The QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo over the August 8 – 9 weekend appears to have been an unmitigated success, so much so that another virtual event will be held next March.
“It was far better than we expected,” Virtual Ham Expo chair Eric Guth, 4Z1UG/WA6IGR, told ARRL. “We had over 26,000 registered and over 14,000 on the platform both days.”
Guth said event sponsors and exhibitors that he’s heard from so far “are thrilled with the turnout, engagement, and responses that they received.” He said they’re also enthusiastic about the second QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo, set for March 13 – 14, 2021. “Our plan is to offer this twice a year,” Guth added.
The show, an ARRL-sanctioned event, was developed on the vFairs virtual conference platform, and cleverly re-created the atmosphere of a typical large hamfest, with several tracks of forum sessions on a wide array of topics. Those who had registered but did not log into the live event can see it all on demand until September 9.
“All of the services, except the chat, are running,” Guth noted. “The doors are still open.”
Dozens of video presentations are available to replay, including the keynote given by ARRL Maxim Society Member Dr. Scott Wright, K0MD, “COVID-19: Amateur Radio’s Impact on Problem Solving to Create a Global Response to the Pandemic.” Presentations from other ARRL member-volunteers span technical and operating interests, including “Everything you need to know about Lithium Batteries” with Marcel Stieber, AI6MS, and an introduction to creating Arduino-based projects for home and ham radio, with Glen Popiel, KW5GP. Presentations highlighting young ham involvement and development include “Youth in Ham Radio,” moderated by Carole Perry, WB2MGP, with six youth presenters.
Guth said a poll would be sent to determine what visitors enjoyed most. “However, my guess will be that the speakers were fantastic, along with the moderators for the live Q&A afterwards,” he said. Exhibitors will also be polled for their post-show impressions.
Icom, a principal sponsor of the event, had team members from around the globe staff their exhibits. Icom America Senior Sales Manager Ray Novak, N9JA, said the event supported their new product launches including Icom’s new IC-705 HF – 430 MHz all-mode 10-W transceiver, which just received FCC certification.
“We really enjoyed the virtual event,” said Novak. “It is our goal to see this grow and to have hams from the various countries attend in anticipation of this becoming a multilingual event as we all are starving for ham radio events during this pandemic.”
Kevin Zanjani, KI6DHQ, of Bioenno Power, also gave the virtual event high marks. The show, he said, “was quite exciting and a great platform to interact with customers and the entire ham radio community during these times.” Bioenno Power, based in Southern California, is a provider of Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) batteries and solar-power devices. Zanjani said the chatroom was very effective to engage with customers. “Many also dropped by to say hello as well, so we found that nice.”
Product Development Manager Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R, was among the ARRL representatives engaging with event attendees using text and video chat. He described the experience as having some similarities and some difference from an in-person convention.
“Our team answered questions about ARRL membership programs and services, amateur radio licensing, and even had some fun challenging visitors to our booth with ham radio trivia,” he said. Physically located at ARRL Headquarters in Newington, Connecticut, Inderbitzen treated more than 500 visitors to live, online tours from inside Hiram Maxim Memorial Station W1AW.
“It was fun to see a screen full of smiling faces, and to answer questions in real time. The experience had an on-air feel. I should have kept track of all of the US states and countries I connected with,” he said. A short welcome video greeted visitors at the ARRL booth.
Guth said the organizers’ challenge going forward is to reduce the workflow in putting the show together. “But all in all, it was a lot of work, I have a great team, the volunteer speakers and moderators were out of this world, and I am grateful to our sponsors and exhibitors for footing the bill,” he added.
Guth said that the main complaint he heard about was the show’s use of a leaderboard for awarding prizes. “We used it because the sponsors and exhibitors paid for their booths and donated the prizes,” he said. “The Leaderboard rewarded those who visited exhibitors, chatted with them, watched their videos, and downloaded their documents.”
“We will evaluate other games for March that also increase engagement,” he added.