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Radio Rally Evolution

May 18, 2011

Successful amateur radio rallies have had to evolve in order to survive in a changing environment. National and international rallies can attract significant numbers of exhibitors and visitors (Dayton, Friedrichshafen, Tokyo etc), but many local rallies have had to reduce in size and/or change their focus in order to survive.

Evolution : the change over time in one or more inherited traits found in populations of organisms. Inherited traits are particular distinguishing characteristics, including anatomical, biochemical or behavioural characteristics, that are passed on from one generation to the next. Evolution may occur when there is variation of inherited traits within a population. 

I used to really enjoy going to the Pickett’s Lock radio rally in London each year.  The halls were packed with all the major importers, retailers, clubs and special interest groups, and the space in-between the stalls was packed with visitors. It was a great place to see new things and meet old friends. The Pickett’s Lock rally has long since disappeared from the calendar, along with Leicester/Donington and many others, but Kempton Park and the National Hamfest at Newark have come along to fill the gap and become major events in the UK. I’d also like to mention the RSGB Convention – not a traditional rally, but it has become a great international event.

I’ve travelled to Friedrichshafen three times (so far) and found it to be excellent. I haven’t been to Dayton or Tokyo yet, but would like to soon. Obviously, the advantage that these rallies have is one of scale. They attract a lot of traders and flea-market ‘traders’ (although the Friedrichshafen flea-market rule changes had an impact last year) and therefore have the power to attract a large number of visitors and maintain a critical mass. There are of course proportionally large operating costs and administration/advertising efforts required for events of this size.

About fifteen years ago, I started to help with the organisation for my own local rally, the ESWR (Ipswich Radio Rally) and subsequently took up the post of Treasurer. I’ve seen expenditure grow and income decline for the rally over the majority of those fifteen years and have been closely involved in the changes and decisions which have enabled it to evolve and survive. The rally is organised by three local clubs, Ipswich RC, Martlesham RS and Felixstowe & District ARS. Membership of those clubs has also grown and declined over the years, but the ESWR has continued to provide some small amount of income into their accounts. The major expense for the rally has always been the cost of hiring a venue. We have been at two different sports and social clubs, a school and an agricultural showground over the years, but now we enjoy a great partnership with the Orwell Crossing Lorry Park on the outskirts of Ipswich.

Like many businesses, each venue change has been driven by the need to reduce costs and maintain viability. We moved when the cost of hiring a venue became so expensive that we would make a loss next year. Each change was made possible because we had also seen a gradual decline in the attendance of traders (increased online trading, eBay, travel costs?), so we needed less indoor space. Balancing those two changes while still managing to attract visitors has allowed us to remain solvent. On the subject of solvency, this might be a good time to mention that we are not in it for the money – which is fortunate because a few years ago the operating balance was down to just £41.51 for the whole rally, and that was supposed to be split between the three organising clubs.

So, what else did we do to evolve apart from find new venues when we had to?

  • Reduced the entrance fee to £1.00
  • Increased the number of practical radio demonstrations and activities
  • Didn’t worry about the number of traders because radio car-booters sell great stuff
  • Moved to a venue which we liked (great food) and who profited from our presence

As a result of these changes, we have increased visitor numbers, improved the local/social feel of the rally and also managed to evade insolvency. For the last two years, we have been able to make a donation to St.Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich instead of just splitting the money between the local clubs. This year we’ve managed to attract (pester) our local radio emporium Waters & Stanton back to the rally for the first time in many years. Things are looking pretty good, but best of all, we’re still enjoying it.

Please visit http://www.eswr.org.uk/ and come to the rally on 12 June 2011.

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  1. Rob M0VFC
    May 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Interesting post, Steve.

    From a rally attendee’s point of view, I’ve recently found the reasons I attend rallies shifting somewhat as well: it used to be a case of going along because there were real bargains to be had, and cheap components to be bought.

    Now, eBay satisfies the bargains, and CPC provides components at prices that small-scale traders can’t reasonably match due to the sheer economies of scale. There’s obviously some exceptions to this – heavy DC power cable and Westflex 103 spring to mind – but it’s generally true.

    Instead, I now go much more for the social aspect: bumping into those who I’ve spoken to on air, sometimes many times, but never met in person; catching up with those I’ve not seen for a while, or just enjoying a few hours’ gentle meandering in the company of friends.

    That’s not to say the traders aren’t important – they’re the “justification” for going along, and the odd bargain is certainly welcome, but now I go away satisfied even if the car boot remains largely empty!

    Rob, M0VFC

    • May 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      I agree completely Rob. The focus for our rally has certainly shifted towards social. We just aim to cover the costs and enjoy the day.

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