I’ve been cleaning out the shack these past few weeks and have been discovering a number of gems hidden in the depths of some of my “junk” boxes–including these these pins (see above) from the Ten-Tec hamfest.
The best fest
Ten-Tec used to have a large factory in Sevierville, Tennessee and would host an annual hamfest in the large parking area behind the factory.
Hands-down, the Ten-Tec hamfest was my favorite hamfest of the year.
Here’s why I loved it so much:
- It was 100% free for both attendees and vendors
- It was held the third weekend of September which typically had amazing weather
- It was held in conjunction with the W4DXCC conference which also took place in Sevierville, TN.
- The hamfest had a very high percentage of vintage radios compared with other hamfests
- Ten-Tec would not allow non-radio vendors or tailgaters, so you didn’t have all of those junky tables where folks were selling remote controlled barking mechanical dogs and light bars; it equated to a large regional hamfest with a high density of radio gear
- They offered free factory tours which were always interesting
- They discounted all of their new gear that weekend
- They gave attendees a sneak peek of radios on the horizon (case in point: my buddy John Henry showcasing a very early prototype of the Ten-Tec Model 539 below).
Of course, Ten-Tec benefitted from this hamfest as they were the only radio manufacturer represented. You wouldn’t find Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, or Elecraft booths, for example–that would have been quite odd, in fact!
The Ten-Tec hamfest was more like a company open house and hamfest all rolled into one.
I was a huge fan of Ten-Tec gear. Their transceivers were quite innovative for the time and sported high-performance receivers along with excellent audio characteristics.
Ten-Tec customer service was also second to none. I remember once dropping off my OMNI VI Plus at the factory to have one minor issue checked out; they fixed the issue, checked alignment, and gave the rig the same performance tests they did when it was first produced. The total bill? Free. Yes, they performed that work for free. The radio was long outside of the warranty period as well–I believe it was already 10 years old.
They knew I loved Ten-Tec gear, though, and was a dedicated customer, so I’m sure they saw this as an investment. It was.
Eventually, I started doing reviews of their transceivers and receivers for radio publications and later even became a Ten-Tec Beta tester.
One thing always in the back of my mind when I visited the Ten-Tec factory was questioning how they were able to support a large manufacturing facility in Sevierville, TN–where commercial land is quite expensive–and compete in an amateur radio market while paying US wages.
Eventually, Ten-Tec had to scale back; their factory and land were sold.
In 2014, Ten-Tec merged with Alpha Amplifiers under the flag of RF Concepts.
Then in 2015, RKR Designs, LLC of Longmont Colorado acquired the assets of Alpha Amplifier and Ten-Tec brands from RF Concepts.
In 2016, Dishtronix purchased Ten-Tec.
Dishtronix is still the owner of Ten-Tec and they have an online presence.
I’m uncertain if Ten-Tec is actively producing new amateur radio transceivers, but I believe they are offering a repair service. I did meet with Mike Dishop (owner of Ten-Tec) at the 2018 (or 2019?) Dayton Hamvention and he mentioned that they would be doing small production runs of legacy Ten-Tec Models with updates and upgrades. I have no idea if this ever came to fruition–perhaps someone can comment if they purchased one. I do believe Mr. Dishop has the best of intentions, but I also know how difficult it must be to re-start manufacturing in the US and build a competitive product with an ample profit margin. Not for the faint of heart, especially when the economies of scale are no longer there. It would take a serious amount of up-front investment.
I’ll freely admit that I wish I could go back in time and scoop up some of the amazing tailgate gear and hang with friends I used to see at the T-T fest.
For what it’s worth, the Sevier County ARS now hosts a hamfest on the same Saturday as the W4DXCC conference (today, in fact). I was unable to attend the W4DXCC this year, but next year you’d better believe I’ll be there next year and also check out the Sevierville hamfest. Of course, I’ll post some photos here on QRPer.com. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a used Argonaut in the process!