What’s Wrong With Hamfests Nowadays!

I enjoy many aspects of our hobby. I like to participate in contests and QSO parties. I chase DX and work special event stations. I have a few awards hanging on the wall and I enjoy fiddling with my gadgets.

I also like to attend hamfests. It’s a great place to pick up a bargain and have some “eyeball QSOs”.

But lately I’ve noticed that hamfests are becoming increasingly boring. It’s not enough to “open the doors” and hope hams show up. 

Here are my thoughts on how hamfests should change for the better.

A SWAPMEET IS NOT A WAY TO GET RID OF YOUR WORTHLESS JUNK.  Unless you have acres and acres of swap meet (like Dayton), you can’t sustain a hamfest this way.  I DO like to look at good, bargained price gear and accessories.  If you’re bringing stuff to a hamfest that you should be throwing in the trash, don’t waste my time.  It’s too easy for me to buy good used gear online from eBay or QRZ…or new gear from an online retailer.  If you don’t want your junk…I don’t want your junk, either!  

A GOOD PROGRAM IS VITAL.  The “hamfest committee” needs to do some work. If you don’t have a team of volunteers to execute this, then consider abandoning the idea of a hamfest. There are plenty of people in your area who can speak with authority on any topic related to the hobby: DXing, storm spotting, contesting, awards, etc.  The ideas are endless.   After I walk the swapmeet for a couple hours…I’d really like to sit in on a couple of good presentations.

DOOR PRIZES ARE FUN.  If you are awarding your “GRAND PRIZE” at the last possible moment to encourage people to buy more tickets to win, you’re not getting the biggest bang for your buck.  I’ve never witnessed all the door prizes being awarded.  There’s a LOT of upside in a large audience watching you award the prize. In fact, why not award the “GRAND PRIZE” first to encourage an early turnout?  Use a white board, digital screen, etc to post the names/call signs of door prize winners. This is a must.

MAKE SURE YOUR ROOM IS READY!  The public address system must be functioning.  The temperature must be set correctly.  Set up your tables so people can move around.  A new vendor with lots of appeal should not be located at the entrance and “clog up” the doorway.

ENTRANCE FEES.  Don’t make money off of my admission fee.  I’ve been to several hamfests that were not worth the $10 admission price.  Plenty of places will give you event space for free! (city park, etc.) I’d even buy more raffle tickets if you didn’t charge admission!  

OTHER IDEAS THAT I THINK ARE GREAT.  I’d love to see a gear auction at the hamfest!  Take a radio given as a door prize and instead of a raffle, auction it off!  Everyone loves an auction and your club is still making money. If the business that donated the radio is there, let a representative take the microphone and describe the radio to the crowd.  WIN WIN!

FOOD.  Ham radio operators love to eat, but I’ve never attended a hamfest where that natural relationship was encouraged.  Why not find a local restaurant to cater high quality food…not concession stand quality?!  Maybe a local barbeque place can bring a smoker and cook on site? There’s plenty of fellowship and food to be had at a hamfest if the menu is right.   Here’s an additional idea:  offer a “hamfest package” admission ticket.  If you MUST charge admission, why not “bundle it” with an included  meal?  You are going to make some money on that one.

PROMOTE YOUR HAMFEST.  Promote your hamfest everywhere – through social media like Facebook and Twitter (yes, hams use it!) through local radio interviews, media releases to local newspapers and radio stations, internet community calendars, ARRL and other local radio clubs in the region. And be timely: not too long ago, I received a flyer from a hamfest encouraging me to sign up early – buy tickets online – and save $2.  Unfortunately, I received the flyer several days past the “early ticket” deadline.     

I welcome your thoughts on these ideas…and I would love to hear some of your suggestions.