Monday, October 24, 2016

A New Ham’s Take on Pacificon 2016

I’m a morning person but even 4:30 AM is early to me. But I wanted to be on the road at 6AM for the almost two hour drive from Fair Oaks, CA to San Ramon for the 2016 Pacificon hamfest. It was my first one since becoming licensed (General) nine months ago. I was stoked.

I took the advice of a ham friend and went down highway 99. I was told that going the “Google Maps” way via 80 and 680 could or would be a nightmare. That was a mistake because the fog in the Stockton-Tracey area made driving difficult around dawn. But the traffic was not bad, I made good time, and I arrived around 7:30.

So where would I park? Even at that early hour the hotel lot was packed. I think I got the very last space before they closed the lot and shifted everyone else over to a garage about a mile away… and I heard several complaints about it and the lack of close-by parking.

I didn’t plan to attend any of the sessions, I just wanted to see the exhibits, perhaps pick up on a bargain or two… especially a mag-mount antenna for 2 meters.

The registration process was painless, mainly because so many people pre-registered (and saved $5) so the line was short.

The exhibits were housed in different rooms and the hallways zigged and zagged such that lots of people (including me) were continually lost in trying to find their way around. Bottom line, this convention was just too large for this hotel. I heard a bunch of hams say that the Santa Clara venue of past years was much better… both for parking and for direction-finding.

I love shows where there are lots of exhibitors and this was a good one...but I had a couple of disappointments.

I was surprised that Kenwood did not have a booth, especially considering that they have just brought out a new $650 D-Star handheld. What’s the matter with their marketing people? You know the saying “You can’t work ‘em if you can’t hear ‘em?” Well you" can’t sell ‘em if you don’t see ‘em!”

ARRL was there but were not selling any books… only taking new memberships and giving books away to new signups. I was hoping to get a “show special” on the Extra Class license book (especially the spiral-bound.)

The major radio vendor whom I found had the most knowledgable sales people as well as the best set-up was Icom. They arranged the radios in a wall ‘rack’ so it was easy for newbies like me to push buttons and turn dials and tap touch screens (i.e. the 7100 which I am planning to buy right after I win the lottery.) The Icom booth-people, especially a young woman from Indiana, knew their product line and were happy to answer dumb questions from know-nothings like me. I was really impressed with how Icom did the show.

The most popular product at the show was the Icom 7300. They put it on its own shoulder-high podium and there were always hams gathered around it pushing the buttons and looking at the display. Everyone was raving about it. There is no doubt that Icom hit a home run with this radio (and Kenwood has its work cut out for it!)

Yaesu had their radios on a somewhat low table in bad lighting so that you had to bend over to play with them, much less to see them. But the real surprise was that they brought the same radios that they have brought to a hundred previous shows and they were all scratched and just looked like beaten-up used equipment you’d see at a swap-meet. It was a poor presentation. I noted that the Icom stuff looked out-of-the-box new.

The busiest booths were a tie between HRO and Elecraft, both of whom took about 40 feet of space. Elecraft had people two or three deep trying to see and touch their beautiful radios…. they were the ‘stars’ of the show, for sure.

HRO brought a lot of equipment and was doing a land-office business as they had some radios that they were selling at ‘show special’ prices.

One of the busiest booths was the guy making personalized name-badges and license plate holders. I would have bought a badge but didn’t want to wait on line.

There was one vendor who had a rack of Comet mobile antennas but I didn’t know the difference between them and they didn’t have enough people to handle their booth traffic so I never got a chance to ask, even after waiting for over five minutes.

There was a vendor selling linear amps. I’d never seen one before and was surprised to learn that I could buy one of these big $800 boxes and attach my little Kenwood HT to it and have a 600W station! I don’t know who would want to do that, but it was an interesting display to see.

I was surprised that none of the Chinese radio manufacturers were at the show. Powerwerx  was showing the Wouxun as well as a radio called the Tera which I’d never heard of but there seemed to be a lot of interest in it.

The Flex people took a large booth and were showing off color computer screens with charts, graphics, and other data I had no idea about but there seemed to be a lot of interest in their stuff.

I got to briefly meet Dr. Ed Fong of the j-pole antenna fame… and he was selling them like hotcakes there.

I had lunch with Gordon Fuller WB2OVH and his wife. Gordy lives about two miles from me and is one of my two unofficial Elmers. He has been licensed since the dinosaurs roamed the valley! The conversation was great… but the lunch was horrible. The hotel had catering tables outside. The $7 hamburgers which had been cooked three days prior were overpriced by $6.95. The smart hams were the guys who left the hotel and walked two or three blocks to Whole Foods and the other eateries in the shopping center near the hotel.

I saw a number of call signs I recognized and got to meet and talk with with Armand WB2ZEI (of swap-net fame.)

I wanted to learn how to solder in the kit-building area but it was always filled up… sometimes with younger people which was a good sign.

The overall age of the show was… gray! Where were the young people (you know like in their 40s!!!) I think the hobby (perhaps via ARRL) needs to do a full-court-press in getting younger people interested in the hobby or it is going to die (with dignity) when those of us in their 60s and 70s… which was easily 95% of the attendees... become silent keys.

I’ve not been in a large group of hams before and one thing I immediately noticed is that hams as a group are NOT all that much into fitness. A lot of guys need to spend a bit less time in the shack and a bit more time at the gym!

There are two things I liked about the hams I met at the show. The first is that no one is on the fence about anything radio related. Ask a ham about his favorite radio… and he or she won’t hold back. Everyone has an opinion about everything… both radio-related and political. The guys I talked to were eager to tell me about their radio, their opinions on digital transmission (from what I was told, D-Star is NOT the wave of the future… but that is hardly a scientific poll!) and a lot of the guys are supporting Trump (I didn’t see anyone there with a Hillary button or t-shirt!)

The second thing I liked about hams was their genuine congeniality. They love to answer questions no matter how stupid (I’m the king of stupid questions) and no matter how many times they have been asked. I hung around author/speaker Gordon West’s booth for about five minutes and he must have been asked twenty times “What’s the best way to study for the General” and he politely answered everyone’s question with a smile. And it was the same with guys I met at the booths who were looking at radios. I’m somewhat of an extrovert (working as a Medicare insurance agent all these years has trained me well… and I’m used to talking to strangers. Every ham I met was happy to converse. (Don’t ask any ham whether digital radio it ‘real’ radio because you will be in for a long lecture… pro or con! Ask me how I know!)

It was a good show… and a very educational experience for me, as well as a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to next year when I may stay the night and attend some of the sessions… as I’ll know more radio theory and technology by then… perhaps have my Extra. Also perhaps my first, current, and very expensive XYL (that’s one XYL, not three!) will be licensed and will go with me. (It might be the only way I’ll ever get a K3S!)

My suggestion for the club that puts on the show is to move to a larger venue. The Marriott was simply not large enough to handle the crowd… and the parking. Other than getting Kenwood to attend, I can’t think of anything else they should do differently next year.


Alan N. Canton
Fair Oaks, CA

A.N. Canton Insurance Services - Medicare Only
Fair Oaks, CA
CA Lic # 0F31110