Hamfests Big And Small
Getting To The Hamfest
At The Hamfest
Twas Hours Before Hamfest


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The term ''hamfest'' is short for ''ham radio festival''...a place where you can go to meet other ham radio operators, make new friends, renew old acquaintences, buy and sell new and used gear, take a license exam for a new or upgraded amateur radio license, attend informative forums on various aspects of the hobby, and more. For those who have never attended one of these fun events, this page is a ''brief guide to a hamfest''.

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Hamfests Big And Small

Hamfests can be as small as those hosted by one local club...it can be a state, regional, or division convention...or go all the way to the king of the hamfests, the Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio in mid-May. The latter has been termed by some as ''a 3 day ham radio orgy''. Not to sound vulgar, but if you want to eat, sleep, and do whatever else as it relates to ham radio, Hamvention is the place to be. And, as the saying goes, ''if you can't find it at Hamvention, it likely doesn't exist!!

Depending on the scope of the hamfest, there may be just a morning and early afternoon event (usually on a Saturday)...to lasting 3 full days, such as the Hamvention.

Admission and parking fees...as well as to how big the parking areas and the event venues are...can vary widely, depending on the size of the event. Be sure to check with the contact persons for all the information noted on the specific hamfest website. You can find a list of upcoming hamfests at the ARRL Hamfest Database, located here, searching by 2 letter state identifier, ARRL Section, or ARRL Division. If your state, area, etc. isn't listed, there may not be any current hamfests scheduled. Be sure to call before traveling, in case of any last minute cancellations.

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Getting To The Hamfest

Now, that you've decided to attend a hamfest, the question is ''how do I get there??''. There will usually be a ''talk-in'' frequency, to direct you to the hamfest site. Having run these in the past myself, you have to be sure to help visitors from out of the area to find the hamfest...and giving good directions is essential. The talk-in station should also have basic information about parking, admissions, license exams, forums, prizes, etc.

Another thing to consider is if the hamfest is more than a one day event, are the accomodations where you will stay while in town. The Hamvention has such a HUGE DEMAND for rooms, that they usually SELL OUT OVER A YEAR IN ADVANCE, and the room rates are NOT cheap...in many cases, well over $150 per night!! And, the closest rooms available may be as much as an hour or more away.

Most other hamfest venues and conventions will usually not have this ''huge demand'', but it's best to not wait until the last minute to book a room. Also, check the gasoline prices and locations in the area. You don't need to run out of gas, or have vehicle trouble going to or from the hamfest.

Plus, you also need to be aware of weather conditions and forecasts for the hamfest you plan to attend, so the appropriate weather gear can be brought along, if need be. To find weather forecasts for hamfests around the United States and its territories, click here, then click on the desired area of the map. You should be then taken to the website of that areas National Weather Service office. Once there, check the map for any watches, warnings, or advisories. You can also enter the city and state or zip code in the upper left, and get a point forecast for the area desired.

Once there, you may have to walk a great distance to, from, and at the event itself. So, if you have a disability, bear that in mind. Many places usually have parking for the disabled, but you need to have either a license plate or a special hang tag or placard. The local police agencies WILL ticket and/or tow your vehicle, if you park in one of these spaces without authorization. Hamvention has a limited number of ''scooters'' during the event, for rental by disabled hams, with mobility impairments. Reservations MUST be made IN ADVANCE, and both fees, and disability documentation, will be required...see the Hamvention website for details.

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At The Hamfest

After you take care of parking and admission fees, you're likely to see the following at a hamfest. Note that the bigger the event, the more of these there will be. Bring cash, as most may NOT accept checks or credit/debit cards...but obviously, guard your money carefully.

1) Dealers, that sell new gear, accessories, antennas, connectors, software, manuals, etc. If you buy computer hardware or software, be sure you scan it for viruses and spyware before using it.

2) Flea market tables, where you can usually get a good deal on used gear, that you couldn't afford new. However, the phrases ''buyer beware'', and ''you get what you pay for'', APPLY!! Unfortunately, some of the gear that is ''sold'' ends up as a ''worthless boat anchor doorstop''...as the original owner may be wanting to ''make some money off of a worthless item''. Try to avoid purchasing ''antique radios''...and ''learn the smell of burnt, or overheated electronics''. Replacement parts for vintage gear...or where the electronics have been burned out...will be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, if not IMPOSSIBLE, to obtain. If the hamfest has a ''Test Bench'', try the gear out BEFORE you shell out the money, write a check, use your credit or debit card, etc...and, if the person won't let you test the gear before you purchase it, it's best that you POLITELY DECLINE their offer, and move along to another table. If the price sounds ''too good to be true'', it probably is.

3) Forums, discussing any of several aspects of the hobby. There may also be an ARRL forum, where you can meet your State Section Manager, ARRL Division Director, or other officials from the ARRL.

4) VE Testing, where you can take an exam for a new ham radio license, or for a license upgrade. The license exam may be ARRL/VEC, W5YI VEC, or another group. For an overview of what a license exam session may entail, click here.

5) Concessions, where the local club is selling food and drink, so you don't have to leave the hamfest site to grab a bite to eat, if you don't want to. Bear in mind that the menu is usually what you'll find at a ballgame (hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks, etc.). Restaurants are usually nearby, if you prefer to eat out, as it were.

6) Prize drawings, the main draw of the hamfest. The smaller prizes can be manuals, books, repeater directories, connectors, etc. -- while the big prizes can be HT's, mobile or HF rigs. You usually have to be present to win, except for maybe the grand prize, which is usually awarded just before the end of the hamfest. For the amateur radio gear prizes, you MUST be a licensed amateur radio operator, or have just passed your license exam at a test session earlier in the hamfest, to win these items.

7) Wouff Hong. If the event is an ARRL Division or National Convention, lasting for more than a day, there may be the Wouff Hong ceremony. This Secret Society, and its ceremony is a FUN part of the hobby. However, I can NOT go into the exact details as to what goes on...you have to experience it for yourself...but you do get a nice certificate afterwards. The ceremony is usually held in the mid to late evening hours...midnight is preferred, but sometimes, they'll do it a bit earlier (it's midnight somewhere). I went through it at the 2007 ARRL Great Lakes Division Convention, and at the 2013 Delta Division Convention...and let's just say that ''a good time is had by all''. For further details on the history of the Wouff Hong, click here, and scroll down the page, until you find Wouff Hong.

8) DFing (Direction Finding) and Fox Hunting. Sometimes there will be a ''fox hunt'' set up where you try to hone your direction finding skills, to locate a hidden transmitter...with the winner usually receiving a nice prize.

9) Displays of various emergency communications vehicles, etc. related to amateur radio.

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Twas Hours Before Hamfest

Hamfests are all of the above, and can even have a ''Christmas'' element, especially if you win a big prize. So, in the style of the classic Christmas poem, The Good Lord gave me ''Twas Hours Before Hamfest''. It is part of the ''My Testimony -- To Soar With Jesus Collection''. Written by Daryl Stout. (C) Copyright 1989, 2024 by Daryl Stout. All Rights Reserved. Any abuse or unauthorized usage of this poetry will be dealt with at The Judgment Before Jesus Christ. The ''Soar With Jesus'' Eagle Design was created and designed by Dale Larison, and it is used by permission.

''Twas Hours Before Hamfest''

Written By Daryl Stout, N5VLZ

Twas hours before hamfest, and all through the hall.
No rig was transmitting, no callsigns at all.

The building secured, all doors are locked tight.
But they would soon open, at mornings first light.

The tables of vendors, with items, were full.
Hoping for buyers of gear that was cool.

The flea market tables, with used gear galore.
Cheaper than new at The Big Candy Store.

The rooms were all quiet, for forums and exams.
Soon filled with observers, and upgrading of hams.

The parking lot silent, free spaces abound,
But soon there won't be, a space to be found!!

Long before sunrise, alarm clocks would sound;
Early arising, for long drives, abound.

To travel to breakfast, and then hamfest site.
To get the best deals, at cost, oh so right.

The Talk-In now active, directing all those,
Who traveled to hamfest, on so many roads.

Once parking was found, now line out the door.
You wondered if you'd ever see the whole floor!!

Now gotten inside, where does one go first??
The choices abound, like frequency hertz!!

Meeting of fellow hams, there face to face.
Crowds made it so hard to walk in the place!!

Special Event Stations, now working the bands,
Calling CQ, the contacts, demand.

Transactions abound, as new gear is bought.
And good deals on used rigs, are too, being sought.

In forum rooms, the topics, are being explained.
Learning new things, is never constrained.

Examinees going for license upgrades.
Or joining the hobby, the goals to be made.

DF-ing, there looking for transmitter fox.
The signal may or may not be in a box!!

Displays of vehicles, EmComm and more,
So much to see there, both ends of the floor.

If large convention, of more than one day.
Banquets, and speakers, and fun every way.

The Wouff Hong at Midnight, good time had by all.
ARRL Members, there in the hall.

But, sooner or later, the hamfest must end.
A gathering of fellow hams, and of close friends.

Loading up gear, that one did buy there.
The wallets now, have little, coinage to spare!!

Then, back in their vehicles, heading back home.
Wherever the next hamfest, has them to roam.

Whether it's big, or whether it's small...
Hamfests can be fun, for both one and all.

If one of these hamfest, you there, can attend.
It's where you'll meet fellow hams, and many new friends.

And, as this poem noted, all this will repeat,
Hamfests, exciting, fun filled, and so neat.

But, whether Hamvention, or festival small.
You will be welcome, no matter your call.

Whether Novice, Technician, or General, there.
Advanced, or Extra, the knowledge, to share.

Or if you're not licensed, this hobby is fun.
So much to offer, and modes to be done.

Knowing Morse Code, no longer is needed.
Study, and test; and you'll have succeeded.

Joining a family of hams there, worldwide.
A sense of accomplishment, victory, and pride.

The hobby, the hamfest, the modes, you'll recall.
So much to enjoy; and you'll have a ball.

Twas hours before hamfest, time to make plans.
To meet those you've talked to, there on the bands.

For hamfest awaits there, at mornings first light.
Seven Three, And Safe Travel, and to all, a good night.

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Hamfests can be termed as ''family reunions'', because as an amateur radio operator, you are part of a worldwide ''family''. While you may not be able to go to as many hamfests as you would like, go to the ones that you can attend. Many clubs that put these on use them as fundraisers for the expenses that their club incurs each year, with the repeaters, etc.

If you're licensed, bring your HT...especially if you're coming as a family or group, to keep track of each other. FRS Radios are available for purchase at area stores for those who aren't licensed...to keep track of those in your group...as it's easy to get lost among a large crowd of people.

If you are a part of a club that puts these on, you'll find out in a hurry that there is a LARGE AMOUNT OF VOLUNTEER WORK to be done...before, during, and after the hamfest...and it takes a large commitment to make the hamfest a success. Whether you do Talk-In, Admissions, Concessions, Security, VE Testing, Forums, Parking, Website, or something else (even more than one of these while there)...your offer to help will be greatly appreciated.

Sadly, many hamfests are disappearing, for a lack of people wanting to put in the effort to put on the hamfest in the first place. So, when you attend a hamfest, let the organizers know how you felt about it. While no hamfest is perfect (there are bound to be glitches), simple encouragement, and ''constructive criticism'' to those who work with it can help prevent those things from occurring at a future hamfest. Don't berate and lecture them as if they committed the unpardonable sin...this spirit of discouragement is one of the reasons that folks don't want to put on hamfests anymore...as if monetary costs (high gasoline prices, etc.) nowadays weren't enough of a deterrent to hamfests.

So, the future of the hamfest...and of the hobby of amateur radio is up to you. Do what you can to keep it alive...and be part of the solution...not part of the problem.

Daryl Stout, N5VLZ

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