Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by [Bill Meara]
The suits at Hack-a-Day reached out to SolderSmoke HQ and asked me to send in a few words about why their readers should take a fresh look at ham radio. Here goes:
First, realize that today’s ham radio represents a tremendous opportunity for technical exploration and adventure. How about building a station (and software) that will allow you to communicate by bouncing digital signals off the moon? How about developing a new modulation scheme to send packets not down the fiber optic network, but around the world via the ionosphere, or via ham radio’s fleet of satellites? How about bouncing your packets off the trails left by meteors? This is not your grandfather’s ham radio.
You can meet some amazing people in this hobby: Using a very hacked-together radio station (my antenna was made from scrap lumber and copper refrigerator tubing) I’ve spoken to astronaut hams on space stations. Our “low power, slow signal” group includes a ham named Joe Taylor. Joe is a radio astronomer who won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He’s now putting his software skills to use in the development of below-the-noise receiving systems for ham radio. Join me after the break for more on the topic.
When you start looking into amateur radio, don’t be deterred if the first hams you meet don’t seem to be as deeply into technology as you are. You have to seek out ham radio’s hard-core technical subculture. It is here that hackers will find kindred spirits. As in the hacker world, there is a kind of informal hierarchy based on technical ability and achievement. The FCC licenses have become so easy to get that they no longer count for much. But if you’ve built from scratch an entire shortwave radio station and use it to shoot the breeze with friends in Australia, well, that will win you amateur radio street cred, as will the computer skills that you’ll bring to the hobby from the hacker world.
Hackers will probably be pleasantly surprised by ham radio’s very strong tradition of mutual support and solidarity. Newcomers are welcome and more experienced hams volunteer to serve as mentors. Especially among people who build their own gear, we have a strong “my junk-box is your junk-box” spirit.
There is also a wonderful social aspect to the hobby. I have in my “shack” a shortwave radio station that I hacked myself from junk-box parts. I routinely fire it up and “calling CQ” look for someone out there to talk to. The response could come from down the street or from the other side of the world. What do we talk about? Well, the conversation usually begins with me talking about my amazing “homebrew rig” and goes on from there. At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype, I’ll note that many of us got into ham radio as teenagers in part because we were a bit socially awkward. I suspect that this is something that many hackers can identify with. You can make a lot of good friends in ham radio.
If you are passionate about electronic technology and are NOT a ham, well, you are missing something important. The Hack-A-Day guys are right: You should take a new look at ham radio.
About the author: Bill Meara’s diplomatic day job has nothing to do with electronics, so his amateur status in this field cannot be contested. A ham since age 14, he has pursued the hobby in numerous foreign countries. He is the host of the SolderSmoke podcast, and the author of “SolderSmoke: Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics.”