We stopped by the popular Orlando, FL HamCation trade show on February 13, 2022 for a look at the latest amateur radio electronics, software defined radio products, and lots of cool used communications gear. You can find just about anything at these “hamfests” so we decided to take a camera and see what we could get. Checkout our highlight coverage of HamCation 2022.
HamCation is the world’s second largest hamfest. Over the past ten years, this annual amateur radio trade show has morphed into a combination of ham radio and computer/electronics swap meet. Vendors can setup booths and present the latest communications products, including hardware and software companies. There’s also a huge swap meet where used products are sold indoors and outside. It usually takes place at the Orange County Fair Grounds in Orlando, Florida.
Thousands of amateur radio and electronics enthusiasts got their chance to look at the latest communications gear from top communications corporations, such as Icom, and their chance to go through a huge indoor and outdoor used swap area. You can find just about anything at one of these unique trade shows. I’ve always said walking around HamCation is like going through a museum because of all of the cool electronics you find. There’s a lot of history with some of the used radios.
I’ve seen old products from the 1940s and 1950s, each with its own story. I met one person that traveled all the way from Oregon just to buy antique console radios. He repairs the wood and the internal components, kind of like an amateur curator. Some of these radios are pretty cool, including a classic phonograph that I captured on video. The phonograph idea is at least as old as the late 1800s/early 1900s. That’s pretty cool.
Hamfests are neat to just look around at. For me, my interest in ham radio started because of my interest in storm spotting and chasing, especially when I started joining Skywarn and FEMA RACES as a teen. I’ve looked for parts I could use for storm chasing as well as experimenting (I’m a scientist). If you’re interested in wireless electronics, these hamfests are pretty cool to wonder around at, especially if you’re looking for rare or odd things.
Speaking of rare… one of the cool things I saw at HamCation was this old Bearcat IV scanner. It was so old that I think it only scanned 6 or 7 crystal-controlled frequencies and had this Nightrider-style LED flashing display to indicate which frequency it was on, which was very neat. A long time ago, I might have just bought it to put on a shelf or add to my collection, but other than classic collections, it’s obsolete and just takes up space.
Amateur Radio Trends
We spoke with Icom and Flex Radio to get an idea of the latest products and ham radio trends. It’s obvious that digital modes have become pretty popular, especially in just the past decade. On top of that, radios seem to be getting smaller, many fit into the palm of your hand.
Software defined radios (SDRs) have also gained popularity in the ham radio community. Connecting a radio to a PC has also been a plus for a lot of ham radio operators because it introduces more visualization and digital add-on capabilities. SDRs from the top brands are higher quality than the typical RTL-SDR dongles you find on eBay, which of course were just modified TV tuners.
Michael Walker from Flex Radio talked to us about HF trends.
The Flex-6600M doesn’t need to be connected to a computer. It’s a high performance 16-bit full HF transceiver. You can go to https://flexradio.com if you’re interested in learning more about it. Walker says this radio is self-contained, you could put it by itself on a park bench and transmit, without connecting it to a computer.
Ray Novak from Icom also spoke with ULTRA TechLife about the IC-705. This is an all-mode HF/VHF/UHF transceiver with GPS. It’s so small that it fits into the palm of your hand. The touch screen display is also cool.
Icom’s IC-705 is one of the most portable multi-band transmitters we’ve ever seen. Icom introduced this model just a few years ago and it’s one of their most popular radios.
HamCation was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. This “hamfest” is one of the largest in the country, besides Dayton Hamvention. I’ll admit, I was a little worried about the attendance for this year, but it finally happened and there seemed to be a decent crowd. Many people think it wasn’t as large of a crowd as the last HamCation, but given the pandemic and last year’s cancellation, the amount of people that came out was pretty good.
Ham Radio Hobby
I would encourage anyone that’s interested in learning about electronics or communications to think about getting an amateur radio license. It’s a lot easier than it was in the 1990s to get your license. You get to play with all kinds of cool tech gear, including drones, satellite, repeaters, packet, and more. Exploring antennas, digital modes, global communication, and decoding satellite are just a few possibilities in ham radio. Outside of this, you might also think about getting your ham radio license to join Skywarn to help with local storm spotting operations or just to keep yourself busy on those boring days.