Events / HAM Radio 101

Hamfests—What’s in it for Me?

If you’ve been to one—or several—you already know. If you haven’t, read on. You could be missing a good time!

A hamfest is a convention of amateur radio enthusiasts, usually combining a flea market, workshops, and various other activities of interest to hams. They’re often organized by amateur radio clubs and usually held over a weekend. These events can last from several hours to several days and attract hundreds, if not thousands, of hams. The Dayton Hamvention®, now held in Xenia, Ohio, is currently considered the largest gathering of hams in the world. Attendance in 2023 was nearly 34,000, setting a new record.


You could be a winner! After you purchase a ticket to enter the hamfest, it also serves as your ticket for prizes. There can be hourly drawings for smaller prizes, grand prizes such as radios, or a combination of both. If you want to improve your odds, the hamfest sponsors will be glad to sell you some extra tickets, which are often cheaper when you buy several.

Flea Markets

You never know what may appear in the outdoor flea market. Typically, you’ll find surplus electronic items, new or used radios, TVs, test equipment, audio, computers, miscellaneous parts—just about anything of interest to an electronics enthusiast. It’s also an opportunity to join in the action and sell some of your own items. Spaces and tables can be reserved prior to the event.

As you walk through the lines of tables and E-Z ups, boxes full of odds and ends are waiting to be sifted through. They’re proof that one person’s junk is another one’s treasure—you’ll never know what some buyers will consider valuable. Tables usually display the more desirable (and often pricier) items. Items at ground level are either too big for placement elsewhere or ones the seller will quickly part with for any reasonable offer.

There’s no lack of interesting things, and some you may never have seen before. Don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions. You might get a quick lesson on how early tube radios worked, or a story about that large Collins KWM-1 sitting on the table.

Usually, an hour or two before closing time, the majority of flea market vendors will start getting ready to leave for the day. If you have the patience to wait, many will lower prices to avoid taking things home, so it is to your advantage to stay until the end. Sometimes unsold items are even given away!  


Some hamfests, especially the larger ones, feature demonstrations and sales booths manned by vendors and makers of amateur radio equipment. Typically, local hamfests feature smaller companies and dealers, likely based within a few hundred miles of the event. 

Mostly new items are sold, such as books, power supplies, antennas, coax, meters, and other accessories. You can also find handheld radios, mobile radios, and an occasional used or new HF radio for sale. Be sure to look for “hamfest specials” that may be offered.

Walking around a flea market can make anyone hungry and thirsty. Food is a big part of a hamfest and always seems to be available. Choices will vary, but you can expect fast food items like burgers, sandwiches, fries, drinks, and donuts. Outdoor hamfests often feature concession trailers, adding to the menu choices and variety.

Meet and Greet

Hamfests provide a chance for amateur radio operators to meet and socialize with fellow hams, share experiences, and make new friends. Some larger events may also include dinners, banquets, or other social events.

Often, local ARRL representatives like the Section Manager or Affiliated Club Coordinator are present to chat or answer your questions about ham radio. They may have promotional materials like pens, stickers, magnets, and frequency charts, as well as several handouts and brochures for a variety of amateur radio interest areas and uses.

It’s also a time to make “eyeball” QSOs with hams you’ve talked to on the air but never met in person. Be sure to take along some QSL cards to exchange and some good stories to tell.

Presentations and Workshops

Hamfests sometimes feature presentations, workshops, and seminars on various amateur radio topics such as operating techniques, digital modes, emergency communication, and antenna design. These sessions provide an opportunity for you to learn new skills, gain knowledge, and meet experts in the field who can answer your questions.

Licensing Exams 

Many hamfests offer amateur radio license examination sessions, allowing you to take the necessary tests to obtain or upgrade your amateur radio license. They’re conducted by registered volunteer examiners, and walk-ins are usually welcome.

Road Trip

Get your friends together and carpool to the next nearby hamfest—make a day of it. They’re held throughout the year and vary in size and scope, from small local gatherings to large national and international events. There are even mini-hamfests, called trunk fests, where hams sell their junk from the trunk and chat with fellow hams. As for trunk fests and flea markets, they’re an eco-friendly way to recycle your ham gear.

Though Covid, eBay, and internet selling sites have reduced attendance over recent years, there has been a growing resurgence of the traditional hamfest. Hams have missed many aspects of these gatherings, from the camaraderie to the bargaining with sellers at the flea market.

Big or small, they’re a valuable opportunity for amateur radio operators to learn, socialize, and connect with the broader amateur radio community. Looking for a hamfest? Click here for a searchable database of hamfests and conventions compiled by the ARRL.

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