My Beef with Ham Radio

My amateur radio journey began back in the mid-1970s. I was about 12 at the time, with an interest in electronics that baffled my parents. With little to guide me and fear for my life as I routinely explored the innards of the TVs and radios in the house, they turned to the kindly older gentleman across the street from us, Mr. Brown. He had the traditional calling card of the suburban ham — a gigantic beam antenna on a 60′ mast in the backyard – so they figured he could act as a mentor to me.

Mr. Brown taught me a lot about electronics, and very nearly got me far enough along to take the test for my Novice class license. But I lost interest, probably because I was an adolescent male and didn’t figure a ham ticket would improve my chances with the young ladies. My ham ambitions remained well below the surface as life happened over the next 40 or so years. But as my circumstances changed, the idea of working the airwaves resurfaced, and in 2015 I finally took the plunge and earned my General class license.

The next part of my ham story is all-too-familiar these days: I haven’t done a damn thing with my license. Oh, sure, I bought a couple of Baofeng and Wouxun handy-talkies and lurked on the local repeaters. I even bought a good, solid HF rig and built some antennas, but I’ve made a grand total of one QSO — a brief chat with a ham in Texas from my old home in Connecticut on the 10-meter band. That’s it.

Obviously, there’s a problem. It’s not lack of understanding the art and science of amateur radio. More so than the average Joe who comes in off the street to sit for a license test (and there are far more of those folks than you might think), I have a pretty good grasp of the theory and practice of RF communications. It’s not a money problem, either. At least for now I have enough disposable income to spend on “The World’s Greatest Hobby.” It’s not time either, at least not really. My kids are old enough now to be self-reliant, so it’s not like I’d be working the bands while there are dirty diapers to deal with. And my wife is supportive too, so it’s not that either. So what’s my problem? Why am I not active on the HF bands and checking in on the local repeaters?

Because as it turns out, when you’re a ham you end up talking to other hams. And I don’t like talking to hams.

Lest this be construed as ham-hate, it’s not. Truth be told, I don’t really want to talk to anyone, face to face or over the air. But there’s really something off-putting about the ham style of communication, at least to my ears. Part of this is due to listening to public service radio all my life. My dad was a cop, and hearing dispatches on the radio in his cruiser was the soundtrack of my life from the day I was born. I later listened to scanners as a civilian hobbyist, then with a more professional interest as an EMT and volunteer firefighter. I even worked the other side of the mic as a dispatcher for multiple agencies. So I developed a strong preference in radio style — brief, clipped messages that minimize time on the air while maximizing information content.

In other words, the exact opposite of what hams do.

When I hear two hams chewing the rag, I find myself thinking, “Please, just stop talking and take your thumb off the mic switch.” It’s not so much what they’re talking about, although that certainly plays into it; lots of recounting what the “XYL” made for dinner and updates on everyone’s prostate woes. I could overlook the content choice if someone, somewhere would just unkey the mic once in while and take a breath.

I know, I know — that’s not what ham radio is for. The ham bands are for conversation more than anything else, at least from the sound of it. I think I might have a better experience if I explore the HF nets that meet regularly in preparation for providing emergency communications in disasters; they might be more my style. Or perhaps the digital modes would suit me better – being able to type brief, content-rich messages and make contacts without any of that pesky talking sounds pretty keen to me.

But as it stands, I’m pretty sure I won’t be hanging around the local 2-meter repeater to make sure everyone knows what I’m getting at the grocery store. I’m glad the local hams have built out the infrastructure to do so, and I’m heartened to know they’re practicing the craft. I just don’t want to talk to them that much.

So, active hams, what part of the craft to you find engaging? I’d love to hear your suggestions for ways I, or anyone else, can make greater use of the license and help keep the hobby fun for new and old hams alike.

181 thoughts on “My Beef with Ham Radio

      1. Unfortunately hams who are curmudgeons where some of the first to make use of the internet when it became widely available to the general public. So yes you are correct we don’t want to encourage more of them to use the internet

    1. Hope you’ll remember that comment when you get there. And if you ARE there then stop yourself the next time you reach for a mic. I didn’t resist, and it’s made me bitter……………. :-)

    1. I think I fit into this category as well. It’s one of the reasons I gravitated towards the digital modes, but even then I just don’t have anything to *say* to random strangers in real time, I guess.

    2. I have a very similar ham story, but I can’t even bring myself to use the digital modes. I just can’t imagine a purpose to it if it’s not for transmitting information, and I can’t imagine transmitting information that isn’t encrypted.

      Oh well. Next life, maybe.

  1. I too am not a rag-chewer, can’t stand listening to the upper end of 80m, 40m, or even 20m for that reason. After 36 years of being a ham, if I have 100 QSO on HF in the log I would be surprised.

    Work satellites or digital modes if you want a technical or operational challenge that requires quick short radio chatter. Most of my QSOs have been, “N5FPP in DM65”, “59 in DM65” — if there are more than four words in a reply it’s getting too long for the short LEO passes. I love working SO-50 or AO-7 for that very reason.

    -Freeman, N5FPP

    1. I recently as well got my license together, and had the same experience. Local repeaters and the like were kind of boring, the occasional local nets were interesting from time to time, but working satellites caught my interest. With a hand held antenna and an HT, its really challenging and fun to hit the birds (according to amsat, there should be at least 3-4 new FM sats launching in the first half of 2017.) I like the quick contacts, and the challenge – and this has led me down several paths to explore (computer driven rotors, etc). One day I may upgrade to a general, but for now standing on my driveway and waving around an antenna (and probably scaring the neighbors) will suffice..

      cheers,
      Mike – KGVOVB in EM10

    2. The pontificating whining heard on many band segments, should not be characterized as rag chewing, although many of them dismiss their bullshit as mere rag chewing. Many of those who self describe as rag chewing actually do have sane conversations that are interesting and educational to monitor, and on occasion join.
      73

  2. You could always explore the world of contest, no ragchewing, just barely the signal report and the contest message (usually just a number)

    Personally I prefer something inbetween, and I can usually find people with the same intrest for relatively short talks, but a bit more then just the signalreport, just by listening around.

    My guess is that you lurk around on the wrong bands, around here 80mtrs is the band for the old farts that likes to key down 15min at the time, 17/20mtr is better bands if you want short qsos

    Just keep listening around, and jump in after a short qso, dont be afraid to tell the other station that you want to “keep it short”

    73

  3. It’s certainly something amusing, and one I get rather frequently, I too am a ham with an interest in electronics, and the like. What really makes the difference for me is not a matter of the radio being the topic of conversation and the only common interest between us, but rather the common interest we have in other things, that may or may not involve the radio.

    The best examples I can give you certainly are from one of the local repeaters that also provides regular weekend connectivity to the local SAR groups, however mid-week they run two nets, on tuesday they run the “Outdoor” net, which talks about camping, hiking, hunting, skiing, and the like. The second net they run is on Thursdays and deals pretty much exclusively with 4×4 Offroad adventure travel.

    Amateur radio is kinda like car guys, they can get together and talk together about cars for hours, and they assume because you also drive a car, that you’re also a car guy. In the same way, the radio is a vehicle to take you to other things in your life. It’s not the destination.

  4. I spend most of my ‘HAM’ time doing ARES activities. I also like to climb towers, so I end up helping older hams with their station setups. I’m not much of a talker either, but there are plenty of other opportunities in HAM radio if you keep an eye out.

      1. I am the ARES EC/DEC for my area, and the RACES Radio Officer for my county. Not to mention being a volunteer for our Red Cross Chapter, until we lost our charter because as a small chapter could not fulfill all the requirements and demands after the “reform” post 9/11/2001. I would be curious what free labor was being provided, particularly for law enforcement.

  5. I’m much the same; I really don’t care to ragchew on the air, and I probably don’t use my equipment as much as I should. I have found parts of the hobby that I really like though. I really like making equipment.

    I’ve built my own digital interface for my ft857d (on its 3rd revision actually). I’ve made antennas, the most elaborate being a magnetic loop tuned to 14.075MHz and very suitable for psk31 contacts on the 20m band. I find that digital contacts tend to be shorter and more like you may be inclined to enjoy.

    I built the “Poor Man’s Antenna Analyzer” which is pretty much just as good as my commercial analyzer, and for my loop antenna probably better. I’ve built Morse code beacons, and SSTV transmitters to send up on high altitude balloons. And of course I’ve built TDOA direction finders to find those beacons when my balloons fell in the forest.

    I built a programmer for the memory cards in Midland radios and I intend to create an interface to set up old commercial radios as APRS digipeaters (using a radio and a Raspberry Pi or similar).

    I like Field Day. All the contacts are quick and short during a contest. For me I’m more interested in making a contact than in lots of chatting, so contests can be great. Calling CQ can be good that way too, since you sort of drive the contact and can usually bow out to start calling again.

    So, while some of my ham friends are dismayed that I don’t “run” enough, I have found the hobby rich and fun in my own way.

  6. I feel your pain. I’ve been a ham since 2004 and absolutely LOVE the hobby. Starting with Morse Code and often ragchewing while driving to work on the WB1GOF repeater near Boston, MA. I helped rejuvinate the RIT Amateur Radio Club K2GXT too and learned a lot from my experiences. While I respect the desire to communicate for the sake of communicating I feel that that is less relevant today. Communications are so easy that ham radio is like sailing for most. Amateur radio is an amazing medium to use and doesn’t have to be solely about communicating by voice or to tell someone where you are headed.

    Electronics are my glue to the hobby. Amateur radio is a sandbox in which to play and learn. Since 2004 I’ve never been without a project even during the crappiest of crappy times getting my Electrical Engineering degree at RIT. Recently I’ve decided that the hobby isn’t going to change without some help and have teamed up with my brother to push it into a more relevant role.

    https://hackaday.com/2016/10/31/put-that-amateur-radio-license-to-use-on-915-mhz/

    Our master plan has some more insight into the higher level goals: https://faradayrf.com/faradayrf-master-plan/

    We’re about to start shipping production units and really get the ball rolling to make a difference. While I don’t fully agree with your dislike of communicating with others over the ham bands I completely understand it. Just remember the hobby can change :)

  7. Study radio theory, take a test, get a license, so you can get on the air, to talk about radio theory, hear why you should study more take another test so you can use a different band to talk to more people about radio theory…

    The whole thing is cyclical. We need more practical uses for Ham radio. I’ve used APRS a few times, and that’s handy to have, and works some places cell phones even do not.
    I listen to skywarn net during storms, and keep saying I’m going to take the class one of these years… I think that’s the single most useful bit of ham radio I’ve experienced. (Kind of fun to hear them call out Hail a half mile over and then 30 seconds later the hail starts at my house).

    Ham needs to be more than talking about radios over radios.

    1. +1

      Honestly this is why I am not very active on the air anymore. I have a fairly good handle on RF electronics, so when I decided I wanted to try HAM radio, I studied for a few weeks waiting for a test day, then went and took all 3 tests the same day, and passed them. Since I had passe my Extra test, I was issued a AF7** call sign, which is reserved for Extra class users. In short I went strait to the top.

      The problem this caused is that when I got my first HT and went to chat on the local repeaters, all anyone wanted to talk about is radio, and why I, as a new HAM, so get a higher grade license. When I would inform them that if they were to look up my call-sign, they would see that I already had my extra, the conversation normally died. The people that would hear my call-sign and realize that it meant that I was already an Extra just wanted to talk about what radio I use, etc. There was no diversity in conversation.

      Lack of engaging conversations, plus the normally 30+ year age gap between myself and just about anyone I could find to talk to, and the attitude of the people I could find to talk to pretty much killed it for me. I still poke my head in now and then to see whats up, but nowadays my HT’s main use is as a police scanner while I am on my way to work, since I can hear the accidents as they happen and avoid them.

      Honestly I think the best use for HAM radio is with IRLP or EchoLink, etc. Internet linked repeaters that let you talk worldwide (some are even phone gateways) with just an HT. Now if only there would get to be some of those repeaters in my area…

      1. Phone linked repeaters are another useful function of ham radio…
        I carry the HT on trips in the BWCA there are some repeaters that are linked for 911… which is handy in case of an emergency…

      2. I would venture to say that you went to the top a bit quick…most hams will tell you to work each level at least a year and appreciate what you have to work with. Then go for the next level, What you did was skip all the learning and experience you get with a more restrictive license. Your expressing that frustration in that people do not recognize that your call sign is an extra one. Well, there you go…you missed out on the learning of the path. I admire you for doing what you did but, question that you missed out. I look forward to visiting with you on the air…look me up some time.

      3. So how well do send/copy code? I think you skipped quite a bit assuming that passing these tests is all there is to radio. Repeaters are boring. DX chasing is fun. I also don’t care for talking about a lot of nothing on the radio, but sometimes I stumble upon a good net, like today they were discussing curve tracing semiconductors, and the poor quality of chinese semiconductors (and what was poor about them) and I found the conversation very interesting. I’ve never use a curve tracer. Then they started talking about sarnet which apparently is going up all over the country for emergency communications for each state in the event that cell towers go down, on 70cm. Turns out we can use these repeaters ourselves. Have you worked much PSK31, JT65, or RTTY extremely poor conditions and gotten some DX out of it? There are so many things to do other than sit around and talk politics or say “no messages” on a 2m repeater net. Also some discussion of FPV multirotors which are transmitting on 900mhz, 2.4ghz, and 5.8ghz causing interference to licensed operators, and big penalties now in effect if they are caught doing so. I gave up on ham radio several times and found myself coming back.

  8. Agree almost 100% about QSO’s. But, there’s also beacons, telemetry, satellites, moon-bounce, meteor scatter, remote control, APRS, JT65, fox hunting, amateur TV (that video feed from your drone may require a ticket), and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember at the moment. You can also design/build your own gear just for the experience – no need to actually use it beyond testing. You don’t have to enjoy rag-chewing to enjoy ham radio.

    1. Exactly!!! I am still under 40 and have been licensed for over 20 years. I absolutely LOATHE talking to other random hams on the radio. However, I really enjoy working digital modes like PSK31 and JT65. AMSAT on 2m/70cm is great too and I find APRS extremely useful while hiking or exploring 4wd trails.

  9. I totally agree. I got my Technician in 1990 and managed to luck out on a multiple choice CW test to get up to Advanced. When they dropped the code requirement to 5WPM in 2000, I finally got Extra. Since I left college, I’ve done a grand total of squat on the air. I haven’t had the room, time or money to setup a station. My HT only transmits on 1 band and my mobile rig blows fuses as soon as you plug it in. I’ve been loaned a couple of pieces of DMR equipment, but I think I’ve talked to 1 person in 6 months. The motivation to turn it on is just nonexistent.

    You touched on some of the things that annoy me the most. The long-winded rag-chewing is a big one. I’ve got enough going on in my life that I don’t need to spend 20 minutes hearing about yours. Also, the unnecessary jargon makes me pull my hair out. She’s not your “XYL”, she’s your “wife.” You don’t have a “personal,” you have a “name.” I don’t want to know your “20” or your “QTH,” I want to know your “location.” And for the love of Pete, Don’t say “destinated!”

    Wow. I feel like Clarke W Griswold at Christmas.

    So, if and when I ever do get the space, time and money to really get back into it, I think I know what my focus will be:

    Contests and DX hunting.

    I participated in quite a few contests in college. Heck, a roommate and I even worked the MI QSO party mobile and activated 4 rare-ish counties on HF over the weekend. It’s great fun! Time is of the essence, so you’re not sitting around waiting for someone to unkey. The thrill of the hunt is a rush when you finally break through a pileup to get that rare county/state/country/grid square you need to add a multiplier. There’s still jargon, but it’s done to ACTUALLY save time and be clear in what you’re saying.

    DX hunting is (in my opinion) pretty closely related. You find a rare country being operated and do your best to stand out from the pileup and get through. Contacts are quick, as they’re going to move on to the next station as soon as you confirm.

    1. Every special interest has it’s odd ball jargon that some of the participants use, because of that I have think it’s a bit silly to use that sot of complaint about any activity, Just don’t speak the jargon ig you do care for it Life is to short to sweat those who do use it. Word or phrases that facilitate communications, are another matter all together and are beneficial jargon. I live in a somewhat rare county. I will use county hunting jargon the confirm my county for you, but we have to be able to communicate directly, none of that relay silliness. I reserve the relay method for passing important traffic.

  10. I’m almost in the same boat – lifelong electronics/software professional, always had an interest in radios (building HF receivers), and recently acquired some mil surplus HF gear. Thinking about licencing up this winter.

    My reasons are to use the gear legally, learn about HF transmission, excuse to learn Morse, and to mess with some of the new modes. Hopefully, I’ll learn enough along the way to be of some use in an emergency. I don’t really expect to spend long hours just rag-chewing… for the same reason that I’m not on Facebook or Twitter… and your post kind of supports my expectations there.

    The field of amateur radio, and related things like shortwave listening, are changing. With the WWW, there’s less need for, or interest in global shortwave broadcasting and communications. The growth seems to be in the new digital modes, and data communication.

    I’m kind of happy that HaD has given more coverage to amateur radio, warts and all, because it will help drive change and maybe help the field move to a new focus.

  11. I got involved with ham radio for the wrong reasons myself. However, another of my hobbies, special stage rallying, got me into the ham-based safety nets used during rally racing. Certainly much more like the dispatching you spoke of, safety nets made sure all the cars got through a stage and made sure that if and when an emergency occurred, it was safe for the ambulance to go into a stage from either direction. It is really the only thing I do with my license, but I enjoy it. It is primarily 2m and 440. I generally use a handie to repeat off my mobile rig.

  12. There is so much more to ham radio than rag chewing. If you’re handy at building stuff, you could learn about SDR, and build your own rig. That takes a lot of time and no rag chew time. You could also experiment with antennas, that’s a vast field of research too. You mentioned digital modes, that also not rag chew. I do not know why you bit cheaper about ham radio, you’re not even trying!
    73 de Jean-Paul
    N1JPL

  13. At one time ham radio was “the hacker thing” at the forefront of interesting technology. That might have been when my father (and some of your grandfathers) were entering into retirement and had time on their hands. These days, ham radio is pretty doggone lame and boring (OK, I said it). An enthusiastic ham tried to get me involved, but what is the point? I am having a lot more fun writing software and hacking microcontrollers. I don’t see any fun to be had in ham radio. It is tired old technology – and just buying gear and talking to tired old hams; I don’t fell the least pull in that direction. All due respect to you earnest hams out there

    1. Boring huh? Let’s take a sample of my current projects in the pipe-line being worked on or awaiting parts:

      * Tennsy3.2 based K3NG rotor controller with graphical display
      * Adafruit Feather board magnetic loop controller with band decoding, SWR monitoring for dynamic tuning, remote motor control for vacuum capacitor.
      * Hermes-lite SDR transceiver mated with a Zynq 7020 FPGA board (Snickerdoodle)
      * Antenna/radio control and sequencing for mutli-radio, multi-antenna – basically I want all my radios to use all my antennas (as appropriate for band and radio) with full sequencing for amps, pre-amps, and antenna polarization, etc. for HF, VHF, and UHF (for satellite work).

      All will require some custom coding to create the initial code base or modify something that already exists.

      Boring? Ham radio is keeping me out of jail, the bars, and trouble :)

      -Freeman, N5FPP

      1. I like building stuff more than I like using it. :-) I’ve noticed that the geekier the sub-discipline, the nicer the people are to talk to. Never had a boring conversation on 1.2 GHz. Got my 24 GHz station working (barely, OK… it’s a pair of gunnplexers) and seriously, up there, it’s just you and a buddy you already respect and probably have something in common with. I don’t think random QSOs happen on 24GHz. Maybe on contest weekends.

        My secret ambition is to get the Worked All Bands award. 76-81 GHz can still be done with more-or-less obtainable parts (repurposed automotive collision detection radars pulled down to 76 GHz). Above that, it pretty much stops being electrical engineering and it turns into physics. :-)

    2. Interesting, building gear to track and communicate with things in space or even the ISS is absolutely boring.
      Last Probe landing on a moon around Jupiter I was able to receive and decode the telemetry live.

      Building mesh networks protocols and radio systems. WSPR and other emerging digital modes, etc…

      So what are you doing that is so much more exciting?

    3. Radio is tired old technology? Are you speaking of the technology mobile phones, Bluetooth, WiFi, and Wireless Internet Service Providers use day in and day out? Not not mention delivering audio and video entertainment. Respectfully you have done a poor job in analyzing what you and others can do while utilizing the Amateur Radio Service. Please re examine it, dumping your preconceptions to see how it can enhance your favorite activities. As a not for profit radio service you may not be able to recreate what the commercial radio services can offer, but most of us can’t afford to play in the commercial services play ground. Hell they will not lets us in their space because we could be a threat to their profit growth. Many genres of pastimes have the tired old men, but as best I can tell it’s only in amateur radio it’s a problem for those outside looking in. Doesn’t seem to be a problem in most pastimes that readily come to mind.

    4. I think the 122° temps got you mad and unsatisfied Tucson Tom. Their is nothing to do in Tuxon and weather on Speedway or NEW district or howling at Mt. Lemon. Yes folks it snows in cactus desert As. Glad to hear other things keep your time Tom.
      WA6ikh
      No longer going to wildcat UefA

      Chandler was less boring.

    5. If you like writing software, there are quite a few challenges for you. SDR and Digital modes can be software intensive, and you could go for your dream, hacking micro controller to do rig control, and many more things like auto tuners for antennas.

  14. I can completely relate to the average “Rag chew” avoidance issue with hams.
    I finally got my Extra class license when the code requirement was dropped, not because I wanted to join a 20M or 40M ragchew, but to give me the extra frequencies if I needed them. My favorite line before the upgrade when I was a no-code Tech was that “There is no intelligent life below 30MHz”.
    I am still somewhat that way but have found a couple of niches that get me on the air occasionally.
    First for a public safety type (Mountain rescue and EMT) I have joined the RACES / ARES volunteers that assist with the public safety comms in special events and emergencies. Second is SkyWarn, again in the public service relm.

    To make sure the system is working and to play with antennas and hardware, I found that I am having fun with very small signal digital modes. Lately the JT modes have caught my fancy, using 5W or less and between 9Hz and 65Hz of bandwidth I have worked most of the US states and about 50 countries around the world in just casual operating when I had a bit of time to kill. These contacts consist of your call, location and an acknowledgement. No rag chews, no results of the last Dr. appointment or latest change to the station. Just the technical fun of setting up a new, different antenna and looking at where my signal is heard / what I can hear. There is a reporting page that will show what stations around the world are hearing your call and what it’s signal strength is within minutes of your transmission, even if no stations return your call.

    Don’t give up. Keep looking for your niche in the hobby.
    Satellite comms, new digital modes, different antenna design, public service (even if it is getting out with those old rag chewers monitoring the local marathon or bike race).

  15. Whilst I sympathise with the views expressed, I do think that Dan has missed out on what I consider to be a far more important aspect of Amateur Radio which that of self education and experimentation. There is a small but dedicated body of bloggers and vloggers who have put life and soul into those of us that are actually more interested in getting something built and on the air than actually using it for long rag chews.

    It is a little unfair to mention just two people, but I will because both have featured on Hackaday, Bill Meara and Pete Juliano. Pete especially has designed pieces of equipment that are specifically intended to get a vaguely interested but not very experienced person from the first few faltering steps of getting a very basic receiver working through to putting a SSB transceiver together and on the air. He has done so over a long period in great detail and with considerable good grace – his site is well worth the time to spend some time looking over.

    Another individual who should be mentioned is Ashar Farhan who designed the BitX transceiver for Indian Amateurs without access to difficult to obtain and expensive components and test equipment, and then went on to set up a community of ladies to build them and distribute them for a ridiculously small amount of money whilst remaining true to the principle that the device could be understood and hacked by any curious amateur.

    Radio Amateurs started out as people who built their own experimental equipment, amateur radio and radio amateurs have been behind many of the great developments in the technology in the past and probably still are.My own view is that anyone who goes out and buys a rig and simply uses it to chatter with other like minded individuals is welcome to do so, there is nothing in the license to say that they shouldn’t, but they are missing out on the larger, more absorbing and more interesting aspects of the “hobby”.

    if you hear happen to hear me on the air, you will be amongst a privileged few, and in all probability, it will be because I’m tinkering or testing something. It’s much more likely that the receiver will be on in the shack, but that I’ll be head down in a tangle of wires melting solder and inhaling far more “solder smoke” than is good for me or wrestling with seemingly simplistic mixer that Pete encouraged me to build, but Bill then made a comment about that sent me to the bench with renewed curiosity – sure, the world won’t be a better place when I put the scope probe or the soldering iron down, but I will be a better person because I spent some time understanding and learning.

    If you are curious, and not put off by Dans all too accurate but luckily partial description, nose around some of the home brew sites, go to a few rallies and pick up someone elses junk to experiment on. It won’t cost you a lot, you will alternate between frustration and smug satisfaction at understanding something that you never thought that you would, but above all else, you can truly call yourself a “radio amateur” even if you never speak to another soul on air.

    73s, Nick

  16. I think part of the issue is the age spectrum, and that amateur radio can be more suited to someone with more disposable land, income, and time. For sure, that can be dominated by old white american men. I always felt that there was something for everyone – if you aren’t into talking about radios on a repeater or net, there’s maybe some reward in challenging yourself? QRP, DX work, digital modes on any part of the spectrum, JT65, satellites…

    There’s a subreddit or two, and I think they have a weekly “net” where they also meet up in IRC. Might be more ideal.

    1. disposable land? my entire HF station fits in a very small backpack. including the antenna that covers 80m to 2m. and I can talk to guys in Antartica, Alaska, Europe, And Australia on 2.5 watts.

      If someone tells you that you must have hundreds of watts and huge antennas, they really dont know anything about ham radio.

      1. I suppose I meant more for having a fixed ‘shack’ in a city with lots of QRM and nosy busybodies. Which is more a reality as we get more urbanized. This is in reference to the TFA talking about motivation to get into the hobby, and hearing old-timers with their rigs booming out of their massive rural antennas can make someone jealous….

        I agree that getting into QRP or portable could be super rewarding. Definitely a goal of myself to get portable with one of the newer SDRs and do some SOTA.

    2. I think it’s the reverse. Traditionally you got into ham radio as a kid. The world was still new to you, and suddenly all this new stimulus that was also adult based. It was an interest away from school, and the testing was not an impediment, you could soak it all up, and did.

      Nothing was more influential than amateur radio in my life. No, it’s not central but a lot of things came because of the hobby.

      So the oldtimers have been at it a long time. It will be 45 years for me next year, and I’m not that old. But they stuck with it because they came in at a young age.

      But in more recent times the shift is away from that. It’s a different world, and hobby, if you come in as an adult. I would argue that as that change happened, that shifted things further. So the rules changed, which favored older people, and it became less interesting to the young. When I came in, 2M FM was a relatively new thing, now it seems the default for people coming into the hobby, which is a dramatic change.

      I don’t know what the appeal is today for people entering the hobby. Maybe it’s because it’s almost fifty years later, so the early days are long gone. It’s definitely because I’m an adult, a different viewing point from when I was young. But I suspect the aim is now towards the adult, so the representation is not so appealing.

      Michael

  17. It’s a bit like podcast and other forms of internet chat and social media, as well as local TV and radio, you get an established trend overall and it’s often not that great, so you have to either just take things in your own hands and do your own thing until others follow, or search a lot until you find the right nook where things are different. Or to just walk away.

  18. Hi, Dan,

    There are many different aspects of ham radio and nobody does them all.

    There are some good suggestions in the replies above; contesting and DX chasing were suggestions I was going to make. You might also consider digital modes. Most of those operators use macros for their most common transmissions. You can hold a whole QSO without forming an original thought. There is also weak signal work, moon bounce, microwave, and many other aspects where long (“old buzzard”) transmissions are not part of the drill.

    Finally, I’d like to suggest that you look into public service communications, particularly the MARS programs. If your preference is for terse, disciplined procedure, you might find that right in your “wheelhouse.”
    73,

  19. I have a somewhat similar story – I licenced in the late Sixties, was active for a few years and lost interest mostly because my career path took a different turn away from electronics. But the fact of the matter is that the internet cut the legs off the hobby as well. If I return to the hobby it will be to explore aspects like WSPR.

  20. I’m not a rag chewer either. That’s why I focus on emergency communications and digital modes. I came from a scanner and SWL background. During the days before trunking and encription. So I tend to do more listening and less talking, like we do in EMCOMM. I also enjoy the planning and preparation elements. Bring ready if needed but not committed to sharing my life on the original ‘social media’ mode we call Ham Radio.

  21. I’ve been doing Ham stuff since 1973 and I can relate somewhat to what Dan is saying here. But only somewhat…

    I, like most longtime Hams, have seen my interest and time allotment rise and fall over all these years. School, work, children, more work all contributed to the fall times. Yet I still keep coming back.

    Like Dan I had an older mentor, a real world Elmer named Art Jones Jr. Art was a God among Apostles to us young Hams in the ’70s. He was an engineer at a broadcast TV station and his home was best described as a place to store radios. Art was patient and knew how to talk to young people. The skills he imparted to me, radio and life skills, have served me well for four plus decades. My debt of gratitude is so deep for me I took his old call when he went SK. That is my tribute to a very fine man.

    Talking on the radio isn’t just rag chewing. I’ve had thousands of QSOs that were just the basic exchange. But I’ve also had the great experiences of slowing down and really sharing with someone I will never meet face to face. I’ll never forget a great guy in LA who literally taught my then 10 year old how to play a basic piano piece during a 20 meter QSO.

    There’s this group in the MidWest, call themselves the 68 group. They hold a round robin net every day of the year on 40. They’re like old friends. They are always there and are always ready to warmly welcome newcomers. And there are hundreds more groups just like them. If you turn the dial, slowly, on any given day you’ll find people who share your interests (including an interest in something other than Ham radio). Find them and join their friendship group.

    My XYL says she likes that this is a clean hobby. No bar scene. No boys will be boys stuff. And we both agree it has opened a path for me to be involved in our community in a giving way (ARES).

    And now, all these years later, I’m the Elmer. The joy of seeing learning and understanding blossom in young people is priceless.

    Sure, anyone can FaceTime anyone on the planet these days. But can you just drop into a conversation between a guy in Israel and a gal in Japan and be welcomed to say what’s on your mind? The “surprise” nature of the unintended conversation should not be minimized.

    Forty plus years and I can’t imagine not putting 60 in in this hobby. Try being part of the happening. You just might be surprised.

    73 de W3IRL

  22. I would recommend getting into digital modes and learning CW. There are many technical interests that are not simply “talking about radios on a radio” such as WSPR and reverse beacons. My local Hams send and receive documents, photos and text messages over VHF/UHF repeaters as well as HF. JT65 and PSK31 will allow you to chat over the air without listening to “ragchewers.”

  23. Factor in the mindset of a problem solver. For you, it’s HAM. For me, it’s my dayjob and my hobby: I build quite complicated, sophisticated websites, but I don’t like maintaining them with content. I like to repair old video game consoles, but I don’t like playing them. Once the technical aspect is figured out, once it works, it becomes uninteresting to me and I move on to the next problem.

    *) FWIW, I can’t make any educated statements about HAM, I can barely tell a HAM radio from a roast beef sandwich.

    1. I can relate to the video game console thing I love building them and repairing then but cant play them to save my life.
      Ham radio like so many others have said I also dont care much for chewing the rag. I like building the station than watching it sit there… I was reading about a new satelite due to be launched in 2018 that I understand will be orbiting the moon so im rebuidling my station to access that.

  24. I live in an area where there is no cell service for 250KM in all directions plus it is very mountainous. VHF radio still is king here and is still a very useful tool not to mention a mandatory safety item. Nothing like the view from a mountain top repeater!

    1. Dude, where do you live?

      I havent found a single spot in this country without cell service for atleast 10 years now.

      There used to be a spot for a minute or two when driving trough the forrest to my summerhouse, but it is patced now, havent lost a call in years there.

  25. If you think ham radio is not for rag chewing then you should get out of the hobby. Not every conversation on the repeaters or HF should be antenna design theory or how to build your own transistor radio by using household items. Talk about cars, toilet unplugging, etc.. It’s for communication and rag-chewing has been a staple of ham radio longer than you and your parents have been alive.

    The Problem with ham radio is licensed operators that LURK on repeaters. when someone calls on a repeater and get’s no response they think that the repeater is dead, so new hams find out that most hams are actually cranky old coots that don’t want to talk to someone. It’s better on HF and a whole lot better on DMR and Dstar because you now can talk to the whole world and actually get someone that wont just seethe at their radio that you are talking about the weather or the wonders of restoring a 1944 desoto. I have had HF rag chewing about spaghetti sauce recipes with scientists at McMurdo station.

    It’s the grumpy old farts that refuse to respond to a new ham that are the problem with ham radio. Honestly for every guy that bitches about anything but the complete scumbags that intentionally jam and create QRM, the hobby would be better without them in it. Sadly most ham radio clubs are full of the grumps and is why most clubs are dead or dying.

    We can’t attract the young generations or new hams because all they find are articles from old hams that bitch and moan.

    1. A conversation about restoring a 1944 desoto would be way better than average content for the repeaters around here. Mostly we have people who know each other discussing arival times at each other’s houses, trafic-less trafic nets and maybe an occasional chat about the weather.

  26. …and therein lies the problem. Personally, I have no interest in how long the person I am speaking to, has held a licence or even what type it is. But old habits die hard as can be seen in the comments above. To those individuals, a question; when you meet someone socially, do you tell them how old you are or what your qualifications are?

  27. You’re doing it wrong.

    If you don’t want to talk with boring old codgers complaining about their hemorrhoids, stay off 75 meters. If you don’t want to hear people constantly bitching about traffic stay off repeaters during drive time. If you have made only one HF contact from Connecticut to Texas, well, yeah, you should be bored and disappointed. You can do that with a CB radio. Making a HF contact to a station at the antipode of your location, well, that gets more interesting. Making a satellite contact to France from your handheld radio, now that’s interesting.

    Based on the kind of communications you say you are interested in, you should look at the emergency services groups and public service stuff. They typically operate in with short messages that often have a direct benefit to people around, for instance, safety communicators for road races and emergency preparedness drills. They use phone (voice) and various forms of data (packet, MT63, D-RATS, etc.) These folks take their communications very seriously.

    Weak signal VHF and up is a technical challenge and there is not a lot of inane ragchewing going on with those folks. Messages are often a signal report, grid square, and thank you. Amateur microwave and satellite work is even more esoteric.

    If you become a ham just so you can talk to people, your money is better spent on a cell phone. Or a CB, or a GMRS radio.

    Amateur radio is far more than just talking to people. For me, it is about building things, and I don’t mean soldering two wires to a piece of coax to make an antenna, I mean electronics: filters and amplifiers and mixers and embedded controllers. And I mean software: embedded control, smart phone apps, and custom GIS apps for Linux

    With respect to the “tired old technology” statements, that is mistaken. People I know have

    * built software to control a satellite that is that is running today in low earth orbit.
    * a Nobel laureate who is pushing the envelope in DSP for weak signal data transmission, now that he is retired — in fact I had beer and pizza with him after a mind-blowing talk.
    * another ham I know is contributing to open-source software defined radio projects.
    * a couple more have built a business around state-of-the-art software defined radios.
    * and another that has built a state-of-the art software CODEC for speech over low bit-rate connections.

    Hardly “tired old technology.”

    You should talk to your local ARES group about emergency services and public service comms. Try a couple DX contests. Consider VHF weak signal, perhaps staring with 6 meter SSB. If you don’t want to actually talk to people, try out JT65 and/or JT9 on HF — I can think of no mode with shorter messages. Get somebody to give you a demo of a handheld satellite contact. Find a ham club with a technology focus (though this may be more difficult…)

    From the sound of your message, you are trying to find a way to like the hobby. Try a few of the suggestions above, mine and others. I think you will find your way

  28. Hey Dan, not to worry… I think there’s something in Amateur Radio for just about everyone!

    I obtained my tech license about 4 years ago and fell into the “HT trap”. Fast forward 30 days, and my HT was on Craigslist. It’s just my personal opinion that in order to snag young folks into the hobby these days, that they be exposed to the magic of HF. So, I really encourage folks to immediately plan on going for their General Class license.

    VHF/UHF is great… certainly has its place, more so with simplex for me. I’m more interested in the ‘random’ contact than throwing my call out on a repeater. So i’m with ya’ on that one. VHF/UHF contacts are typically more so under your control whereas HF contacts on the other hand are not. You never know where your signal is going to skip to! Though I do enjoy the occasional ‘tropo-event’ on 2 meters.

    I’m not a big fan of rag-chewing either… maybe I will be one day… who knows…some of my favorite aspects of Amateur Radio don’t even include talking to other hams, but here is my top 10 things that I find most engaging (& rewarding):

    1. My local Amateur Radio Club – yes, it all started on a Repeater – but we hang together – have beer together – have field days together – without them, my interest in Amateur Radio would have fizzled – I just failed to find them the first time around. – N5OAK – you guys rock!
    2. Software Defined Radio – even for just shortwave listening can be a treat, but I like to ‘hunt’ for signals in my waterfall.
    3. Digital Modes i.e. JT65/JT9/PSK31/RTTY/WSPR
    4. Using QRP (low power) & building low power transmitters/receivers
    5. SOTA/NPOTA/YOTA (Summits on the Air, National Parks on the Air, Youngsters on the Air)
    6. Building antennas & learning about antenna theory
    7. Amateur Radio communication via Satellite or ISS
    8. Building to-go boxes or survival kits
    9. Contesting
    10. Volunteering as a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator – seeing new hams get their license just makes me grin everytime!

    Hoping your able to find your niche! Just keep at it! It’ll come to you.

    73 – hope to hear you on the air.

    K5ACL

  29. A funny story. An old ham I knew said he got out of building repeaters for the club, because he didn’t like the people they attracted. I thought that was funny, but truth be told, he was a Type-A nutjob. It dawned on me that many hams you hear every day on the radio, are Type-A nutjobs. You can’t get a word in edgewise, and they treat you like a kid, even if you are 64 and changed their diapers as a child. I’m a non-Type-A, so I avoid them.

  30. I started listening to radio stations on my mother’s TransOceanic III from Zenith. Hearing countries from far and wide got me piqued into finding out how to do the same from home. My mom and dad knew nothing of electronics, and there were no elmers or mentors for me in the neighborhood to learn. In 1981, for my birthday, I got a Commodore VIC-20 (with a tape drive). I learned to program on that machine. Going to the library, I read books on analog to digital interfacing. I built something that makes Part 15 and Part 97 readers cringe. I had about 4 good friends, and none of us were hams, but we built our own RTTY cell using 4 Ramsey FM transmitters and 4 Walkie Talkies (the 49Mhz kind). A little interface between the user port on the commodore users, and the same for the Atari users, and we were talk typing to each other in the neighborhood for about 6 years. Now, we are all HAMs. We reminisce of the good times in South Hills. We’ve expanded into the realm of Arduinos, Pi’s, and homebrew. We send more e-mails than talk, but when we do…there is always the smile you can “hear” on the other end. Even if you do not like the “face to face” talking, listen to a foreign speaking station…just listen and learn…it helped me get that spark back into the hobby…it might help yours as well. 73 and may your holidays be bright. de KC8KVA

  31. Wow, I think you nailed my dislike for radio chat, I was a professional firefighter/paramedic until I was retired by a work injury, so I knew the feeling that everyone’s ears in the area were on the radio, an attitude which followed me to flying. I also liked satellite for the short communications, though I disliked the contesty, just make QSOs attitude too, little useful comms go over amsat. My training was to never transmit unless you need to, never chat or have much fun. I have built and hacked some amazing radios, but the fear when I was caught keying up the radio at my fathers fire station is still with me, ad I hated using a callsign on a FCC database; bad enough calling out an ambulance, fire engine, or airplane tail number.

  32. The bottom line is that radio is a means of communication and thus it is difficult if the major activity you are using the medium for is communicating as an end in itself. The big problem with amateur radio is that it is populated by those whose only qualifications are the proper operation of the equipment – that tends to narrow the utility of the service. There was a time when passing traffic for others was an aspect of the hobby one could engage in, but that is gone too. Even the civil defence aspect has been reduced by other, in some cases more robust, modes. The fact is the hobby is looking for a reason to exist beyond existing for its own sake and not really finding one.

    1. Why does a hobby need a reason to exist? If it had a compelling reason other than just the people in it want to do it then someone would pay you for it and it would no longer be a hobby.

      1. Which is why there are people engaged in it, However the point I was making is that there were in the past supplementary activities that one could be involved in that leveraged the fact that amateur radio operators could communicate over long distances and could make that capacity available to members of the public at no charge. Yes there is R/C and other activities that use radios but I was framing my remarks within the context of the leading post, and the observation that there is too much inane and pointless chatter on the bands.

  33. I got my ticket in the early 2ks, but let it lapse due to lack of anyone to talk to. About the only thing to talk to someone about on the air is the weather and their radios, and I don’t care about either of those things. Lately I got a new callsign to use with my RC aircraft exploits (433mhz control is far cleaner than 2.4Ghz these days).

    1. I came down here to say this too. RC! I’ve been using mine lately for FPV transmitters. It allows you to utilize lots of different bands & up to a watt for your transmitter.

  34. Hey, Dan – you might be interested in this column I wrote back in ’99 that someone resurrected here: http://trbo.org/friendlyrepeater.html

    The short story is we need a new Q-Code – QBC. It goes like this:

    QBC? = Are we in the middle of a boring, pointless conversation?
    QBC = We are in the middle of a boring, pointless conversation. Let’s terminate immediately.

    You can have the occasional stimulating conversation on Ham Radio, but it’s risky to start one without a good exit strategy, and if we adopt the QBC?/QBC concept, we’ll have a better one than “Well, just got the old dinner call” (really, it’s 2 in the afternoon), or “I think I’d better concentrate on my driving” (so you haven’t been paying attention to the road so far?).

    And here’s my offer: let’s talk about this – and Hackaday.com in general – on my show HamRadioNow.tv. Drop me a line at kn4aq@arvn.tv if you’re interested. It’s about time I give Hackaday some love for being the ONLY tech site to pay any regular attention to Amateur Radio.

    73, Gary KN4AQ

    1. <blockquote?or “I think I’d better concentrate on my driving” (so you haven’t been paying attention to the road so far?).

      Maybe they’ve just been on quiet back streets where there’s less to concentrate on and now they’re entering the main road where there’s a lot more traffic about?

  35. The world changes, transistors are not the same as tubes/valves, mp3 is not the same as vinyl. It doesn’t mean that those things are no longer interesting or useful, just that the convenience of transistors and downloadable music makes them the default in the world today.

    The same applies to radio, before the internet, ham radio and even CB were the communications revolution. You could talk to people in a public forum from anywhere. But today it is rare that I need to talk to someone to find help or discover something interesting. I can search on-line and find a great deal of information in various formats such as blogs, forums, videos and podcasts that I can learn from. Chances are most of the questions I have are already answered by someone and if they aren’t there are good forums where I can ask.

    For me there seems little point in waiting your turn to say something on the airwaves and hope that the person you want to speak to is there to hear you. Cell phones mean that you can speak to someone almost anywhere, send and receive text messages and email as well as go on-line.

    The internet and cell phones have just become the moist convenient communications methods. They do not require any specialist knowledge, licences. That is not to say that radio technology is not fascinating for technically inclined or that it in any way looses its importance in the development of the technology landscape. But it does mean that using it for general communication is something limited to those who have a particular affinity to it, the same way some people still love to listen to records.

    There are undoubtedly some very knowledgeable people in the ham world that many of us wish we had the knowledge they have, but simply don’t find radio a compelling communications platform.

    1. I don’t get the cellphone comparison. Everyone pulls that one out these days.. why do I need radio when I can call whoever I want to whenever and wherever on my phone?

      I missed the 70s CB boom, It was almost over when I was just being born. It sounds like fun though. Hop in your car, select channel# wherever your friends hang out, send a call and whoever is available replies… now off you go to go hang out, party, whatever…

      That is nothing like a cellphone where you call one friend, hey.. you busy.. call another, repeat. That’s work plus if you really did that on a regular basis nobody would want you to know there phone number anymore! A radio is a good way to address all of and only those peope who are actually available now.

      For me the closest thing was instant messengers in the late 90s, early zeros. I could see a list of who was online at the moment among my college friends and then invite the ones that were available to hang out. Presumably if they were out or busy they would be offline or dnd or something. I still had to be in my dorm room where the computer was and click plus message each one individually.

      Or.. maybe I just watched too many movies and the 70s weren’t really like that.

      1. CB was largely a mess, at least by the standards of the time, although tame in comparison to some of the posturing idiots that splatter the band now. But between the poor equipment available then and the fact that given where we were in the sunspot cycle, skip closed the place down (for local traffic at least) regularly, it was a hit or miss proposition. I was never active on the band but some of the people I knew were and had a rig in their cars and they seemed to have fun with it. By that time, as I wrote elsewhere in this thread, I had all but stopped being active on amateur radio, but it seemed to me the CB crowd were mostly trying to BS each other as outrageously as possible and that had no appeal to me.

        1. Which is a use that was replaced by….. cellphones?

          Exactly!

          Ok, I guess you can always install an irc client on a smartphone but text chat over the internet isn’t quite the same as voice chat with people local enough you might actually meet them face to face.

          Looking back I see that the comment I replied to wasn’t just ‘cellphones replaced radio’ but also internet. Sure, Internet voice chat is a thing but how many people can be in a ‘room’ before it ceases to scale. And… how many ‘rooms’ are there where you can chat with people local to your own location?

          I just don’t see how the internet, cellphones or any other ‘newer’ technology has replaced radio. They just don’t provide the same thing!

  36. That’s exactly why I am now beginning to use the amateur-satellite service. A pass is usually around ten minutes long and there are always a few people on. So there are mostly information exchanged, not really that sort of chatting on repeaters – though sometimes I even enjoy that with a few friends. I like to hear what they do and what’s going on. When having traffic jam in Germany – we often have – on our highways (these famous “Autobahn”s) I hear of them on repeaters and it often saves me some time on the street so that is helpful. What I also enjoy is receiving or transmitting WSPR. It is /pure/ information, as it is mainly call sign, location and transmitting power. It’s sometimes really interesting to see where these weak signal can be received. My transceiver can only be set to 0,5 W minimum and that is really a lot for WSPR. I’m not really that interested in SSB shortwave communication and don’t do that often. The shortwave itself though is interesting for me and maybe I’ll do more digimodes on it. DMR and other digital speech modes are fascinating, but the content is even worse than on the repeaters.

    1. Every time i’ve tried working a satellite, the “contesty” vibe and lingo makes it difficult to understand what is happening. I just want to see who is out there, how far away, and if they can hear me. Im sure that info might be exchanged, I just don’t like how the HAM-speak is so necessary and unapprochable, and looked down on those who don’t use it

      I have my general, just never make contacts because of everything this article mentions

  37. Similar story for me. I never really enjoyed making contacts very much. I did (and still do) enjoy tinkering with the equipment, and having a “ticket” allows me to legally transmit signals more powerful and on frequencies that would otherwise be unavailable. I experiment with DIY drones, and have legal access to technologies (in theory) not available to non-hams. I’ve also launched a “near space” balloon with a DIY “ham” aprs tracker that aided in a successful recovery. I’d like to experiment with WSPR on HF, another ham specific activity requires a licence (at least to transmit) but does not involve actually talking to anyone.

    So, there are a few reasons to get a license beyond talking, and frankly, for a technically inclined person, the licenses are pretty easy to get.

  38. The last time I attended the local Ham meeting, over a decade ago, someone passed maybe 10 of the rankest smelling (silent) farts during the meeting. They continued to do so even after the break (What? they didn’t go to the restroom?).

    1. Any number of medical issues can produce this. How is one man’s medical issue an indictment of ham radio?

      Since I’ve been a ham operator 33 years, I guess people like you must put me in the “smelly old man” category. Keep thinking that you have nothing to learn from people like me. Your loss, not mine.

  39. HAM is a great way to get a license to use some radio spectrum, and has been a useful tool for guiding some learning about radio.

    I agree whole heatedly with the article, I don’t really want to talk about HAMs about their off-the-shelf radio setups, or Shack Cats. I am however interested in building things which communicate to me or others interesting/useful information.

    Weather ballooning is a good example. I sort of see my HAM license as a compliment to being able to use SDR. SDR to listen, and my HAM license to make some noise to listen to.

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