Newsflash: Not Everyone Is Going to Be an Expert

You’ve probably run into this situation…some of the more experienced radio amateurs commenting about how so many of the newer hams are incompetent. “Yeah, they’ve dumbed down the FCC exam, so now anyone can get a license. Back when I got my license, I had to copy Morse Code in my head, design a triple-feedback-loop vacuum tube amplifier and recite the Gettysburg address backwards in front of an FCC examiner.”

A while back, I wrote about the time when a newbie on an email list asked a simple electronics question and got this reply: Not to pick on you, but is there any requirement these days to have a basic knowledge of electricity and/or radios to get a ham license?

Often this shows up as an elitist attitude of If you don’t pursue the hobby my way or at my level, then you are doing it wrong.

Since amateur radio consumes most, but not all, of my hobby time, it is easy to lose perspective on this. And, yes, I am sure I have complained about clueless newbies and LID operators from time to time.

It’s interesting to put the shoe on the other foot and think about activities that I pursue with much less time and intensity. In other words, think about activities where I am not that experienced and certainly not an expert.

For example, I enjoy fishing but I am really not that skilled at it. For me, fishing is just an excuse to sit next to a stream and enjoy the scenery. If I catch fish, that is a plus (but I always throw them back in anyway). When I encounter Real Fisherpersons, they are usually friendly and helpful, passing along a few tips on what they using for bait, etc. Sometimes I will encounter That Fly Fishing Guy that looks down his nose at any form of fishing that does not meet his high standard.

I also enjoy photography. I have a decent Canon DSLR camera with a few lenses and I manage to capture some reasonably good photos that way. (This probably has more to do with the quality of the camera than the photographer.) My interest is mostly to capture experiences and events in my life and create photos that I can use in my various writing activities. But I know a number of people that are infinitely more skilled than I am. They are generally very helpful and I usually manage to learn something from them. Come to think of it, I have not encountered very many condescending photographers — most of them have been very helpful. Maybe I have just been lucky.

Although it’s a cliche, Life is Too Short. There are so many things we can choose to do with our time and, really, so little time to do it. People must make choices about how deep they get into any activity, all while balancing family time and demands at work. It shouldn’t surprise us when some people choose to be part-time hams and don’t aspire to be the expert in all things radio.

And the final point is, if you think you have something to offer to the newbies, make sure you come across as helpful and make sure it looks like you are having fun. Being the Old School Grumpus will not attract people to your favorite activity. Having fun and inviting them in will!

73, Bob K0NR

  1. #1 by Ron Bowman W8VZM on 10 March 2012 - 11:35 am

    Aint it the truth! I may chuckle at the question but you know I ask some doozys sometimes!

  2. #2 by Amir on 10 March 2012 - 2:27 pm

    There are a few very dumb questions that maybe are best to remain unanswered but usually, once a question is posed, it should be answered in a way that promotes knowledge. And it is best when the answering is left to those who are challenged by questions and enjoy answering them, teachers, elmers and such.

    73 de Amir K9CHP

  3. #3 by Bill on 10 March 2012 - 4:24 pm

    Oh man, can I ever relate. Way way back in the dinasour days I had an in-law get me into CB. He was a trucker. He explained all the advantages to CB (before the days of extreme language). I was making trips across the country then so it all sounded good. My vehicles were always very well used and required maintenance before starting a trip. I had 3 small kids so I was looking for something in case I broke down on a lonely stretch of road. I was unhappy because some nights I wouldn’t be able to raise anyone while driving..In-law said I needed to get me a 50 to 100 watt leanyar. I lived about 2 blocks from the largest Ham Radio store in West Tennessee at the time. I went in looking around at the benches and shelves of treasure and junk. The 3 owners were there drinking coffee. After browsing around for awhile one asked if he could help me. I told him what I was looking for and he wanted to know my callsign. I told him (I was legal and had one for CB) When I told him he said “you’re a CB’er!. I said yes that’s right. He told me amplifiers were illegal for CBers and they didn’t want my business…So I left. I remained a happy CB’er for several years until I had to turn the radio off because of the foul language. I stayed out of radio for years. My elmer tried to get me to get into Amateur Radio. It took him 5 years to talk me into it because I never forgot the rude way I was treated just for looking. I did finally get into ham and love it. My first mobile was purchased but not from the local dealer. I order the brand they sold but I got it from the other side of the US. I still won’t go into their store nor will I stop by their displays at hamfest.
    If they had taken the time to explain things to me and told me how much more enjoyable Amateur Radio was…..well things would have been different years earlier.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. #4 by Steve Schrock on 10 March 2012 - 5:03 pm

    I agree with most of what you wrote. Do you have a Certificate listing you as an “Expert Fly-fisherman” when all you had to do was to memorize the answers to a few published questions ??

    • #5 by K0NR on 11 March 2012 - 5:29 pm

      No, I don’t have an Expert Fly Fisher certificate.

      I don’t think I have an Expert Amateur Radio certificate either. If you are referring to an FCC Amateur Radio License, I think that only certifies that a person has met the minimum requirements to get a particular grade of license. Even back in the olden days with 20 wpm CW tests, some of our worst LIDs had Extra Class licenses.

      73, Bob K0NR

  5. #6 by Elliot on 19 March 2012 - 3:48 pm

    That is why I have really been enjoying the resurgence of new hams, it is fun to teach new folks some of the fascinating aspects of the hobby, there are so many facets that I could never claim expertise in any of them, For instance I enjoy kit building but do not have the first clue when it comes to home-brewing radios.

  6. #7 by Robbie KK4HTI on 22 March 2012 - 12:43 am

    I don’t have an expert certificate either (I’m too new).
    And I didn’t just “memorize the answers to a few published questions”.
    The tests for Technician and General weren’t that difficult, at least not for me. I just tested and scored 35/35 on the Tech and 31/35 on the General (the 4 I missed were band or regulation based). Did I mention I’ve worked in the wonderful world of electronics since 1969… or that I’m a new ham at 61?
    Reading through Gordon West books should allow just about anyone to pass either test after several weeks of study. They won’t be experts, but they’ll be on their way. And, just my two-bits, anyone who’s smart enough to memorize the questions is going to pick up a pretty good grounding in ham basics. That is the point, because Life IS too short.!

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