Hey everyone. I’m the chairman, Tom Morris, KG4CYX… someone left the blog section open and I snuck in.

1999… it was an interesting year. I forget just how it came up, but my dad invited me to come to the South Florida Hamboree with him. I’d always had an interest in computers and electronics but didn’t do that much experimentation outside of messing with the Radio Shack experimenters’ kits. You know… the ones with the spring terminals that wound up looking like a birds nest once you were done wiring the terminals in sequences like 6-16-57-34, 85-2-10-5…

Anyway, on to the Hamboree – I’d never seen anything like this before. It was amazing. I knew a lot of what I was looking at in the swap shop area with computer equipment… or at least could kinda figure it out. At that time I came back with quite a bit of computer gear to play with, and after being utterly hypnotized by a digital multimeter with a Nixie tube display, bought that too.

At this time, ham radio was still kind of a mystery to me. I knew in theory what it was, but didn’t know how people got licensed, or even that anyone did anything other than talk on it like any other 2-way radio service. I did, however, know of its serving as a lifeline after natural disasters and other events that scrambled up the phones. At the Hamboree, I saw vendors demonstrating their wares that allowed you to send and receive digital data, images, and I even saw satellite operations and APRS in operation. It was amazing.

We didn’t have camera phones yet, but I saw the Kenwood VC-H1 in operation. It could snap an image from the camera on it, modulate it into audio tones that only Aphex Twin could appreciate, and send it over the radio.

The next week, the curiousity got to me and I picked up a study guide from Radio Shack. Back then, the amateur radio licensing system was different [oh no, this is making me feel old] and there were five different license classes. I studied for the Technician no-code exam, which required taking the multiple choice exams for Novice class and Technician class then not getting the Novice class HF band privileges because you didn’t take the code test. Uhhhh…. I’m glad this was later simplified. A while later I met up with the South Florida FM Association (now merged into the Dade Radio Club of Miami) and took the Novice and Tech exams. For a lack of any equipment, I didn’t appear on the airwaves until after the next year’s Hamboree! Oops. I did have an old scanner I bought at the Hamboree, though, and that let me listen in on the activity on some of the local frequencies.

The new year was a big deal this time around.

Some thought we’d see all out revolt¬†as machines would fall upon a perfect storm of failure behaviors and… well, who knows.

I did get to watch a Digital Recorders Inc. Talking Bus system glitch in an interesting way at exactly 2 AM while riding a Miami-Dade Transit bus home from Miami Beach, but that was far from being an earth-shattering risk. It just scrolled “JANUARY 1, 1745, 2:00 AM” – a clear victim of a very unusual use of an 8 bit int for the year with 1999 as 0xFF.

In 2000, the Hamboree was pretty huge. I recall there being a lot more computer vendors there. I seem to recall it being actually marketed as an amateur radio and computer show, probably just because the market for new and used computer equipment was a lot hotter than it is today. Nowadays computers are more of an unimpressive commodity sort of item and the focus has kinda been dropped — of course the computer show vendors are welcome at the current Miami Hamfest, we just aren’t marketing that angle heavily anymore.

In later years it kinda shrank as sales of equipment turned into an armchair affair thanks to eBay. For me, that just never worked. I could not trust buying something expensive and used that I never got see in person ahead of time, which had to be entrusted to unknown packing and shipping practices…. and there was a fair chance that a new purchase would be proudly received with a giant cloud of stale cigarette fumes and corroded parts falling out of the box once opened. (Not that this— OK, YES, THIS HAPPENED.)

The show kept going on until one year when we got bumped out by the Super Bowl being held in Miami. You couldn’t even go out to dinner on Super Bowl weekend in Miami… the city pretty much rolled up all the sidewalks that didn’t lead to the stadium or to a few overpriced tourist traps on South Beach. After that it continued as Hamtoberfest at the Mahi Shrine Auditorium near Downtown Miami, but this just didn’t work as well. The commercial vendors just weren’t around in Florida during October, for one thing.

There were a couple of false starts trying to get the event booked for February again, and finally… we’re up and running!

And now… here we are. The word’s been getting out about our event and we already have vendors signing on.

As I’m writing this here tonight… the FM broadcast station I maintain and its two translator stations that extend its coverage are happily on air and singing away, and I’m also doing product service, evaluation, and system designs for a renewable energy products distributor based here in Miami. I’m one of the few people around who will do component level service on electronic equipment, and it seems I can just pick up on servicing just about anything one places before me.

What I consider to be my own version of the Native American vision quest involved rebuilding a 500 watt broadcast transmitter that had a fault in literally every possible module in a bizarre 10 hour session with only a multimeter and oscilloscope purchased at the 2003 Hamboree for $25.25*, a soldering iron, and an overturned orange paint bucket used as a chair. What I learned that night alone got me through the amateur Extra Class exam*.

Seriously, I thank the Hamboree for this… and now under my direction, I hope to share, if nothing else, this same sort of enlightenment and/or total nerdiness with others.


* and helped me realize why the pejorative of Harris Broadcast heard among fellow broadcast engineers is “Quincy Tin Works”.

Tagged with →