17 August 2019


Late today I got back from the Huntsville (Alabama) Hamfest, billed as the 'World's Friendliest Hamfest'. Not sure just how they measure that, but it really was a friendly bunch at the Von Braun Center.  (And in a town full of PhD's with rocket science degrees, putting a metric to the concept of 'friendliest' should be fairly easy, so we'll let them run with it.) Anyway, this was both my first time at the hamfest and my first time in Huntsville. I drove over from Atlanta on Friday and spent the night in a local hotel, did a few laps around the hamfest this morning and then headed home in the early afternoon.

I really didn't know what to expect of Huntsville. I'd heard mostly good things, but it IS located in Alabama, home of inbred toothless rednecks living in single-wides, driving pickup trucks and singing the unofficial state song that heaps praise on George Wallace. Georgia should be so 'inbred'; I found the part of Alabama I drove through (roughly between Rome, Georgia and Hunstville on secondary roads) to be absolutely delightful. Neat, tidy, quirky in a few places, and just plain charming.

Huntsville was a very pleasant surprise. It was refreshing to be in a city that is absolutely unapologetic about its success (so unlike Atlanta), and in fact celebrates its achievments for the world to see. After all it IS the 'Rocket City', dammit - the city that put men on the moon, shuttles into space and a space station into orbit. A breath of fresh air.

The hamfest itself was very good. The organizing committee does a great job, and one of the big benefits is that all of the boneyard activity takes place indoors, in air conditioned comfort (remember, this is August in Alabama, and today was a 95+ degree day). At most hamfests this is an outdoor activity, and you take what you get, weather-wise.

I did notice a sameness regarding the major vendors. Mostly the same folks you'll see at the Atlanta area hamfests. But that's to be expected since the two cities are so close. One difference was that many of the big manufacturers, particularly Icom and Yaesu, upped their game when it came to their display setups compared to what they normally provide at the Atlanta venues.

A few things of note:

  • SDR is where its at, baby! If you are a radio manufacturer and you are not moving wholesale into SDR architectures you are about to be crushed. Forget how good your double and triple conversion transciever were just a year or two ago. No SDR = no market share... OK, I'm being a bit facetious here. There's still plenty of damned good conventional radios on the market. One thing that does seem to be dawning on a lot of hams is that SDR does not necessarily equal high price. Companies like Xiegu out of China, who are hungry for US market share, are putting out some good SDR radios (like the new G90) for pitifully low prices - and they are getting pretty good reviews. Please spare me the talk of the Chinese 'dumping' on our markets - Xiegu seems to be listening to its US and European-based customer and responding well to things like new feature requests and bug fixes with regular firmware updates.
  • I had a look at the new(ish) Elecraft KX4. Now I'm just trying to decide which kidney to sell to buy one.

The Elecraft booth was perpetually slammed. Left kidney or right?

  • When the exhibit hall doors opened I rushed to The SignMan of Baton Rouge's booth to put in an order for new name tags. Seems everyone had the same idea - there was a 45 minute wait in line to give Donna your order. The SignMan has been at just about every hamfest I ever attended over the past 20 years, and it just wouldn't be a hamfest without Donna and Rick. Thanks guys!

Need a callsign nametag? Get in line!
  • Among other things, Yaesu was hawking their new FT3D handheld. Other than a color screen and better alpha tags I'm not sure it's worth the $100 premium over the older FT2D. Here's one of the Yaesu reps demonstrating a neat parlor trick - taking a picture with the optional camera mic and transmitting it from one radio to another via a System Fusion link. That's my ugly mug on the radio display. The picture was take using an FT2D and pushed to the FT3D over the System Fusion repeater set up for the show. Handsome devil, eh?

  • What impressed me most with the Icom floor display was not the radios, but how they manage to package everything in easily transportable, self contained cases. Just wheel the cases onto the show floor, open them up, connect power and you are ready to go. You can tell these guys do a LOT of trade shows.

The other side of these transport cases is the complete
trade show setup. Pretty neat!

During the show I had the chance to meet some of the HamRadio.World crew - basically the Lea family out of south Florida who are minor celebrities in ham radio. I've been following their adventures for some time now and it was a treat to meet them in the flesh. They already posted a short YouTube video about their trip up to Huntsville (which included fighting with Atlanta traffic on the I-75/85 'connector', a mistake I think they'll avoid next time). It looks like they followed the same route I took from Adairsville, GA, through Rome, GA and then over Lookout Mountain and down into northern Alabama.

And last but not least, it seems like half of my local radio club, the Fayette County Amateur Radio Club was at Huntsville. While we didn't get together for a group picture I ran into Joe, KI4ASK, Ryan, KN4RQL, Dave, AG4ZR, Ross, AJ4P and perhaps one or two others. Maybe next year we should rent a party bus!

Well that's it for my take on Huntsville 2019. All-in-all I had a great time. Some may ask, "Why not more pictures of radios?" Well, I was more interested in talking to people and seeing new things, plus you can get all the pictures you want of all the latest gear at each of the manufacturer's websites. Google is your friend.

W8BYH out

1 comment:

  1. I think you meant the K4, and not the KX4...