Monday, December 31, 2012

Attending Your First Hamfest - Some Tips

Hi Folks,

If you plan on attending your first hamfest, try to go with someone who has experience.

In either case, alone or with experienced hams, the following tips from "Ham Radio for Dummies" are excellent.

I promise you will enjoy your first hamfest and all subsequent hamfests for life!

Here's a couple of tips from me first:

Important:  If you are looking for antenna adapters, adapter pigtails, etc., look for the vendor from Congress AZ.  They have very reasonable prices.  Their website stinks.  It used to be great but they are changing over to a new web site format and I don't like it.  They have much more than is listed on the website.

Important:  If you are looking for good COAX antenna line for you base or mobile needs, look for vendor from Scottsdale AZ.  Great prices on pre-cut lengths of RG-8X coax with already installed PL-259 connectors.  They also have great selection and pricing on connectors, audio cables, and a lot of other stuff.  Their website is very good.  They sell via Internet and also have an eBay storefront.

These two vendors are usually at all the local hamfests.  WiredCo also attends the Boy Scout Electronics Swap Meet and Recycling Event every 3rd Sunday at Scottsdale Pavilion.  Check out  I've attended many times just to re-stock on audio cables, connectors, and coax.  Map:

Obviously, the above info refers to two local vendors in the Phoenix area but they do have an Internet presence for non-local readers of this article.

As always, your comments are welcomed.


Joe, N2QOJ - Reprints of very good articles



Hamfest Tips:

After you have a hamfest in your sights, set your alarm for early Saturday morning (most are Saturday-only events) and get ready to be there at the opening bell. Be sure to bring the following things:

An admission ticket:  You need a ticket, sold at the gate or by advance order through a Web site or e-mail.

Money:  Take cash, because most vendors do not take checks or credit cards.

Something to carry your purchases in:  Take along a sturdy cloth sack, backpack, or other bag that can tolerate somewhat grimy, dusty electronic devices.

A hand-held or mobile rig:  Most hamfests have a talk-in frequency, which is almost always a VHF or UHF repeater. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you can get directions while en route.

If you go with a friend and both of you take hand-held radios, you can share tips about the stuff you find while walking the aisles.

Water and food:  Don’t count on food being available, but the larger hamfests almost always have a hamburger stand. Rarely is gourmet food on hand, but expect the same level of quality as that of the concession stands
at a ballgame. Taking along a full water bottle is a good idea.

Buying at Hamfests

After parking, waiting, and shuffling along in line, you finally make it inside the gates. You’re ready to bargain! All hamfests are different, but here are some guidelines to live by, particularly as a novice hamfest customer.

If you’re new to ham radio, buddy up with a more experienced ham to steer you around hamfest pitfalls.

Most prices are negotiable; more so after lunch, but a good deal goes quickly. Most vendors are not interested in trades, but you do no harm by offering.

Hamfests are good places to buy accessories for your radio, often selling for a fraction of the manufacturer’s price if separate from the radio.

Commercial vendors of new batteries often have good deals on spare battery packs.

Many hamfests now have electricity available so that vendors can demonstrate equipment. If a vendor refuses to demonstrate a supposedly functional piece of gear, or won’t open up a piece of equipment for inspection, you may want to move along.

Unless you really know what you are doing, avoid antique radios. They often have quirks that can make using them a pain or require impossible-to-get repair parts.

Be familiar with the smell of burnt or overheated electronics, especially transformers and sealed components. Direct replacements may be difficult to obtain.

Don’t be afraid to ask what something is. Most of the time, the ham behind the table enjoys telling you and, even if you don’t buy it, the discussion may attract a buyer.

If you know exactly what you are looking for, check the auction Web sites and radio swap sites, such as,, and you attend the hamfest. You can get an idea of the going price and average condition, so you’re less likely to get gouged.

Other activities at Hamfests

Along with buying and selling, many hamfests also have programs and speakers and even license exam sessions, like small conventions. Look for a flyer or check the hamfest Web site for information about special services that may be available.


Dave said...

Nice post Joe. Hamfests are indeed fun. Sometimes, you find some great deals. Sometimes not. What I find interesting after attending the same hamfest several years is that you tend to see people display the same 'junk' - year after year. Also, interesting is to see the asking price for the old stuff being offered. For me, the trip up to Williams or Yuma is justified to see old friends, score that occasional good buy and visit the great vendors like Roger Dean (WiredCo)...


Joe said...

Hello Dave, thanks for your nice comments. You speak the truth! I think we have had the same exact experiences with hamfests. Next to Field Day with friends, attending a hamfest with ham friends is hard to beat.

Best regards and Happy New Year,

Joe, N2QOJ