Remembering the amazing Ten-Tec Hamfest

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).
Ten-Tec’s John Henry behind prototype of the Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP Transceiver

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.

Feeling nostalgic

This would have been the Ten-Tec Hamfest weekend.

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 Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a used Argonaut in the process!

11 thoughts on “Remembering the amazing Ten-Tec Hamfest”

  1. My first HF radio was a used Ten-Tec Omni-D. It was a great radio. I learned CW on it as a Tech+. I also went to the factory and they were nice people. Every now and again I check the website to see if they have any radios in production. I think a problem for Ten-Tec today is the competition has become stiffer.

  2. The Ten-Tec/Alpha/RF Systems ownership saga is quite interesting, I’d love to hear more details! I’m an owner of an Alpha 99 amplifier and their 4510 meter…still going strong! About 10+years ago Alpha announced a SUPER TUNER (and a small reservation fee). Over the years there has been little to no information of it’s release and I’ve given up all hope of ever seeing it. The new owner occasionally made reference to it online (there is still a 2017 “update”) but I don’t believe we will ever see it. Yes, the needed capital investment must be substantial to start up a small volume operation.

  3. Great post Thomas.

    I’m familiar with the name but I don’t remember ever seeing a Ten-Tec in person.

    I remember drooling over the Collins and The Drake lineups. But now that I can afford them they aren’t practical and the wife won’t let me spend the money. So goes life.

  4. I went on vacation to the sevierville area years back and dropped off my Paragon that needed service. My family got the full factory tour and I was impressed when 2 days later I got a call that my radio was fixed. The crew was nothing but professional. It’s too bad that during the several sales of the business most of their manufacturing equipment was lost. I do know that a large part of the company’s business was government and commercial. Maybe that’s why they were able to treat hams the way they did.

  5. Yes, the TenTec hamfest was a great event. I’ve yet to make it to the flea market at Dayton, so this was the biggest I’ve been to. It was amazing the kinds of stuff you could find.

  6. Very cool find. Sort of reminds me of the Dayton Hamvention being held at the Harra Arena all of those years. I never attended the Ten Tec Hamfest, but everyone who went always loved it.

  7. My first rig was a Century 21 back in 1978. Great radio to learn with and explore the bands. Everything about the hobby was new to me and the bands were in fantastic shape, every day. European, VK/ZL and Asian DXers would come to the American Novice bands to work us newbies, knowing it gave us a thrill to work these far away places.

    My Ten-Tec was an RF Interface to these gentlemen.

  8. Great memories of an outstanding U.S. success story, Tom. Ten-Tec deserves a special place in amateur radio history, and may be the last of our beloved legacy product lines. Friends who worked for Ten-Tec under original family ownership say that it was a wonderful experience. Being a CW guy, some of their gear was, and still is, the best ever!

  9. All of the so called ham radio businesses have a large viable commercial product line alongside. This includes all the Japanese manufacturers, always had. Look at StepIR antennas or Flex radios, both do large military contracts. There is no way you would otherwise survive the harsh economic realities and will go out of business very quickly. Elekraft may be the only exception to this rule, look at the trouble they have delivering new K4s in any sizeable quantities or in time. Dishtronics now tries this doing electronics contract manufacturing and contract design alongside the ham stuff. So far I don’t think he is very successful.

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