Thursday, July 29, 2010

Still dying after all these years...

Back to amateur radio for a moment.  Amateur radio and how technology is affecting its growth.  There is a very good editorial in the August issue of CQ MAGAZINE about how ham radio has been dying...for over 60 years.  As with many other things technological, innovation and change is supposed to have been causing eroding interest in the hobby since the so-called glory days of the early 1950s.

See, that was when people were buidling their own gear--because they could, before ICs, surface-mount technology, computers-masquerading-as-radios, and the like--experimenting, learning.  It was also before ubiquitous cell phones brought us the ability to talk without wires around the world, the internet, email, IM, and Facebook. 

Ham radio is dying!  That became the cry from the masses.  And it only got worse when things began to change and the old timers felt their world crumbling beneath their feet.

Hey, I was just getting into the hobby when SSB began replacing AM.  Talk about wars!

Well, all that technology has failed to put a dent in our wonderful hobby.  The numbers are up and, as of right now, we have far more active amateurs than ever before.  Some of CQ's guesses on how to determine who is "active" may be statistically fuzzy, but I think they are about as close as we can get. 

I'll throw one more thing into the mix: I hear people say that the bands are just not as crowded as they once were.  Well, they weren't in the pile-up for the Rwandan dx-pedition the other night!  Truth is, we have more bands now than we had in the '50s.  160, thanks to antenna experimentation and more widely available commercially made gear, is viable.  And many prefer VHF/UHF and FM now and spend more time there.  They were non-starters 60 years ago.

No, CQ's point is right on.  The hobby is healthy and growing, innovating and morphing.  And it's still one heck of a lot of fun!



Don Keith N4KC


recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

I saw a chart in one of the last few QST issues (can't remember which) showing new licenses for the past 5 years. '06 and '07 showed 4000 new licenses issued each year and 2000 per year each of the last three. And that's just FCC tickets here in the states. This hobby is growing in popularity as I see it. As the rest of the world becomes more technological/ modernized and disposable incomes increase with the rest of the world's expanding middle class I think even more opportunity for growth. More new ops around the world = more DX Hi Hi

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Don!

This is my Golden Anniversary in Amateur radio and I have never been more involved in my niche of DXing and chasing Islands On The Air than now.

I totally subscribe to the worldview of the self-fulfilling prophesy. DX IS because we make it so. We DXers don't live in the murky past. We live on the knife edge of state-of-the-art.

We welcome the natural marriage of radio and computer, solid state integration and miniaturization, digital modes and remote-control stations that make the specter of CC&Rs an impediment of the past.

Ham radio dead? I don't think so.

Wayne C. Long, K9YNF
Cascade, Wisconsin

Don Keith N4KC said...

Agreed on all counts, fellas. It ties in with the theme of this blog: technological change and how people handle it. It is human nature to dislike or fear change because it takes us out of our comfort zones. But for many--and a significant number of folks who are attracted to a technological hobby like ham radio--change is exciting.

Sure people want to hang onto old stuff. Hey, I operate AM sometimes myself. And I'd kind of like to hear an old Model 19 teletype clunking away again, just for nostalgia's sake. That is just one of the aspects I like about our hobby. You can have a DX-100 Heathkit sitting there on the shack desk next to your Flex-5000. I like the old stuff, but I am also thrilled about the possibilities of SDRs, satellites, super-low-frequency propagation and more.

Oh, and I got the Rwandan on CW the other night. That was a thrill, too.


Don Keith N4KC