That’s Not Real Ham Radio

Things had been pretty quiet on the ham front lately but then I ran into a string of “That’s Not Real Ham Radio” discussions. This happens from time to time…I usually ignore it…but this time I got sucked into the topic.

It started with some HF enthusiasts I know talking about how “digital modes” are just not very satisfying. Their point is that with CW and SSB, there is an audio connection to your ear that makes you an integral part of the radio communication. The extreme-DSP modes such as JT65 insert serious signal processing that essentially removes the human connection.  This can quickly lead to the generalization that these digital modes “aren’t real ham radio.”

I think its fair to say that most hams think of the HF bands as the center of the hobby…getting on the air, bouncing signals off the ionosphere to talk to someone over the horizon. Some hams will go even further and say that CW is the only way to go. Anything less is just phone. FM and repeaters? Forget that stuff…not enough skill required. And certainly, don’t get stuck on 2 meters.

In a previous post, I argued we should not confuse religion with modulation. I do occasionally make snarky comments about the continued use of AM (AKA Ancient Modulation), but I’ve tried to tone that down in recent years.

What About DMR?

Just last week, I was playing around with a DMR hotspot on the Brandmeister network. It really struck me that people on the system were having a blast talking to each other across North America and around the world. But then that nagging little voice in the back of my head said “hey, wait a minute…this is not real DX…the RF signal might only be traveling 20 feet or so from an HT to a hotspot.”

This caused me to put out a plea for insight on twitter:

I received a lot of good replies with the answers tending to clump into these three categories:

  • I don’t know (“That’s Not Real Ham Radio”)
  • It’s fun, new technology
  • It’s a digital network that brings ham radio operators together

My interest seems to fall into the second category: this is fun, new technology. Which does make me wonder how long this new technology will remain interesting to me. Well, that is difficult to predict but I’ll invoke the principle of try not to overthink it. The idea that DMR is a digital network that brings ham radio operators together makes some sense. In the past, I have argued that amateur radio is not for talking. In other words, if you just want to talk someone, there are much more convenient ways of doing that. Still, there is something attractive about this ham-radio-only digital network.

It really is important to not overthink this kind of stuff. Ham radio is supposed to be fun, so if you are having fun, you are probably doing it right. If you are not having fun, then you might want to examine what you are doing. See my post on the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.

Sometimes hams can get a little spun up about those other guys that don’t appreciate our way of doing ham radio. What the heck is wrong with them anyway? I’ve always been inspired by the Noise Blankers Mission Statement:

Do radio stuff.
Have fun doing it.
Show people just how fun it is.

If your preferred form of ham radio is so superior, it ought to be easy to show other hams how cool it is. If not, then maybe you aren’t doing it right. Conversely, as long as other hams are having fun and operating legally, don’t knock what they are doing. In fact, encourage them. We need more people having fun with ham radio, even if it’s not your favorite kind of fun.

That’s my opinion. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

11 Replies to “That’s Not Real Ham Radio”

  1. Excellent article Bob. I’m finding that by using ham methods like Dstar, JT65, and other “non traditional” modes it is making me a better operator and also teaching me along the way. Now if I could only learn CW life would be sweet. LOL!
    Al, w1nga

  2. I use Echolink for a contact 100 miles away because 40 metres doesn’t always work. I have known my friend for 20 years. Using Echolink means being able to talk to my pal or not be able to talk to him at all. Is it amateur radio? Yes it is.

  3. Al, When you were young, a mean Army Sgt would have helped you ” learn” Code. Practice, Practice.
    All modes have value, but it maybe in the eyes of the beholder. Experimentation and ham radio are co-partners.

  4. If you begin to put arbitrary limitations on any pursuit, you are most likely dooming it. Let folks seek their own level, their own types of activities. I happen to enjoy that occasional AM contact (I’m a former broadcaster and simply enjoy the mode sometimes) yet I also really get into the digital modes. I don’t appreciate at all someone telling me I am not a “real ham” if I don’t particularly enjoy doing what they enjoy doing in the hobby.

    Just off hand, though, I can’t really think of anything I DON’T enjoy! But I’ll keep thinking…


    Don Keith N4KC

  5. As far as I am concerned it it involves the radiation and reception of a radio frequency signal it is Ham Radio.

  6. I suppose those who say or write “ham radios” as a noun — “he uses a ham radio” don’t have a long history with us. Didn’t we always say “ham radio equipment” or a “ham radio transceiver”? A “ham radio set” is a little dated. Having had my first license 60 years ago makes me a little dated, but I do send and receive Fast Scan High Definition TV. (My first call was KN0HNH). 73 Bob N6AZV

  7. I’m facing this issue right now because I’m developing tendonitis in my sending arm and cannot send 20wpm+ machine readable cw with a straight key any more. (if I ever could). So I have wired up a digital modem and use a keyboard to send macros – and it works. But it’s different. Apart from that, all the rest is “traditional” cw on hf – hf antennas, propoagation, the cluster, listening etc.

    Also I have dmr and although I don’t use it much to chat I have used brandmeister to get onto a reflector in Spain via a local repeater (not a hotspot). And that was a whole lot of learning about rf technology. And I have a lot of friends who do use it for worldwide chat qso’s.

    I think that ham radio is a very broad hobby about rf and electronics. Enjoy whatever takes your fancy!

  8. Pingback: Ham Radio or Not, | Lakeway Amateur Radio Club / W2IQ

  9. If i dont decode it with my ears then it us not ham radio…it may be a great form of communication but it us not ham radio. Where is the part where i dig into the noise to pull out a weak one? Why would i brag about a communication where all of the work is done by a computer? Where is the accomplishment?

    If i want solid communications i would just use my other ham radio…called a phone.

    Without me doing something only my computer has accoplished something.

    Ham radio is about people not computers.

    Pete scola
    Founder of DDD
    Dont Do Digital

    • I use Echolink to talk to a friend in California. We use this method because HF is not reliable. We talk weekly and catch up on family news and what we have done on the radio. It’s not ideal but better than not talking at all.
      The subject of what is amateur radio has raged for decades. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean it is NOT amateur radio however.

    • OK, then don’t use DSP or any kind of filtering to eliminate QRM or noise since that is using technology besides your “ears” to increase your ability to decode a signal. Avoid SSB at all costs! That employs filtering and elimination of a carrier to increase the ability to communicate. Absolutely DO NOT operate on any of the amateur satellites or even VHF/UHF repeaters! Those terrible things are not “people” and thus not “ham radio.”

      Gosh, for a moment there I thought it was 1964 all over again, when hams were decrying SSB as the doom of the hobby, eliminating the carrier, filtering out one sideband, requiring operators to actually tune their VFOs for intelligibility. For goodness sake, let’s not employ new and exciting technology to create modes that make communication possible under poor conditions!