Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ancient technology gets NPR treatment

There are those who denigrate amateur radio because they accuse us "hams" of using old-fashioned technology, and they claim the hobby is dying. Yes, we use radio-frequency waves to communicate. And RF communication has been around for over a hundred years. But believe me when I tell you that many aspects of the hobby are as modern as anything on the WWW. (The web, by the way, is just a glorified telephone, and wifi is--dare I say it?--made possible by that hundred-year-old RF stuff.)

Well, no less an observer of all things new and hip than National Public Radio did a story recently on the resurgence in interest in the hobby. You can read the story and listen to the on-air version HERE.

I think they give too much credit for an increase in interest to the elimination of the Morse code as part of the licensing process. That may have helped some, but I really think the hobby has enough to recommend it that it will continue to find a ready group of folks who want to join in.

I just celebrated my 47th year as a licensed "ham" and, despite being an old geezer, I'm enjoying it as much now as I ever have. I had a great chat last weekend with a fellow who was hiking in the mountains of upstate New York. He had climbed a firetower and set up his station there. He also hooked up a VHF radio and transmitted a signal that allowed me to go to a web site and see on a map exactly where he was. A few days before, I spoke with a couple of guys who had ridden snowmobiles out to an island in the far northern reaches of Hudson Bay and were operating from there. And I talked with a group who were using solar-powered radios from the Dry Tortugas off the Florida coast. (By the way, I made some of those contacts using an antenna I built myself.)

I also had a chat the other day--from my car--with a nice guy in Baranquilla, Ecuador. There have been other stations recently operating from an island off Vietnam and from Baghdad, Iraq. Next weekend, huge dish-type antennas--including the famous SETI dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico--will beam amateur radio signals that will bounce off the moon and back to earth. Many of us will tune in and listen to them.

Dying hobby? Technology passed us by? Even NPR has shoved that notion aside!


Don Keith N4KC

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