ones, like James Viars (N4EGA), who had to come to Dayton for the first time from Knoxville, Tennessee with his top-notch contester friend Scott Robbins (W4PA).

While it’s always nice to meet someone else who is a ham, it’s even better when they are a listener as well, and Viars is in that category.

“I just met @jamiedupree at Hamvention,” Viars tweeted late on Thursday night.