Sometimes things just drop in over the transom. But it’s usually when the transom-owner is effective, organized and the opportunity coming along is looking for such a place to land. In short, those who are effective tend to get unsolicited opportunities. And a true windfall does come along some time. What the recipient does with it depends on their vision.
That is what’s happening at the hamfest hosted by the The St Louis and Suburban Radio Club (SLSRC) in Collinsville, IL. Called Winterfest, this annual hamfest appears to be blowing-and-going and, not surprisingly, growing. The unexpected opportunity that represents a Windfall for Winterfest 2020 is the Wes Shum W9DYV Radio Symposium is moving from it’s temporary home this past year in the outskirts of New Orleans to Winterfest in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Here’s how it happened. This past year at the Huntsville (AL) Hamfest, Bob Heil engaged me in a conversation about the recent Slidell (LA) Symposium to help figure out a great permanent location. Some hamfests want to shoehorn “new” program activities into Sunday, to keep traffic on the sales floor so that vendors will want to remain open before breakdown and departure. But attending hams generally have to depart for home on Sunday since most work, too. This would kill such a whole day program. Along with Nick Tusa K5EF, Bob Heil K9EID was able to find an ideal situation with the SLSRC as Winterfest added the Symposium on Friday January 24th starting at 8 a.m.
The opportunity for the St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club Winterfest event to work with the W9DVY Radio Symposium is a fantastic chance for us to help promote vintage radio and the history of the Amateur Radio hobby. We are looking forward to this relationship between the two groups to bring Amateur Radio operators together. We hope to have a strong attendance and we are looking forward to hosting the great Symposium forums.
Rebecca Carroll, KC9CIJ – Winterfest 2020 Chair
The Winterfest is located in The Gateway Center, in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch on January 24-25, 2020. No winter weather worries inside the Center! Lots of hotels at various price points nearby. And there are many other activities, such as Contest College with 10+ hours of forums, presentations, Q&A and contesting discussion, as well as the DX & ARRL Banquet and…the ARRL Midwest Conference with CEO Howard Michel and other staffers from Newington. Ward Silver NØAX is the Banquet speaker along with Craig Thompson K9CT on the Pitcairn VP6R DXpedition. Flex Radio Systems will be there as a vendor with their newest SDR technology, among other popular vendors. See the Winterfest website for more details. There is a lot going on, competing with most any regional ham fest in the U.S.
So there’s an additional day-long set of forums at a hamfest. What’s big about that? OK, fair question. Do you use phone when you transmit? If so, you likely use Single Side Band (SSB) most of the time, especially on HF. The Symposium is named for Wes Schum W9DYV (in Chicago, as Bob Heil says he always signed). Wes W9DYV was instrumental in getting SSB adopted in the amateur radio community. Some say he’s the Father of Single Sideband (see Ham Nation, Episode 86). Now that’s a big deal, no?
A little bit of history, provided by Nick Tusa K5EF. “The Symposium was formed to honor one of amateur radio’s key advocates of the then-new technology, Single Sideband, and his company’s ground-breaking ideas that culminated in the Central Electronics 100V Transmitter. Wes Schum (W9DYV) introduced single sideband to amateur radio in a very big way, beginning in 1951 with is Model 10A sideband exciter and continuing though his company’s eventual ownership by Zenith Radio, Inc.”
This picture shows Wes with one of his very early SSB transmitters. I vividly recall hearing the 75 meter AMers calling them “mush mouth” operators. I immediately understood since the old RCA “winking eye” floor model shortwave receiver I heard them on did not have a BFO so as to tune to one side of the bandwidth. Those cat-calls soon faded into obscurity. Today, AM aficionados and SSB mode operators generally habitat HF bands without quarrel, appreciating what Wes Schum’s “appliances” did for the ham radio market and ham radio itself.
Nick K5EF continued, “Initially, a group of Central Electronics enthusiasts decided the time had come to try a true boatanchor field day, with Wes Schum as the guest of honor/celebrity roastee. Thus, the first Boatanchor Field Day was born in Jonesborough, Tennessee – June, 2013. Later, and with two vintage field days under our belts, the group next sought to include technical SSB workshops into a Field Day setting and with it the encouragement of homebrewing and documenting the history of the many wonderful and colorful amateur radio manufacturers of the 1950s and 60s. Wes always encouraged learning and creativity in the amateur’s workshop, thus the W9DYV Radio Symposium was born.” Think about that legacy for a moment. Starting a “field day” to honor a member of your club or employer where hams are prevalent just doesn’t happen that much. When it does, it’s because the legacy being continued is a big deal. Like the development of Single Side Band.
Today, the Symposium is taking an exciting step forward by holding its event last year in the New Orleans area and now more permanently at Winterfest 2020, to facilitate access to the forums without having attendees travel more than a day’s driving distance. It is important for the Symposium to be affiliated with a hamfest and flea market as its target audience is for those who are: (a) interested in the history of amateur radio and its innovative technology; (b) would like to get more involved in the restoration/collection of vintage equipment and to preserve our heritage; (c) are looking for encouragement to homebrew and experiment; (d) are interested in hearing ideas that can improve every ham’s HF operating experience. Besides … what ham can resist a good radio boneyard? See www.ce-multiphase.com for more photos and information on previous Symposia and the history of this important company, Central Electronics, later part of Zenith Inc. I learned a lot when I spent some time on that website. Like this picture from 1956, when a little dab’ll do you (Brylcreem slogan).
The lineup for the W9DYV Symposium at Winterfest 2020 contains a host of well known speakers. Hollow state technology is the theme but—surprise, surprise—high performance SDR kicks off the Symposium. This latest innovation in amateur radio reflects the legacy of how W9DYV launched SSB back in the day! So innovation continues:
A High Performance SDR Receiver for the Ham-Bob Nichols W9RAN
HF Receiver Performance-Rob Sherwood NC0B
Understanding of Human Speech Articulation-Dr. Bob Heil K9EID
The Collins S-2 Line History and Evolution-Dave Beckler N0SAP
Wes Schum (W9DYV) and Central Electronics-Nick Tusa K5EF
Drake T4XC: Low Power Output and Why-David Assaf W5XU
ARRL, AM and the story of the Gates BC-1T-Bob Allison WB1GCM
Another “major homebrewer” presentation is pending
The BC-1T story should be most interesting. Bob Allison WB1GCM works in the ARRL Test Lab at HQ. He’s visible in every issue of QST in one or more places. What’s the ARRL’s connection to the Gates BC-1T? Bob will tell us. How the Collins S-2 line developed by Dave N0SAP will surely be a favorite. The Collins S line has such a proud place in the history of amateur radio manufacturing. And, the history of Central Electronics by one of W9DYV’s close friends, Nick Tusa, will undoubtedly be informative and reveal the nuances of just how SSB came to be prevalent. Videos of many previous W9DYV Symposium presentations can be viewed on the Youtube Channel maintained by W5Video Productions. This set of videos are well worth watching. I learned so much about my own Drake TR-7 through Dave W5XU’s video from the Slidell (LA) Symposium last year. You should take a few minutes to see what you’ll learn there, too.
Planning a successful, and growing, hamfest takes vision and the willingness to engage “over the transom” opportunities. You might be surprised at the reticence of some well-known hamfest Chairs and Committees to see beyond last year’s program.
Frank Howell K4FMH
Planning a successful, and growing, hamfest takes vision and the willingness to engage “over the transom” opportunities. You might be surprised at the reticence of some well-known hamfest Chairs to see beyond last year’s program. Online sales are eroding the ROI that major manufacturers, their resellers, and the small ham radio business companies get by committing thousands of dollars just to get to a hamfest. Individual sales through boneyards can yield surprise inexpensive purchases but, on the average, hamfests face a similar battle with eBay sales, too. It is programs—the continuing education of hams who spend money to attend a hamfest—that bring’em in, repeatedly over the years. And the Winterfest 2020 team is doing that in spades.
I asked Rebecca Carroll, Winterfest 2020 Committee Chair, about this year’s events. Here’s what she said, “The St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club Winterfest has added some great events from previous years. We have added floor space to include Education Alley, doubled our forums and increased our operating hours to 4pm. In addition to these changes, Winterfest has been selected as the ARRL Midwest Conference for 2020. The weekend starts on Friday January 24th with the W9DYV Radio Symposium during the day and a DX/ARRL banquet that evening. Saturday January 25th Winterfest kicks off at 8 a.m. with the opening of the sales floor, VE testing, all day topical Forums, and Contest College starting at 1 p.m. with 10 plus hours of contesting forums and discussion hosted by top area contesters. We invite all hams to come to Winterfest for a weekend of Amateur Radio fun.” If you can’t make Tim Duffy’s big shindig at Xenia, the famous Contest University, the St. Louis Contest College is a great option on Saturday at Winterfest. That leaves room for the free Schum W9YDV Symposium on Friday and the (pay) DX/ARRL Banquet that evening. Plus, the next day (Saturday) when the sales floor opens, there’s another set of Forums for the price of entry to Winterfest. Most impressive.
As I stated earlier, you’d be surprised at how many hamfest Chairs just follow last year’s program like a mule with blinders, plowing a long row until their successor takes over the reins. Not the SLSRC’s Committee. When I quizzed Rebecca about her vision for Winterfest, I got an impressive response. “We would like to develop Winterfest into another ‘destination hamfest’. Future goals include expanding to a longer hamfest, scheduling more forums, extracurricular activities and growing Education Alley while supporting new and innovative ideas. We would like to build on our previous successes but also adapt to the changing hobby. With the changes in 2020, we hope to continue the momentum and build upon that for years to come. Adding the Symposium, the DX/ARRL banquet and Contest College was a big step for Winterfest 2020 and so far it’s been a well received addition. The key players in getting Winterfest 2020 to this stage include: Kyle Krieg AA0Z, Dale Holloway K4EQ and Pam Caldwell KE0OWG. It takes a team effort.”
To examine Rebecca’s point of making Winterfest a destination hamfest, the map above illustrates how many major cities easily within a day’s drive are in the proximity of Collinsville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis. The ham population from the perimeter cities, and their constituent less populated areas, include Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Huntsville, Memphis, Little Rock, Tulsa, Omaha, and Des Moines. Add early bird discount airfares from Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, and the like, and they will come. Because of attractive programs. And, because there’s one major hamfest for the St. Louis area, not a dozen. This is a key strategic point regarding the SLSRC.
Take Atlanta as a case in point. There are a dozen or so amateur radio clubs in the 20 county Atlanta metropolitan region. And a bunch of smaller hamfests. Vendors do not attend more than one hamfest per market due to the travel and setup investment. (Ask them. I have.) Smaller hamfests tend to have poorer quality venues due to the rental fee structure. (OK, Dayton and now Xenia with Hamvention are exceptions but they have a grandfather clause an arm’s length in size due to history.) The Atlanta area once held a hamfest at the wonderful Georgia World Congress Center downtown adjacent to CNN Center, the World of Coca Cola, the Omni Hotel, the Aquarium, and a myriad of other attractions. But the clubs in Atlanta’s region will not band together to put on a single, knock-your-socks-off hamfest in a great venue, with discounted Delta airfares, and coupons for the other attractions, and major vendors.
Oh, the various clubs have great talks at HamJam, Techfest, and in other gatherings but imagine what it would be if they were all at one, single, large hamfest gathering. Cooperation and what social scientists call “social capital,” the ability to make strategic decisions for the betterment of the collective, has largely escaped the various clubs in the Atlanta area. If they’d put all of this together as SCLRC has done in the St. Louis area, Atlanta could become a destination hamfest with a major calendar commitment much as Orlando’s Hamcation has over a decade or so. Of course, those clubs prefer to go their own separate ways and that’s their individual right to do so. Sometimes, though, it leads to canceling the annual hamfest, as the Atlanta Radio Club did last year. So clubs tend to be dying if they’re not growing. See the RSGB Panel discussion a month or so ago led by Martin Butler M1MRB, called Grow, Merge or Disband Your Club. Vision. Collaboration. And a willingness to see a windfall coming your way when it does.
The vision of Winterfest, located at The Gateway Center and in the shadow of the major St. Louis attractions, of reaching the goal of a destination hamfest is quite reasonable. Look at how Hamcation in Orlando—say Mickey and the kids are in and say warm weather in February and spouses are in—has grown in the past decade. A quick tour of St. Louis attractions and food venues at, for instance, TripAdvisor.com, makes a clear point of the diversity of non-ham radio things for the family to do. But it takes the vision of leadership by hamfest Committees to understand how to leverage these assets for the benefit of the sponsoring club. Other clubs would do well to study what this one is doing. They may be doing it better but most aren’t. Compete in Field Day but cooperate on hamfests. Like the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club does.
Rebecca and her team, including SLSRC President Kyle Krieg AA0Z, have clearly been organized, progressive, and communicative. I’ll wager a guess that with the addition of the “windfall” of the Wes Schum W9DYV Symposium, Winterfest will indeed move into the destination category of regional hamfests very soon. The radius of a typical regional hamfest’s market area, especially when buttressed by a significant ARRL presence, major vendors like Flex Radio Systems and others, and significant continuing education activities like Forums, Contest College, and the W9YDV Radio Symposium, makes the St. Louis metro area a natural draw from the region. There’s more work to be done by Rebecca and her team, but this “Windfall for Winterfest 2020” is a great launching point!
Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].