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 Wednesday - July 13, 2005

HAM Radio

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.

Unfortunately, it 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.

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