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.

268 thoughts on “My Beef With Ham Radio

  1. Interesting post and comments. I got licensed as a teenager 30 years ago then family etc intervened and I only just took up the hobby again in the last couple of years. I really enjoy the simple “thrill” of making a contact over the airwaves, but like the OP I’m not especially interested in spending hours idly chatting about personal stuff. Although I do find a bit of chat over 2m about rigs/antennas/shack setup etc interesting sometimes within reason. I’ve found I like the shorter forms better – so contests, SOTA chasing/activation, activity weekends etc… you make a contact, exchange signal reports, perhaps an observation about conditions or equipment and then that’s it. I’ve also found other less “chewy” modes like FT8, satellite etc very rewarding.

    One thing I have observed about hams though – and this isn’t directed at the OP personally, so much as a general observation – is that hams do seem to enjoy complaining about the way other hams make use of the hobby! There’s always someone saying there is too much ragchewing, or not enough ragchewing, or too many digital modes, or too many people who don’t use CW, or this digital mode is okay but that one is RUINING THE HOBBY, or “the hobby doesn’t have enough new blood”, but then.. “there are too many newbies on the air” etc etc :D

  2. Simply put, you get what you put into the hobby. Interesting to see so many complain and yet, do nothing to change it. It’s not the hobby that’s the problem, it’s you. DE KH6AME

  3. The hobby of Amateur Radio is so diverse, that talking to other hams is not necessary if you don’t wish to. I suggest your experience with the hobby was short and limited. A high proportion of today HF communication is quite impersonal with Data modes exchanging signal reports as operators experience the behaviors of propagation, antenna experiments using as little power as possible, or looking out for the elusive rare country. If that doesn’t float your boat, that’s fine, there is plenty more.

    For some it is the construction or restoration of old equipment, Chasing satellites, Slow scan TV, distance records, software….. this and and a lot more, all limited by your imagination. 73, Paul VK2APA

  4. I really do feel for Dan Maloney – really I do – I’m exactly the same. I took my radio test in 1988 and gained my licence. I used to re-xtal old commercial radios to listen into police and public service channels but since they became encrypted digital services I backed off. Since those days have not really done much with it.

    I’ve just wakened a long lapsed licence and got onto DMR more recently and I listen to the dismal conversations on TG91 and time how long it is before they talk about the weather or local temparature, as if the internet cant provide either. or worse saying things like Hi HI on a perfect HD voice connection. These types of exchanges are mostly a stilted boring pastich of a real conversation. in fact when some amatures are asked about their lives and their jobs and their local cultural background many soon clam up or are conveniently just being called by their (XYL) for their tea – its so off-putting.

    That said – I’m heartened by the newer digital modes like FT8 which makes a virtue out of brevity or using single board computers and flying them on balloons etc. There is enough room in this broad hobby I think for us all. From those who want to repeat the same stunted ‘conversation’ day after day to others to those who want to simply listen and decode stuff on SDR. I’m more the latter.

    Each time I mention it one gets the same old defensive nonsense from other hams about leaving the hobby etc. No I fully understand Dan Maloney’s position.

  5. Part of my issue is I’m just not a conversationalist, and I honestly think it’s getting worse the older I get. How do you keep a conversation going when you can barely remember what you just said in the last transmission?

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