Why Can’t Dayton Be More Like the Maker Faire?

I got this via e-mail yesterday:

If You MAKE It, They Will Come–O’Reilly Media Alert:
Maker Faire attracts an incredible 65,000 attendees

Sebastopol, CA—Earlier this month, an astonishing 65,000 people from all across the country (and beyond) came to the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate the world’s premier event for DIY (Do It Yourself) creativity—Maker Faire! Organized by Make Magazine and Craft Magazine, Maker Faire celebrates things people create themselves—from electronic gizmos that would make James Bond jealous, to “slow made” foods and homemade clothes that would make Martha Stewart swoon.

The next Maker Faire will take place October 18 & 19 at the Travis County Fairgrounds in Austin, TX. In 2009, Maker Faire may expand to even more locations. “Makers are everywhere, in every city across America and the world,” explained Dale Dougherty, founder of Maker Faire. “We want to tap into these communities, to showcase what people are making, and, in the end, to encourage and inspire even more people to become Makers.”

While still the ultimate playground for hackers and geeks, Maker Faire is bringing the inventive and fascinating world of DIY into the mainstream. “We’re amazed at how fast this has grown,” said Event Director Sherry Huss. “Maker Faire has clearly struck a nerve in American culture. We’re reaching 7 year olds, 70 year olds, and everyone in between.”

The figure of 65,000 attendees especially resonated with me as I just got back from attending Dayton, where attendance was down and the number of vendors—both outside and inside—was down. We can all blame it on the economy and gas prices, but if these guys can attract 65,000 people under the same conditions, I don’t think that argument holds much water.

What is it then? One thing that comes to mind is moving the Hamvention somewhere cooler, say Austin, TX. Being a long-time ham, I’ve always thought of Dayton as the Mecca of ham radio. Younger and newer hams probably don’t feel that way. I’d bet some are thinking, “Dayton? Are they kidding”?

Another thing someone (the ARRL, perhaps?) might consider is somehow latching on to the Maker Faire. The people that attend the Maker Faire are exactly the kind of people that we want in ham radio, and I’d bet that a bunch of them would be inclined to become ham radio operators if given the chance. This is something I plan to look into.


  1. It’s because nobody is interested in ham radio these days.

    I’m a fairly new ham, and really enjoy it, mostly because it gives me something to apply my electronics experience to. You can only build so many PIC-based flashy light boxes before you want to build something useful! As a a software developer, I also enjoy writing interfaces for digital modes, APRS parsers, etc. I think I like working on the equipment more than I like communicating.

    We need to recruit new hams and overpower the legions of old, cranky, “remember the good old days” dinosaurs. There is a lot of fun to be had in ham radio, and it’s going to take new people with new ideas to make it popular again.

  2. @ Ben: I don’t think it is that people are not interested in ham radio it is that people are less exposed to them. With so many communication mediums available now adays (internet anyone!) people are less exposed to the technology than they were years past. Many younger people that you ask may not even know what ham radio is. Exposure is key, as I think the more people that are exposed to it the more that will adopt it…

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    I do think we have to overcome the stodgy image that ham radio has. I’ve even suggested in the past that we change the name of the hobby to something that more resembles what we do, including TV, Internet communication, etc. I never was able to come up with something that didn’t sound contrived, though.

    The latest ARRL PR campaign is trying to show that we’re about much more than just 75m phone. The new campaign slogan is “We Do That,” and there is a website that shows all the cool techie things that amateur radio operators are doing. The URL is http://www.wedothat-radio.org/wedothat/.

  4. That “we do that” site is nice… Much better than the “hello radio” site. So where are they promoting that site? How do non-hams find it?

    There are a ton of electronics hobbyists out there these days, thanks to easy microcontrollers and cheap parts, plus things like Make magazine. These are the people who would get a kick out of ham radio, and be able to use it to expand their existing hobby.

    I think the problem is that the young, creative people that are building amazing and artistic things with Arduinos do not want to hang around and talk to old cranky hams.

  5. Dan KB6NU says:

    The PR campaign is just getting started. I’m not sure what their plans are for publicizing the website.

    I think you’re spot on about young, creative people not wanting to hang around with cranky, old hams. We’re not all cranky, though! That’s the image we have to change somehow.

  6. How come there is virtually no ham presence at makers fair might be a better question. I was struck by the location of the fair yesterday (Austin) and the lack of radio. There may have been some, somewhere, but all I saw was a vectronics kit and two books. This is a place where a pile of altoids tins full of radio gear would have had lots of lookers and a homebrew amplifier would have had people drooling. Even a wired telegraph would have had participants. They had places where you could go and get help building kits (30 solder stations about).
    I am going again next year.

  7. Dan KB6NU says:

    If I’m elected to the ARRL Board of Directors, and even if I’m not, I’ll see if we can’t get a ham radio presence there. It really is a shame that no one was there touting ham radio. These are exactly the kind of folks we need to get excited about ham radio.

  8. Heeeeeeeeey, a kindred spirit indeed. I’ve been trying to contact Make Magazine about the idea of running a Mini Maker Faire concurrent within the Miami Hamfest. It seems like it’d work well together. They just haven’t gotten back to me yet. I know Robert Cruz, former chairman of the event, tried to arrange with Make to do something before they had the mini Maker Faires, they weren’t willing to travel to Miami at the time but since the mini faires are community supported , I could see it working.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I think it could work, too. We have a Mini Maker Faire here in Ann Arbor, MI, that hams participate in, but we don’t have a hamfest. Hmmmmm. Maybe we could publicize that we’re going to have an impromptu trunk hamfest at the MMF to get more hams to show up. I’ll have to contact the MMF organizers to see if they’d be willing to have me do that.

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