Wednesday - July 13, 2005
In the 60ís I was interested
in HAM radio. I couldnít afford the equipment but more importantly, I didnít
know anyone who was involved with the hobby. A friend gave me a radio that
was supposed to pick up short wave signals and I spent a lot of time fooling
around, trying to fine tune the antenna. I was flying blind and never picked
up much more than an occasional commercial broadcast from England or Canada.
A couple of years ago I decided to do things right and got my amateur
Technicians license. That license allows me to operate the HAM bands that
are local and depending on my location, I can receive signals that are in
the 50 Ė 60 mile range.
Moving on, Iíve been studying for the next step up which is called the
ďGeneralĒ license. With that license I will be able to operate on
frequencies that bounce off the ionosphere and are responsible for the long
distance communications most often associated with the hobby.
Iíve picked an awkward time to get into this pastime. The ďglory daysĒ of
Ham radio are long gone and with cell phones and the internet, most people
donít even know that it still exists. Few young people are entering the
hobby and most of the active participants that I hear on the radio are in
their 60ís and 70ís.
Whether or not the hobby is in decline is arguable and unfortunately thatís
all many of the remaining participants do. They argue. They disagree if it
really is in decline and they squabble about what they consider the ďdumbing
downĒ of the license requirements. The internet forums that deal with
amateur radio are filled with unhappy hobbyists who have turned on
themselves and ridicule and berate each other about who is really qualified
to play in the game.
looks like many of those who remain in the hobby are self-centered blowhards
and egotistical status seekers. Foremost on their minds is the fact that
testing of Morse code will no longer be required on the license exams.
Almost all other countries have already removed that requirement and it
looks like the U.S. will eliminate it in early 2006. Itís a nostalgic form
of communication that may have outlived its usefulness however; many of
those who were forced to learn it donít want to let it go. They put forward
arguments on its behalf but the bottom line seems to be that theyíre mad
because they had to learn it and now newcomers donít.
To me, testing for Morse code is
like making someone take a test on MS-dos commands before they can use a
Windows computer. Unfortunately in this case, Iím afraid the days of Ham
radio are numbered no matter how they try to bring it into the present. Its
become a niche hobby whose best days are probably in the past.
So, whatís the point? Well, for me, working Amateur radio is fun. Iíve
already upgraded my equipment and Iím studying the electronics associated
with antenna installation. I get a thrill out of browsing the frequencies
and pulling in scratchy conversations from Australia and Europe. I guess
itís the excitement of the hunt or it's like that feeling fisherman have
when they head out to the lake. Itís the strategy associated with optimizing
your equipment to make use of the constantly changing atmospheric
conditions. Some days all you hear is static but on others, youíre talking
to someone in New Zealand. Best of all, in amateur radio even at the age of
55, Iím still considered a kid.