Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ode to the ham fleamarket

If you’ve been even a semi-regular reader of this blog….my sincere apologies that it’s been almost seven weeks since something new has appeared. Since September, life has become very busy, with classes beginning again at the community college where I work along with the demands of an active 4 1/2 year old who just started school himself!

Consequently, there hasn’t been much time for ham radio. The light in the shack might get switched on about once a week for a quick dial spinning session. A few 2 meter contacts in the car to the local guys, or the occasional mobile EchoLink QSO via the local node I operate, and that’s been about it. As the season progresses, and the weather dictates we keep ourselves sequestered in the warmth of our homes, I suspect there may be a bit more time to get on the HF bands more often.

Back to the blog…I have no shortage of ideas for topics….just a shortage of the most precious commodity of all….time!

I did have the opportunity to partake in a time honoured ham tradition this weekend…. the ham radio fleamarket. It’s actually been a couple of years since I made a pilgrimage to one of these events, so I was quite enthusiastic to gas up the mobile, fill the travel mug with some java from a favourite coffee emporium, and head west-bound 401 towards Markham, a suburb of Toronto for a flea market hosted by the York Region Amateur Radio Club.

It’s about a two hour drive from HQ, so hitting the road by 7am was essential to get there in time for the 9am opening. Let’s face it, if you can’t get there within an hour of opening time….don’t bother! Reminds me of the first such event I ever attended 22 years ago, a few months before getting my licence. Not knowing anything about hamfest culture at that time, and seeing the event was advertised to be open from 9am to 2pm, I decided to drop by about 12:30pm. I found it odd that there was no one at the main entrance to collect to admission fee, and then disappointed to see most of the vendors had either left, or were in the midst of packing up. Lesson learned.

I had nothing particular on my shopping list for this quest (the wish list….that’s entirely different). So my contribution to boosting the economy was limited to the admission fee (actually that was covered by my passenger…thank’s Dave, VE3UGT!), four tickets for the super draw (guys, I’m still waiting for the phone call), and some good quality wire and associated lugs, nuts and connectors to finally do a proper install on my mobile rig (the cigarette lighter adapter has been a source of embarrassment). Bought that stuff from a start up company specializing in such accessories, Armitron Power Products. Oh yea, the hamfest grub. I passed on the traditional hotdog for a muffin and some gawd-awful coffee (seriously, have you ever had good coffee at one of these things? the club’s credit this swill was free).

Some hamfest coffee should come with a warning of what you're about to endure
For me, attending these events is as much about meeting up with some old faces as it is about looking for any deals. I managed to see several guys from the Ontario DX Association, but didn’t see anyone from my old club, the North Shore Amateur Radio Club of Oshawa. I’m sure there were some members there, just none who may remember me from 17 years ago(!) Anyway nice to meet up with some of the folks I haven’t seen in a while, also glad to see I’m not the only one getting greyer.

A few observations:
-The hamfests I’ve been to in the past decade or so are all getting smaller. Less vendors, and in some cases it appears less attendees. Ironically there have never been so many licensed amateurs, and the choice of amateur products has never been so plentiful.
-Some vendors of used gear need a reality check with pricing. I saw a few deals, but the asking prices on many of the used rigs seemed high. Why would I pay $125 for a 15 year old 2 meter rig, when I can walk over to one of the retail vendors and pick up a brand new one on sale for $129?
-The classic or ‘vintage’ stuff is way too expensive. I know some of these oldie-but-goodie rigs are sought after, but you have no idea of how many mods, or how much tinkering has happened under the chassis of these old gems.
-Too much stuff that has nothing to do with radio. Why in the world would I want a cell phone from 1990 that’s the size of a brick…and wouldn’t work on today digital systems anyway? Okay for some computer-related items, but really, who really would have any practical use for a Tandy or Commodore anymore!
-How do I say this gently?...Some (only a few but they stand out) should really consider a shower before coming to these events.

Hmmm….didn’t mean for all those to be negative in tone! Ham radio fleamarkets really are a part of the amateur radio culture that I hope will continue to survive. What beats a morning spent with an auditorium full of like-minded folks to paw through some gear, oggle the new stuff, and have some eyeball QSOs? Well worth the price of admission.