We’ve Got Some Explaining to Do

There was a fun interaction on twitter the other day about how we represent amateur radio to the general public. It started with this tweet from @FaradayRF:

This refers to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper where the author decided to use the theme of “ham radio is retro” to tell the story of a ham radio gathering at NAB. I really hate it when ham radio gets positioned as “old technology” in the world of awesome wireless stuff. Clearly, some of our technology is dated, but the amateur service includes lots of new technology and experimentation. (Actually, the tone of the article was very positive, so we shouldn’t complain too loudly.)

So I replied, along with a few other folks:

So KB6NU and KC4YLV took the discussion back to good old Part 97 of the FCC rules. (You ever notice how often radio hams like to quote Part 97? It’s right up there with the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.) I tried to recall from memory the five things listed in 97.1 as the Basis and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service, but failed.

I had to look them up, so I’ll save you the trouble and list them here. Actually, I am going to provide the KØNR Abbreviated Version (go here to see the full text):

Part 97.1 Basis and Purpose of Amateur Radio
a) Voluntary public service, including emergency communications
b) Advancement of the radio art
c) Advancement of communication and technical skills
d) Expansion of trained radio/electronics enthusiasts
e) Enhancement of international good will

These five things are still relevant and are being pursued today. Not all radio amateurs contribute to every one of these but as a group we are doing these things. The good news is that many non-hams do understand the When All Else Fails aspect of ham radio…most have had their cellphone become a useless brick during major incidents. Items b, c and d are all about learning new things, building skills and expanding the number of radio hams. We should talk more about that. Enhancing international good will may seem a bit quaint but this crazy world can always use another dose of that.

Part 97 does leave out one thing that is the ultimate attraction and, in fact, the universal purpose of ham radio:

To Have Fun Messing Around with Radios.

73, Bob KØNR

11 Replies to “We’ve Got Some Explaining to Do”

  1. Thanks for highlighting this important topic. It feels great to be actually trying to do something to generate renewed interest in the applicability of ham radio to electronic experimentation. Yes there are niches such as SDR and digital voice but those are much more advanced and pointed than the general idea of application of ham radio priviledges to technology and education. Looking forward to seeing more on this topic!

    • Thanks for the comment, Bryce.
      I think this topic needs some additional thought on how exactly we communicate the fun and relevance of amateur radio.

  2. Hi Bob, thanks for the article and comments. One thing that really plays to Ham’s future, however , is the “retro” piece. A lot of Millenials are into doing things “the old way,” and despite what some think about them always have their faces in an iPhone, they like (almost are obsessed) with the reuse and recycle movement. In fact, I’ve managed to get my daughter and a couple of her “twenties” friends interested in considering being a ham, because the idea of working with technology that their grandparents and great grandparents used really excites them — almost as much as purchasing heirloom seeds for their organic urban farms (I confess I like that as much as Ham). A big thing we can go to make sure the hobby survives and grows is to play up that “Old School” side if it. Then again, there’s the whole issue of a youngster showing up at a Ham meeting and it’s a bunch of really old white men sitting around a table drinking coffee and complaining about X Y & Z, especially these “young lazy spoiled kids” (you’ll note that a lot of these young spoiled lazy kids went off an fought a couple of wars that old farts started, and they’re busting tail at 2 jobs because the old farts trashed the economy, but I rant), that needs to be addressed. That’s the old (and sadly dominant) part of the hobby that really turns the youngsters (and frankly, me) off. I therefore think the more we explain cool stuff like SOTA, outreach [international citizenship and friendship] to other parts of the world (SSB QSO in Venezuela last night was just plain cool, and we did it in Spanglish, which was really nice), etc they better we can do. The whole emergency comms is really a poor excuse to justify Hams “owning” a portion of the RF spectrum … there are so many “hardened” and redundant C4 systems out there, if someone actually looked at public service as a justification for Ham, they’d quickly learn that the little slivers we have could be better spent doing other stuff. I’m not saying ARES is a waste or anything like that, but it’s just an aspect of the hobby … as much as home brewing. Really, 99% of people who aren’t engineers by proclivity or training will have no interest in building a radio, antenna, etc. So if we want to grow, we have to find things that will excite others. It might also help if the old farts stop being grumpy, like when you QRS because you’re sitting in a swamp fighting off bugs and 105* heat index and they are not satisfied with your WPM so they starting banging out at 30 WPM. True story, just last week. Thanks again!

    • Hey John,
      Thanks for the comments. I see your point about the retro thing being a useful story but I just see way too much of it. It usually starts with “well when I was a Novice back in ’44” which is not very compelling to most people today (of any age). Maybe it’s the attitude more than the age of the technology. For example, CW is a very useful technology despite its age but going into lecture mode on how CW is the only worthy mode in ham radio is not that helpful.

      • Oh I agree … CW and QRP is a hoot, but nothing worse than a discourse on how if you are want to place SSB with a boatload of power, you’re not a “real” ham … then you getthe grief that if you did not build that legal limit amp, you’re not a real real ham. Get tedious ….

  3. Today Ham Radio looks like a benign quaint activity that “old” people do. And to be fair it’s mostly true. Your typical Ham knows nothing technical beyond twiddling a few knobs. Look at all the Ham Blogs, Podcasts, and Online Videos these days, they’re almost all non-technical. I can go to your usual Ham Blog any day of the week, and what do I get? Plenty of posts about SOTA or NPOTA activity, but nothing of substance technically. This is what we have become – stale. Heck we can’t even get the “Maker” community interested in Ham Radio!

    • Sure, there’s lots of SOTA and NPOTA on the web…people having fun with radio.
      I see lots of technical stuff too.
      Examples: FaradayRF, SDRplay, SharkRF, Arduino, RaspberryPi

    • That’s because most people don’t care about building technology and prefer to use technology. Same thing with wrench turners and gear heads…most of them (this is a broad generalization) leave the building of new stuff to the pros and the focus on putting the new part in. Look at American Muscle (a catalog for Mustang owners). It’s all about getting a new widget part that you attach to your engine that will give you that extra 3 hp. There’s no focus on development there: it’s leggo assembly. Becuase that’s what most people want. And frankly, I suspect, as a community if we think we can keep this hobby alive by selling as a primary focus the “joy” of the technology r&d, ham will go the way of the dinosaur. You can get a lot neater comm technology without a license with an iPhone, a tool you never have to open.

      • N1OIE,
        Times have changed and as a professional Electrical Engineer myself it’s blatantly obvious that to expect radio amateurs to produce the technical breakthroughs in radio technology like we did in the mid 1900’s is shortsighted. Instead I’d advocate for the ability to learn fundamentals with it and also have the ability to use even pre-built radio modules in different ways.

        Yes we may not be designing radios from the oscillator up as radio amateurs (though some of us will) we can still put them to unique and impressive use. Shameless plug, my project FaradayRF uses ISM band RF transceivers tuned for ham bands and our software stack is developed for radio amateur experimentation. We benefit from not having to solve the RF problem on a per radio basis and focusing on actually developing use-cases for this new technology. I’m convinced this is a valuable development for part of the ham radio experience!

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