Dayton 2016

Another year, another Dayton in the history books.  This was my third Hamvention trek, but this year was a bit different for me as I attended with my girlfriend.  She somehow coaxed me into it, despite my concerns she would be bored out of her mind.  However, we both had a great time.

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Happy Hamventioners

I didn’t take as many pictures this year.  At times I felt I could have recycled photos from the last two years and no one would notice.  But there were some new sights to see….

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Mannequintenna? 

 

Yaesu was handing out truckloads of free “Yaesu 60th Anniversary” hats and other logo-adorned swag as usual.  I was tempted to alter a hat to say “Yaesu FT-817 60th Anniversary” as the long-in-the-tooth rig continues to be offered with no modern update in sight.  Ride that pony, Yaesu.  As Jeff KE9V reported, no, the FT-891 is not an 817 replacement.  It’s not an FT-897 replacement, either, so don’t ask.  The FT-817 continues to be the Keith Richards of amateur radio rigs.

 

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Required Equipment in Hara Arena Bathrooms

The Kenwood booth actually had visitors in contrast with last year when there were more tumbleweeds than attendees.  Their newly announced super duper digital VHF/UHF rig undoubtedly attracted inquiries, though shame on their product line management people for not having it ready to sell at Dayton.  In Kenwood’s defense, Yaesu’s new FT-891 wasn’t available for purchase, either.

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When All Else Fails, Make a Daiquiri 

 

The crazy rig-selling train known as Elecraft continues barreling down the track.  As everyone is undoubtedly well aware now, they released the KX2 at the Hamvention.  No, this isn’t an X-rated version of the K2, or two K1s merged together, it’s a smaller KX3 without 6 meters or 2 meter add-on capability.  This rig could have been a Yaesu FT-817 killer if it had VHF and UHF capability and reasonable pricing.  2 meter capability especially would have made sense to include considering this rig has the size and essentially the form factor of an HT.  No doubt Elecraft will sell a ton of these rigs, but then again if they released a new version of the K1 packaged in a 55 gallon drum, they would sell them by the dump truck load.

I question how much longer Elecraft can keep up this sales momentum which I often feel is fueled by unreasonable customer loyalty.  (Full disclosure: I own three Elecraft rigs.)  Last year’s big announcement was the K3S, an improved K3, which teed off new K3 owners. This year’s release was a repackaged KX3.  Elecraft seems to be innovating less and recycling products more.

 

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Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

 

I’m pleased to report there was a robot competition area and a local Makerspace representative booth.  It’s good to see more Maker-oriented vendors and displays, which is really going to be the key to growing amateur radio after our older amateurs go silent key in the next decade.  Hamvention folks, please, keep increasing this type of content.

 

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Mendelson’s Flea Market Tent Family Planning Center

The flea market appeared to be the same size, with many long standing attendees selling the same junk, I mean, classic wares.  I think there were less amplifiers for sale this year.  That’s just a gut feeling, but I seem to recall many more amps last year.  The same goes for rigs.

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No Hamvention report would be complete without mentioning the condition of Hara Arena.  Yes, good old Hara Arena.  This is the final year for Hara.  Seriously.  I’m going on record and predicting it now.  Really.  This is it.  Seriously.  Last year’s announced multi-million dollar renovation plan fell through.  I can’t imagine the facility can continue operating in its ever-worsening condition as it’s become a human safety nightmare that would cause any sane insurance company underwriter to run away screaming like their hair was on fire.  Expect something to happen prior to the next Hamvention, either the occupancy permit being revoked, or the building turning into a pile a rubble on its own or by wrecking ball.  Last year.  Trust me.  That being said, I left late afternoon Saturday sadly waving bye to Hara Arena thinking this may be the last year, like I was losing a dying friend.  But the Hamvention is not Hara Arena, and Hara is not the Hamvention.

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Dayton 2015 – Part 2 of ?

(…continued from Part 1)

This year I stayed in downtown Dayton, at the Dayton Marriott.  It was my first experience driving in downtown Dayton as last year I stayed at a hotel close to Hara north of town.  Dayton has obviously seen better days, and folks walking the streets living in poverty is a common sight.  Driving through downtown Friday morning I wondered what the locals thought of all the vehicles with antennas driving by for one weekend out of the year.  Do they know anything about amateur radio?  The word Dayton to us means amateur radio Mecca, but to them Dayton is just the place they live day in and day out, trying to eek out a living.  They were likely born here, will die here, and probably will not get to see much of the world outside of Dayton.  I think back to my childhood growing up in backwoods Pennsylvania, and I’m thankful for the people and opportunities I had that made me successful and steered me away from several perhaps less fortunate alternative realities.  Amateur radio was undoubtedly a positive influence, one that got me to where I am technically and professionally today.

Dayton has overhead electric wires for trolleys.  I can’t recall ever seeing this in my travels.  I didn’t see any trolleys, however there were several city buses using the overhead electric wires.  I wondered what it would take to equip an electric car with poles to attach to the electric lines and and get free energy for your vehicle (evil grin).   IMG_5696

Electric Avenue

Last year I promised myself that in 2015 I would spend less time on the flea market and more time on the floor and in forums.  I was partially successful, attending one additional forum this year, the Clandestine Spy forum.  This was a standing-room only presentation covering the equipment and techniques used by the Resistance during WWII.  There were a lot of photographs.

The AMSAT forum covered all the activities and projects the organization is working on, of which there are many.  In the Fox 1 program there are four or five satellite projects in progress and at various phases.  The big news was the potential for a geosynchronous payload, something satellite aficionados have been fantasizing about for decades.  The amount of work that goes into these projects from an engineering, fundraising, political, and project management perspective is mind-boggling.  It can’t be understated how complex this is.  It is indeed rocket science.  The expertise and human resources behind all this is impressive, and I can’t imagine the amount of time AMSAT volunteers and officers spend on this, as most undoubtedly have day jobs in engineering, technology, and science fields. IMG_5710

AMSAT Forum

One speaker in the AMSAT forum presentation touched upon something that really struck a cord with me and others.  Kids often see amateur radio operators as just operators.  What really sparks interest in kids are experimenters and experimentation.  What AMSAT is doing is experimentation, and at an extreme level.  Space is interesting to kids, but it’s difficult to be hands on with it due to the very nature of it, and these satellites and the projects AMSAT is leading gives them access to this.  AMSAT goes beyond providing flying repeaters for amateurs, but also partners extensively with universities, government agencies, and K-12 schools. IMG_5712

Where to find Fox 1

This is not meant to belittle other activities within amateur radio, but I don’t think most people realize just how complex and far-reaching the activities of AMSAT-NA and other AMSAT organizations around the world are, and the benefit this offers to amateur radio today and into the future.  While ragchewing, contesting, and DXing are traditional staple activities within amateur radio, the work of AMSAT has real world impact, and this is a vehicle for getting new people into amateur radio, ones that will likely stick around for the long haul.  Case in point, sitting behind me during the presentation were two young guys, both from Virginia Tech and recently licensed.  They are involved in an AMSAT project writing software for one of the birds.  In talking with them it was clear they were very intelligent and they had a passion for what they were doing.  Undoubtedly they will get high-paying engineering jobs upon graduating.  Will they ever pick up a microphone or CW key?  Maybe not, but satellite work has them hooked and it looks great on a resume. As one AMSAT speaker half jokingly quipped, there is no free launch. All of this costs money, and a lot of it.  AMSAT is continually seeking donations and new members.  With my annual membership running out, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a lifetime membership.

The Ballonsat forum was quite interesting and was well attended with a good number of movers and shakers who frequently launch, track, and recover balloons and payloads.  A new area covered was pico balloons which are smaller balloons with extremely lightweight and small payloads.  Several people have been launching these around the world with great success, some traversing the globe five to ten times.

Friday night I attended the DX Dinner and got to network with movers and shakers in the DX world.  It was worth the cost of the meal as I won a Comet antenna analyzer door prize.  Not surprisingly, K1N was announced as the the DXpedition of the year.

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DX Pileup

While I lamented about about flea market Neanderthals in the first part of this article, there were positive social aspects to the Hamvention.  One morning walking in the crosswalk across the road going into Hara I observed an attendee thanking a black police officer stationed in the street for his service as a police officer.  At lunch I could strike up a friendly conversation with anyone, total strangers.  Folks stopped me to take a picture of my Morse code key tee shirt, many commented and laughed about it.  There continues to be a sense of camaraderie in amateur radio.  For this I’m thankful. IMG_5714

Flea Market Pedestrian Mobile

The ARRL area was superb.  ARRL folks should be commended on the layout and organization of their area.  They have all the bases covered and all booths within the area were well staffed.  I brought a stack of QSL cards in for DXCC checking.  The staff there did a great job of helping me out, after figuring out I initially screwed up my paperwork.  I’ll continue to say it, but despite ARRL’s flaws and our disagreements, we are truly lucky to have such a hardworking organization within amateur radio. IMG_5691

ARRL Area

Those often annoying, sometimes threatening death machines known as rental scooters continue to roam the Hamvention.  I don’t know if it was that I’ve become more accustomed to them or there truly are less of them, but it sure seemed to me that there weren’t as many as last year.  What’s happening to the scooter people?  Are they dying off?  Are they disappearing during the Hamvention?  Inquiring minds want to know. Undoubtedly the liability insurance for such an activity would be expensive, but I would love to have a scooter demolition derby some Hamvention afternoon.  Folks could rent dilapidated scooters or bring their own pimped-out scooters for a battle royale of destruction and excitement.  (Hamvention committee members, I can make this happen, you know where to reach me.  I want a cut of the profits from beer sales. :-)

….to be continued…

This article was originally published on the Radio Artisan blog.

Dayton 2015 – Part 1 of ?

I made the trek again to Dayton this year, my second pilgrimage to the largest amateur radio event on this side of the planet.  Realizing there are several other blogs, podcasts, and Internet broadcast shows covering Dayton, I will attempt to limit my observations to those you likely won’t see elsewhere.

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The Hara Arena we all know and love continues to be, well, Hara Arena.  The good news is renovations are in the works.  A Hamvention official told me it’s for real and probably a three to four year project.  Yaaaaaay!IMG_5681

Tower Girl, Back at Dayton!

The differences between the Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, and Elecraft booths were quite notable.  Yaesu was giving away hats and entering people for prizes drawings.  They often had a line extending well out into the concession area and their System Fusion hats were worn by hamfest goers everywhere.  They had employees stationed at each area of the booth and the booth had a continual number of visitors.  I stopped by and looked at HTs and a friendly Yaesu employee helped me out.

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Yaesu’s New FT2DR HT

Icom’s booth was smaller, but was more high tech and hip-looking.  It was more crowded due to its small size.  Icom was generating a good deal of interest, with visitors often extending out into the aisle area.  Icom should really get a bigger booth next year.

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Icom’s Tower Motif Booth

Elecraft’s booth was very busy, as usual, and was well staffed.  They even had volunteers staffing the booth.  It was difficult to make your way into their booth to see the rigs on display, it was that crowded.   A table on the end had three order takers.  Even one of the founders of the business was busying taking orders.  It goes without saying, but Elecraft essentially has a money-printing machine that is running full tilt with no signs of stopping.

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The Kenwood Booth

Kenwood’s booth was well built and arguably the most spacious, but it was the least visited.  There was much whitespace on the walls.  I looked at their three HTs on display and I couldn’t get any of them to power up.  I looked around thinking maybe someone would notice me and assist.  Behind one podium there were two Kenwood employees talking to each other.  Behind the other podium the two Kenwood employees were talking with visitors, one employee chomping down a candy bar.  No one was out walking in the open booth area, and no one helped me.  This seemed to be the general state of the Kenwood booth each time I walked by.  It’s like no one is really trying and the goal was merely to show up, which they did.  Being a long time Kenwood fan, this really troubles me.

In regards to equipment, two notable announcements were the Elecraft K3S and perhaps the Flex Radio Meastro.  The Elecraft K3S is essentially an update to the now-discontinued K3.  The buzz on the street is that it’s a performance upgrade, mainly to get the platform back up to the top of the performance charts.  Several current K3 owners and recent orderers are reportedly a bit miffed, which is to be expected.  The Flex Radio Maestro is a hardware frontend / remote dashboard unit for the Flex radio 6000 series.  Yaesu did not announce an FT-817 replacement, which salespeople in the booth sheepishly acknowledged.  Yaesu was pushing System Fusion like mad.  Icom had a separate D-STAR booth that was educational and impressive. Kenwood…?

Hiberling was there with their rig you can’t afford.  DZ Kits had an interesting booth with their rigs scattered about, many with the covers off and in various states of assembly or disassembly.  There were several (many?) little DSP rig companies, so many that it’s difficult to differentiate them.  I wonder how many are selling sufficient numbers of rigs to state financially afloat.

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Icom’s Rig You Can’t Afford

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Yaesu’s Rig You Might Be Able to Afford

The flea market had the usual wares, but it’s shrinking.  The parking lot continues to evolve from asphalt to black sand.  I recognized several items for sale that I saw last year at stands.  Folks, if you’re bringing the same stuff back to Dayton each year, it’s probably overpriced.  I don’t care if it was $10K thirty years ago, you’re not going to get $300 for a solid brass ship compass or a gas mask.

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Need a 25 Watt Laser for your World Domination Plan?

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Deals You Can’t Refuse

On four occasions I walked up to flea market stands where gruff-looking, optimism-challenged OFs were talking about politics and one where the single digit IQ attendee was complaining about people speaking Spanish.  I guess if your junk isn’t selling and you’re bored with amateur radio it’s difficult to be positive and talk about the hobby or something other than politics.  I wish these people would just stay home rather than putting their mantras on display at the Hamvention.  Attendees who agree with this OF mindset can get their fill by listening to broadcast AM radio, and those who don’t didn’t come to a hamfest be schooled in political drivel.  But I digress.

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Got Mics?

It was nice to see a few unattended flea market tables with “pay what you want” and honor system payment boxes.  Perhaps the Hamvention could increase flea market occupancy by offering free spots to sellers doing all “pay what you want”, unattended, or all free giveaway tables.  What extra amateur radio stuff I have I would rather give away than sit behind a table for two days, only to garner a few bucks selling half of it and taking the rest home.

The Hamvention appears to be continuing to pursue a Maker theme, but there is a dearth of Maker content and products for sale.  I don’t fault the Hamvention team for this, and applaud their efforts.  I think it’s going in the right direction and is going to be crucial to keeping the Hamvention, and other hamfests, sustainable into the future.  (More about this in a future article.)  Rather than just write or complain about this, I am plan to make an effort to help.  I’m going to write a proposal for an Arduino forum and a related activity.  If you’re interested in presenting or participating, send me an email (anthony.good@gmail.com).

More about Dayton 2015 in the next article…

Dayton! (Part 2)

(Continued from the previous article)

 

IMG_3712Where Da Hamfest At?

 

The AMSAT forum was overflowing with information.  At first I was hesitant to go to a three hour session.  While I could sit through long lectures in high school and college, as an adult I get impatient and restless anytime I’m forced to sit for extended periods of time.  But the AMSAT forum held my interest the whole time and afterwards I found my way to the AMSAT booth and became a member.

Another forum I attended was the Balloon Satellite / High Altitude Balloon (HAB) forum.  Many attendees were from organizations across the country who regularly launch balloons and there were many stories and words of wisdom.  I was a sponge soaking it up and came out of the session with dreams of launching a balloon.

As I mentioned in the first part of this article, I think the forums are a real gem at Dayton and well worth the admission price and travel costs.  They cultivate thought and interest in amateur radio.  The forums definitely recharged my amateur radio mojo.

The theme of the Dayton Hamvention this year was amateur radio operators as Makers.  Makers is a modern day term for those who build or homebrew stuff.  Some very visible Maker initiatives include Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, and 3D printing.

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Busy Folks at a Booth Selling Arduinos and Piece Parts

The Maker theme was a good idea, well intended and timely, however the execution of the theme was lacking.  There was only one stand selling Arduino items and another selling Raspberry Pis.  I saw only one 3D printer on display.  I think there should have been an area dedicated to Maker oriented booths, much like the audio area.  A friend commented that a Maker Space would have been a good addition to the hamfest.  The vendor selling Arduino items and parts has their booth swamped with people and most of them were noticeably younger folks.  Overall I think there needed to be more vendors that were identifiably Maker oriented and some bridge drawn between amateur radio and Maker initiatives.

I remember in the late 80s and early 90s when some amateurs scoffed at the invasion of computers into hamfests, as some regional hamfests were combination hamfests and computerfests.  Today you don’t really see this distinction and computers are just an integral part of amateur radio and hamfests.  Online I’ve seen some amateurs criticizing the Maker theme at the Hamvention.  I see a lot of parallels between the PC era and the Maker movement in progress right now.  I think we should embrace Makers in our hamfests.  We’ve already seen Arduinos and Raspberry Pis become useful tools, and 3D printers are probably close behind.  We need to make a bridge between Making and amateur radio.  As we’ve seen with computers and the Internet, communications takes things to new levels.  Radio communications equipment and know how are a valuable asset for aspiring Makers and we can draw new people into the hobby with this.

As far as toys that I acquired, besides various piece parts and cable I bought a new Rigol 100 Mhz digital oscilloscope.  At the Begali booth I fell in love with the Sculpture Mono paddle.  I reached for my credit card and was informed by the salesguy that they only accept cash or checks.  I was really put off by this.  Later that night I ordered the paddle on the web, at a cost $45 more than the hamfest price and some unknown amount of delivery time.  Luckily Begali was shipping recent paddle orders from Ohio so I didn’t wait long.

 

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Dayton Bounty: Rigol Digital Storage Oscilloscope

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The BMW of CW Keys

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My New Begali Paddle

If I had to do this trip over again, I would have spent much less time in the flea market and would have attended many more forums.  While the flea market was huge and had a lot of interested stuff, after awhile each stand and row began to look like the last one.  Unless you’re looking for some specific rare item, walking the flea market becomes tedious.  I also would have attended the DX dinner and perhaps hit some FDIM events.

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Special Entrance for Golf Players

Midway through the hamfest I commented that I wouldn’t attend in 2015 and perhaps might attend again in two or three years.  But towards the end and after taking the whole experience in, I decided I would make the pilgrimage again next year if possible.  Once you accept Hara Arena for what it is and the oddities and annoyances of many of the attendees, it’s truly a phenomenal event for radio artisans everywhere. As one of my friends I met aptly summed it up, you have to come out, it’s the Dayton Experience!

Dayton!

After 30 years of amateur radio, I finally got to attend the Dayton Hamvention this year.  It was quite an experience and I’m glad I made the long trip.

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YL Sporting a Tower Hairdo

First off, I have to say that KE9V’s Dayton Survival Guide is spot on.  I experienced most of what he wrote from hams expecting ADA parking spots without a reservation to repeater jerks to body odor in the crowded main arena.  Anyone attending Dayton for the first time should memorize this article prior to going.   The flea market was both impressive and a disappointment.  It’s big, really big, but the quality of wares for sale was in two extreme categories: junk and expensive good stuff.  Junk is junk and it’s what I was accustomed to seeing when going to local hamfests years ago.  The expensive stuff was mainly very nice vintage gear and amplifiers, lots of amplifiers.  There wasn’t much in between these two categories in my opinion.  I was surprised there were very few HF rigs from the past five years for sale.

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Assorted Crap

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Smell My Junk

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Merchandise or Canopy Anchor?

One Dayton ritual I avoided totally was using the outhouses.  The bathrooms within Hara Arena were malodorous enough and the lines and foot traffic within them resembled a rare DX phone pileup.

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 Next Stop: 80 Meters

Inside the arena, of the major HF equipment companies, Kenwood had the most impressive booth, which was spacious and carpeted, though lacking anything new that I could see.  Everyone crowded around the rig they can’t afford, the TS-990.  Icom and Yaesu had nice booths as well, but not nearly as spacious.  I eagerly went into the Yaesu booth searching for the rig that will replace the venerable but long in the tooth FT-817.  But disappointingly they had the 817 on display along side the FT-857 and FT-897.  The Elecraft booth was abuzz and continually crowded with a table of order takers on the side.  Elecraft could load up vending machines dispensing K3s or just deploy drones to deliver them to peoples’ vehicles outside.

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Walking in to the Main Arena

I was somewhat afraid to attend the Hamvention due to all the stories I heard about Hara Arena.  Initially the condition of the place was a bit depressing, however after awhile you come to accept it as part of the Dayton experience.  Every ceiling tile has water stains.  The ballroom area is a wormhole back into the 70s.  The bathrooms smell.  The parking lot pavement is crumbling to dust.  It’s Hara Arena.  Get used it.

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Hara

Let’s talk about the rental scooters.  {Warning: Politically incorrect material}  They were everywhere, and they were a big annoyance.  Now, if you are really handicapped and need a scooter to get around, I’m fine with that.  But I think many of the scooter users aren’t really handicapped.  Arguably many of them are just overweight due to their own bad health choices and could benefit from the exercise and less trips to the concession area.  Scooter jams were a frequent occurrence and everywhere you went you were either stuck behind one, had one at your heals, or had to yield to them so they could maneuver.  Several scooter operators were like drunk drivers, especially out in the flea market area.  If I never saw a scooter again, I would be a happy man.

The food was better than what I was expecting.  Both days I ate pizza and actually enjoyed it, which is surprising as I’m a northeastern pizza snob.  Out in the flea market there were vendors grilling beef, hot dogs, and chicken and across from the Hamvention there was a cool little barbeque stand run by a rather friendly dude.  (Next time I’m getting a smoked salmon dinner from this stand.)

 

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Yum Yum: Rib-N-It Bar-B-Q

The indoor exhibits were well worth the trip.  The major equipment manufacturers and organizations were all there, with one notable exception being AES.  I was told AES wasn’t there last year either.  It’s really disappointing that such a major vendor doesn’t support this event, the largest hamfest in North America.  This may make me reconsider using AES in the future and perhaps switch to HRO or DX Engineering.

I found the real crown jewel of Dayton to be the forums.  I attended two forums, but I wanted to attend several more and plan to on the next pilgrimage to Dayton.

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Standing Room Only in the AMSAT Forum

 

(To be continued….)