21 Things to Do: Go to a hamfest

Hamfest

You can often buy stuff like power cords and connectors at bargain prices at a hamfest.

When I was a kid in Michigan, we used to call a ham radio swap meet a “swap and shop.” Nowadays, they’re mostly known by the term “hamfest.” Whatever name you know them by, they’re both educational and a lot of fun.

There are a lot of reasons to go to a hamfest, including:

  • You get to see a lot of ham radio gear in one place.
  • You might be able to get a good deal on some used (or new) equipment.
  • You might find something that will be fun to play with.
  • You get to meet hams face-to-face that you’ve only talked to on the air.

You never know what you’ll find at a hamfest. If it’s a decent-sized hamfest, chances are you’ll find equipment ranging from radios made in the 1950s with vacuum tubes to modern computer-controlled transceivers. If nothing else, you’ll get an education on the wide range of amateur radio equipment that’s out there.

Can you get a good deal on a radio? Possibly, although these days so much stuff is sold on EBay and via the online ham classifieds on QRZ.Com, eHam.Net, and other sites, that getting a real “steal” is getting harder and harder. One thing is for sure, if you’re a new ham and don’t really know how to evaluate a particular piece of equipment, get your Elmer to look over a purchase before you hand over your money. What may look like a bargain, may end up costing more than a new radio.

What you can often get a good deal on are small parts, such as connectors, power cords, speakers, etc. You never know when you’ll need a 1/4-in. phone plug to put on the end of a set of headphones. A friend of mine jokes that at every hamfest he always buys a handful of different connectors. Hamfests are good places to stock up on these types of things.

You’ll find more than used equipment at a hamfest, though. Many dealers will bring new equipment to a hamfest, especially if it’s one of the big hamfests. This is your chance to look at a number of different radios that you may have only been able to look at in catalogs and compare different models. In addition, dealers often offer “hamfest prices,” so you may be able to get that radio at a slight discount.

Hamfests are also good places to connect with other hams. Quite often, you’ll meet guys that you’ve only talked to on the air. It’s a lot of fun to connect a name and callsign with a face. Sometimes, different ham groups, such as ARES/RACES groups or QRP clubs, will set up a table to promote their group. You can use this opportunity to find out more about these groups and their activities.

To find a hamfest near you, go to the ARRL Hamfests and Conventions Calendar page.

Comments

  1. I’ve been enjoying the “21 Things to Do” series. One comment on this one, concerning the fourth bullet point about meeting other hams that you’ve only talked to on the air:

    I worked one summer during high school at a commercial radio station. The day I was hired, before being introduced to the on-air staff, the owner told me, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, to put aside any preconceived notions I had about the physical appearance of the voices I heard on the air. The voices you hear emanating from your rig will not “look like” the people you’ll meet! I say this very respectfully, and include myself in the group that you’ll meet sometime at a hamfest.

    In a way though, that’s the beauty of radio. We can forge a friendship by voice alone, not letting appearances prejudice our opinions of someone.

    But it certainly is fun, wondering who you’ll get to meet!

    Thanks for the great posts. 73!

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