I have been a licensed Ham or Amateur Radio operator for about 20 years. By some standards, I am still considered a newcomer. Some of my first experiences with the hobby was to work Morse code or CW down on the Novice part of the 15 and 40 meter bands. I made plenty of contacts and even more mistakes. For a time I would imagine the old time Ham operator at the other end chuckling at me, thinking I was still wet behind the ears. Although many scoff at being a CW operator and it’s no longer a requirement for a license, my experience with this aspect of the hobby has always been one of fun and excitement. The fun comes in when you can take a radio that outputs 5 watts of power (same as a night light bulb), connect it to a chunk of wire strung between 2 trees and have a conversation with another operator thousands of miles away.
Chatting or rag-chewing as it’s called with other Hams is always fun and can be rather interesting. One fellow I worked who was well up in age comes to mind. He was a gentleman in his 90’s and included a short letter with his QSL card. His letter mentioned a few things about his life during World War II and a few of his Hamming experiences. One of those experiences was, when a young man, he built a spark gap transmitter. It just so happened that there was a power line which stretched between his parents house and their old barn. Since the power line was off 99% of the time, he decided to use it as his makeshift antenna. One day as he was happily transmitting away, his father applied power to the antenna and blew his old Spark Gap transmitter to pieces! Well, we can all say a prayer that, due to modern science and engineering, Ham Radio is nothing at all like that today. Although I still enjoy using a soldering iron on occasion, there is a world of difference between thousands of volts applied across the the grid of tube and today’s all solid state equipment which only require very low DC current under most circumstances.
Of course there are some which would argue how tube radios have better quality audio. Others might say that Hams today are just appliance operators. Yes, these statements are also true to some degree. I can’t dispute that. But I can bet that a majority of these same Hams never leave home without their cell phones. I’d also imagine they would not complain much about slipping a credit card sized VHF transceiver into their shirt pocket before heading to their local Hamfest!
In my opinion, the hobby is nearly as much fun and exciting today as it was back in my Novice days. Of course there have been numerous advances to Ham Radio over the past 20 years. The technological advances themselves are part of what makes the hobby interesting. Due to the commercialization of the internet, and good engineering on the part of Hams, you don’t even need a radio to get on the air. For example there is Echolink. You may not know this Windows software allows Ham operators to communicate all over the world right from your PC. the only equipment you need is a sound card, speaker and a very low cost microphone. If you are a licensed Ham or may be thinking about becoming one, visit the Echolink Web site. You will find all the information you need to get started. At the moment that I published this article, there were over 3900 Hams on Echolink around the globe.
So come on, investigate the world of Ham Radio. There is so much to learn and explore. As always, a good place to start is right at the beginning. Find out much more about the Hobby, for example you may want to visit Hello Radio for a very well written, non-technical introduction.
by Gary Utz