Author Topic: The Official History of the New England Amateur Radio Festival, aka NEAR-Fest.  (Read 4100 times)

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Offline W1RC

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Vehicles line up in four columns at the Deerfield (NH) Fairgrounds main gate at 8:59AM Friday, May 4th 2007, as NEAR-Fest I was just about to begin, signaling a very long-awaited return after a fifteen year absence.  It was truly a great day.

How the NEAR-Fest Came to Be......

For those who are interested in the history of the NEW ENGLAND AMATEUR RADIO FESTIVAL, or NEAR-Fest as it is more popularly known, here is a brief chronicle of events that led up to that wonderful Spring day in May 2007 when we joyfully returned to a very special place of our younger days - DEERFIELD NH - to hamfest and party once again.


by H. Michael Crestohl, W1RC, aka "Mister Mike",
NEAR-Fest Founder and Benevolent Dictator For Life

Prior to 1973 there were a number of amateur radio club events on a local level, primarily flea markets and auctions, where amateurs got together to buy, sell and swap equipment.  It was a social event as much as anything.  If you wanted big you could drive the 350 miles to the Rochester NY RARA/ARRL Convention in May or the 900 miles to the mother of them all that started in 1954, the Hamvention at Dayton Ohio at the end of April.  However the major amateur radio event in New England was the ARRL New England Division Convention held at the New Ocean House in Swampscott MA every two years.   


The New Ocean House Hotel, Swampscott, Massachusetts, mid 1960s.

Unfortunately the Convention at this beautiful location came to a sudden and sad end in May 1969 when the New Ocean House burned to the ground just a few weeks before the event was to take place.

Although the New England Convention continues to this day, having finally landed at the Boxborough Woods Holiday Inn in 1978, the event never quite regained its' former glory that it enjoyed while it was at The New Ocean House.

Many of us have fond memories of the Honeywell 1200 Club auction held in Billerica MA every November. 

As an aside, legend has it that the concept for the Hosstraders Swapfest was a result of an incident at the Honeywell Auction in the early 1970s involving two of the future Hosstraders and a beam antenna which one of them wanted, supposedly coming up for auction but quietly sold to a club member beforehand.......

From May 1973 to October 2006 THE HOSSTRADERS was, without question, the premier amateur radio event in New England.  The event was conceived as an in-person celebratory end to the winter 75m swap net of the same name.  Officially known as the Hosstraders Tailgate Swapfest the event was held at the Adams Campground in Seabrook NH .  Sixty one people showed up and organizers Joe, K1RQG (SK), Bob, W1GQX (now W1GWU) and Norm WA1IVB (now W1ITT) declared it a success.   


From left to right:   Scott WA1MYQ,  unknown,  Joe WA1IWQ   ,?,   Tim WA1HLR & Kathy,   Bill K1KV, Norm, WA1IVB (now W1ITT),  Tom K1JJ (waving),  Chuck WA1EKV (now K1KW), his girlfriend Kathy?,  Don's wife, Don K4KYV (W1JS at the time).Thanks "JJ" for the photo

After three HOSSTRADERS at Seabrook it had become clear that they had outgrown the Adams campground and so in May 1976 it was decided to move the event to the Deerfield Fairgrounds in Deerfield NH where it remained for the next fifteen years with one year off for bad behavior when we were banished to Kingston.  See Norm's "fill-in-the-blanks" universal Hosstraders handout from 1983.

In 1983 the event started being held twice annually in May and October.  In 1993 HOSSTRADERS moved to the ROCHESTER NH Fairgrounds remaining there until October 2000 when the event was moved to the NH State Fairgronds at Hopkinton NH, their final home.

During their 34 year tenure the HOSSTRADERS raised over 1.3 MILLION dollars for the Shriners hospitals in Springfield MA, Montreal Canada and the Burns Center in Boston.  This is their outstanding legacy.  In recognition of their outstanding accomplishment K1RQG (SK), W1GWU and W1ITT have been awarded Lifetime Passes to NEAR-Fest.

Read the September 2008 CQ article REMEMBERING HOSSTRADERS

Fast forward to "Black Friday" February 9th 2007.  The HOSSTRADERS posted their farewell sign-off message on their Web site.  Shock and disbelief traveled as fast as the RF energy could carry the message.  Gloom and sadness (and in some cases, severe depression) quickly set in.

Having attended Hosstraders for 30+ years (and never missed one) I was also saddened by our great loss but realized that 34 years running an event like Hosstraders is more than enough to burn anybody out!  The rise in Internet selling and eBay had taken its toll on all flea markets across the spectrum and they just weren't as good as they used to be back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  But since this event has been such an important part of our lives for so many years, how could we just let it go?   We were mere youths when we started going.  My first thoughts were could we possibly get the Deerfield Fairgrounds again........hmmm.

My initial role in this effort was conceptual and site-acquisition oriented.  On Saturday morning I was drawing up an "Action Plan" to see if I could get the Deerfield Fair Association to agree to rent me the grounds.  I called a few buddies to see what they thought and I felt encouraged.  The consensus was that if it was to be successful we had to keep the momentum going and do it on the traditional first weekend in May as usual which was only twelve weeks away.  Could we do it?  I reasoned that if the Internet could spell the downfall of Hosstraders we could use the same power to pull the new hamfest together in 12 weeks.  Discussions with the Deerfield Fair Association began on Monday morning and the signed contract arrived in the mail six weeks later on Saturday March 17th.  We were going back to Deerfield.

Once the Fairgrounds were secured, my attention quickly became directed at raising the necessary funds and planning the logistics of the now very real NEAR-Fest I that was rapidly approaching.  On Friday March 16th 2007 I officially announced the news on the Allan Weiner Worldwide program on WBCQ the Planet (7,415 KHz).  The word was out.  We were indeed going back to Deerfield.

For the full story of the first NEAR-Fest you might want to read this highly informative article.  It names most of the wonderful people who worked tirelessly with me to save our regional New England hamfest and make it what it is today - the premier hamfest in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. 

In addition to running seventeen hamfests we have used our excess funds to promote, protect and preserve Amateur Radio in many ways, such as by donating a fully equipped station, KA1SKY, to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord NH.  KA1SKY was dedicated on February 14th 2011 and has been operated by volunteers operators from the Coontoocook Valley Radio Club.

Read the article in CQ MAGAZINE, September 2001 issue THE SKY IS NOT THE LIMIT!

In addition we have established three annual $1,000.00 scholarships, raised over $3,500.00 for the One Fund Boston to benefit victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, provided equipment to a CERT team in Maine who desperately needed it and other projects.  In 2014 our benevolent projects were to raise money and match funds up to $1,000.00 for donation to the A.R.R.L. Spectrum Defense Fund that benefits ALL radio amateurs and is the front line defense of our assigned frequencies and other privileges we currently enjoy.  NEAR-Fest also was an organizational sponsor of the the World Radiosport Team Championship 2014 (WRTC2014).

One of our favorite ongoing projects is working closely with our hosts, the Deerfield Fair Association, providing them with high quality radio communications at the annual Deerfield Fair every year since 2009.  NEAR-Fest has donated Motorola HT1000s and other radios to them and several NEAR-Fest staff members have worked at the Fair, including myself.  I proudly holds the title "Superintendent of Radios" and our current staff includes Mike, K1TWF, Larry, N1PHV and Richard,  KB1UFI. In 2014 we donated close to $2,000 to the Fair Association so they can purchase more radios which we will continue to manage and administer during the years to come. 

Read the article in CQ Magazine, April 2010 issue: "Making Friends with your Radios"

Our current project, which will be long-term, is to promote the expansion and enhancement of the digital amateur radio VHF/UHF networks in New England.  In December 2014 we began by helping the New England Digital Emergency Communications Network (NEDECN) finance the construction of their own computer network hub in Boston that will give them more flexibility and independence for the Motorola MotoTRBO Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) network they are building.  We intend on helping the NEDECN expand their network throughout our entire service area and constituency.  Our Digital Networks Commission (DNC) will review applications from all eligible digital networking proponents, (such as D-Star and Fusion) and award grants if the DNC Commissioners feel the proposal fits our parameters and has merit.

On a personal note:  Creating and organizing this hamfest and especially bringing the whole gang all back to Deerfield on May 4th 2007 has been without a doubt THE most satisfying and enjoyable experiences I have experienced in my 49 odd-years of involvement in Amateur Radio.  It has been a great privilege and honor to be able to give back something to this wonderful hobby we share and to the folks who make up the New England and Eastern Canadian radio communities with whom I have enjoyed being associated with for so many years. 

Many people have asked me how I was able to do it in the six short weeks after the contract with the Fair Association was signed in March 2007.  I want to clear up one misconception right now - I didn't do it - WE did it.  All I did was to act as a facilitator; assemble the Team and negotiate for the Fairgrounds.  Everyone I invited to join me enthusiastically agreed to help pull this off.  But the real thanks and our gratitude must go to all the folks who sent in their $$ early or bought their tickets/passes at other flea markets.  The $8,500.00 in advance ticket sales allowing us to have plenty of money in the bank is what really made it happen. 

In addition, all the people who volunteered and sacrificed part of their hamfest to help, whether it be selling tickets, cleaning up the trash and all the other small but necessary jobs helped to make it happen.  Everyone who traveled from New England, New York, New Jersey, Peni, err, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, even California, all determined to preserve the "Grand Tradition" initiated by the three Hosstraders in 1973 and keep the flame burning did it!  WE ALL DID IT and eight years later I'm still proud as hell of each and every one of you and what we all accomplished, working together on May 3rd and 4th of 2007. (and you all know who "YOU" are)!!!!


Jim, N1HTS, seated in the chair of honor, with Jim, W1KQ in the driver's seat of Brent, W1IA's mini-loader.  These three gave up their hamfest and worked diligently to ensure the grounds were kept spotless, thus establishing a wonderful relationship with the Fair Association that lasts to tis day.   In recognition of their efforts N1HTS, W1KQ and W1IA have been designated "Heroes of Deerfield".


Now we begin moving towards NEAR-Fest XVII and the cycle starts again.   We're now in our nineth year and the hamfest is going strong.  Keep tuned to the NEAR-Fest Web and the Forum for the latest details.  We'll see you all at Deerfield bright and early on Friday October 14th, 2016 as we open the gates for the eighteenth time to let the games begin.

It's wonderful just to be able to say "see you at Deerfield" again!  For so many of us this is indeed a dream come true.

73,

Mister Mike, W1RC
NEAR-Fest Benevolent Dictator for Life