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Amateur radio experiences DIY renaissance

Thanks in part to a do-it-yourself movement, amateur radio is experiencing a revival.

David SumnerBy David Sumner

When amateurs began experimenting with radio more than a century ago, they had no choice but to build everything they needed. Some went on to become successful entrepreneurs, selling their creations to fellow hobbyists who were more interested in operating radios than in constructing them. Others built their own receivers and transmitters either from economic necessity or for the fun and satisfaction of being able to say, "I did it myself."

After World War II, the market was flooded with surplus electronic components that could be bought in bulk for less than the cost of manufacture. The Heath Company parlayed these riches into a successful business by designing kits that could be built at home by anyone with simple tools and a soldering iron.

Step-by-step instructions virtually eliminated the risk of failure. No one embraced Heathkits more enthusiastically than the amateur-radio community. At the time, electronic manufacturing still involved point-to-point wiring and was very labor intensive, so hams could buy a kit for less than the cost of an equivalent factory-assembled unit and — as a bonus — experience the joy of putting it together. Other companies also offered kits, but Heathkit is virtually synonymous with the era.

The advent of solid-state devices, printed circuit boards, and automatic parts insertion removed the price advantage that kits enjoyed. By the time the Heath Company closed its doors in 1992, most amateur-radio equipment was being manufactured in Japan.

But Heathkit's demise did not spell the end of home construction in amateur radio. Anyone who has ever made a two-way radio contact with simple equipment they built on their own workbench or kitchen table will tell you that it's a thrilling experience. One of the many thriving subcultures in amateur radio is the QRP community, named for the international Morse code signal for "decrease power." QRPers pride themselves on being able to communicate all over the world with less than 5 watts of transmitter power, often with homemade gear. Their clever equipment designs — offered as kits by clubs and small businesses — have led to a renaissance in kit building. There are so many kits available from so many suppliers that, if you set out to build them all, you would never finish!

Today, the fruits of a kit-builder's labors can be slipped into a backpack, along with a battery and a roll of wire for a day of hiking, with space left over for lunch. At a nice spot along the trail, one end of the wire gets tossed into a tree and the other is connected to the radio for a couple of hours of surfing the ionosphere in search of contacts with other hams near and far. You might (or might not, depending on where you are) be able to get a signal on your smartphone, but it is truly liberating to be able to communicate using equipment you've built yourself — using just the natural phenomenon of radio-wave propagation and without a trillion dollars' worth of telecommunications infrastructure.

Radio amateurs don't develop radio-communication skills and capabilities just for ourselves. We want to be of service to our communities and country. Public service and emergency preparedness are important ways to give back for the privilege of accessing the radio spectrum. The more we know, the more capabilities we develop by doing it ourselves, the more valuable we can be when we're needed. And we will be needed. Society relies ever more heavily on a fragile telecommunications infrastructure that is susceptible to overload and outright failure. We can't substitute for all that infrastructure. But we can communicate, no matter what.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

David Sumner is the CEO of ARRL — the national association for amateur radio.

Discuss this Blog Entry 31

Radio Rick PE W9XB (not verified)
on Feb 28, 2013

Two way radio is a dying art. The only and best "training" for two way radio is amateur radio. I assure you that as the "Enjineer," yes I are one, one simply can not find skilled radiomen. It takes at least five years to train a journey man radio tech if they have the skill and can be trained. I estimate only 10% to 15% of all radio techs are the real thing.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2013

Yes, but the abiltiy to operate an amateur radio is in no way equivalent to experience as a technician.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 28, 2013

Correct. It's a good thing hams involve themselves in far more than just the operation of the radios. I don't know one that hasn't at least built his own antenna.

Bill Schell (wb7saj) (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2013

Simply put you are full of it! The supply of radio tech's
is legion. The supply of honest employers is void.
It's not the employers fault. It's the brain dead price
auction economics, china slave labor, globalist nonsense, pure bull of success cults. When prices
drop below cost, wages go below the cost of
living, nobody wants to work for nothing. Quit
deluding yourself. Face the facts. Economics is the
problem not the lack of tech's.

Govt Radio Shop (not verified)
on Mar 22, 2013

I call your post B.S. , our agency always had an open call for radio techs for at least the last 10 years. We have open no less than 2 positions and as many as 5 in the last 4 years. There is no path for radio techs, there no longer any training in any High Schools or Trade Schools as in the past (ie RCA Institute and others). If you are lucky, you might get someone from the U.S.
Military as I was trained. Today we get I.T. or telephone personnel applying who have no idea what 2-way radio is. Some of the best techs we have gotten are Ham radio personnel after a few years of additional training. If 2-way radio is to survive the industry itself needs to implement some sort of Trade School training, or we will become a victim of "The brain dead price
auction economics, china slave labor, globalist nonsense, pure bull of success cults."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 28, 2013

Just recently I've had a nostalgia moment when going thru my late stepdads tools after the recent passing of my mother at age 98. I found my hand drill,no not electric but the kind that looks like an eggbeater. What does that have to do with Amateur Radio you ask? It was the hand drill that I've used to build my rig with. Remembering only to well when it pinched my skin when I got it caught in the wheel. The grey hammer tone paint overspray on the utility room floor even though I put paper down. The possession of a hand reamer was gold not to speak of wanting and not affording green lee chassis punches. Pie in the sky was a Simpson 260 multimeter! Since then I've got those things and Bird 43, Service monitor and so forth. My hobby turned into my profession of Telecommunications of all aspects. Travelled the world even in places where it is just to dangerous nowadays to travel. My hobby/profession has served me extremely well and I am extremely thankful for that. I may not have amassed monetary riches but I have in the people that I've met and befriended and the things I've been privileged to have seen and experienced. Yes, now that I'm retired and deservedly so I still work on these things but it is a bit trickier with surface mount technology and the complexity of things. It is a great hobby, a lot of things to learn but then one never stops learning and also to elmer the new hams. Thank you for a great hobby and hope that there is a long continuance of that. I'be been licensed since 1960, since that was the earliest I could get licensed due to the citizenship requirement. I came from Austria and still speak, read and write the language fluently and still keep in touch with hams there.
As far as emergency services, yes, hams and I , have been there and will continue to be there when the requirement arises. We have no restraints due to politics and so forth and can spring into action in a moments notice. Thank you.

Mark Pride (not verified)
on Feb 28, 2013

Well said Dave! But the amateur resurgence goes further with new patents and new businesses surfacing everyday in communications and many are started by amateur radio operators. Real problem solving like Interoperability across multiple protocols, new methods of receiver voting (aggregation of multiple receive sites then recombined to improve the QoS) and raising the quality of simulcast in large networks with latencies as high as 4 seconds in a vendor neutral setting,are some good examples - amateurs tend to look to the practical side and yes we're known for pinching pennies - which is not a bad thing for all involved.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 28, 2013

I couldn't agree more. I built a 2-meter tranciever from a kit several years ago, and that first contact was pretty amazing.

Mike Christie (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

I might be bias because I am Ham but this spells out exactly why I became a Ham. I am Deputy Sheriff and work as an advisor to the Sheriff on Radio Communications. My experience with Ham Radio and Military training in radio communications have gone hand & hand. Now in my second Career as a Law Enforcement Officer it has help again to work in this position that I have now.
We use Hams in our EOC to supplement our communications there. Hams ride in our Police vehicles during training exericises using their equipment. We want to be ready when the call goes out to for support.

Sal Dragotta K9QXO (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

In our modern day society when push comes to shove, amateur radio is the only way to communicate especially with morse code.

Mike Karmol - N8KUF (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

As David stated in so many words ... Amateur (ham) Radio perhaps is the ONLY fail safe radio communications system in the world. I'm very proud to be a part of the ham community.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 26, 2013

Not true. When the big disaster comes, your radio will be subject to the same challenges. Do you have a 350 KW generator with a week’s worth of fuel at your house with a large UPS and an ATS? Do you have restoration MOUs in place with utilities and gas suppliers? Do you have radio manufacturers lined up to ship you potentially millions worth of radio equipment with just a phone call?
This is the main issue that I have with Hams in general. They don’t even know what they’re up against, yet they make grandiose claims they can’t live up to. The ARRL is attempting to portray an image as an Emergency Radio Service to boost their status, but they are acting irresponsibly in their methods.
Amateur operators are in not prepared to step up and provide communication for government agencies. Yet they approach people in EOCs all over the country and ask to be written into government Disaster Response plans by dropping names like FEMA and American Red Cross and making grandiose claims that even the federal government relies on them.
Through the EOC, a Ham club got themselves written into our county emergency communications plan. We’re supposed to call them when the radio system fails, so a dozen Hams with portables can come out and provide communications for the entire county, and take over dispatch operations too I suppose. You can’t even have a real discussion about what their true capabilities might be before the name dropping starts and the EOC people tune out, because it’s easier to abdicate to the real radio people. You know… the ones that work for FEMA and the federal government - Hams.
Then there are the security issues. Recently, there was a thread on a Ham website cautioning volunteers to check their government agency’s weapons policy before reporting for duty with their guns. Really?! Then, you can also several websites and see your confidential government information that Hams have been collecting while helping your agency being shared with every other Ham - and anyone else on the entire planet that knows how to use Google.
Want a reality check? Go to and search for Radio Operator jobs. There are NONE. If they are so essential, why are there no jobs for them? You should also notice that none of the actual radio technician jobs mentions the necessity of being able to operate a radio because people that are actually responsible for radio systems know the difference between a Ham and a technician. It’s not that Hams don’t truly want to help. Like anyone, they just don’t know what they don’t know. I’m an amateur astronomer, but I would never show up at an observatory and try to pass myself off as an astronomer.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 28, 2013

Well, you may understand government communication, but you don't understand ham radio. We don't need 350kw to operate, we can use a single solar cell to get around the world. And when everything else is down, that's enough. Yesterday I talked to someone in South Africa from my parking lot in Dallas. Never mind Morse code, with which I am proficient. When all else fails, this stuff works. It's because they require 350kw that they fail. My car had a high probability of survivability if it is outside the disaster zone, and I can drive it in, and set up solar and operate for days. Happens all the time. Are you familiar with what happened on 9/11 regarding comms? Years-long ham operation, is what happened. We train regularly for these situations. The kilowatt cell antennas were on top of the WTC.

on Mar 29, 2013

Anonymous, please indulge me a little here. I want to present an alternative viewpoint. Wow! FEMA, Red Cross and EOCs REALLY! Should have been here for Katrina. The feds showed up in LA with their fast attack communications vehicle completely outfitted with the radio gods company radios. None of the correct frequencies were programmed into the radios. Radio gods didn't bother to supply the software to program the radios. Maybe you would like to discuss how FEMA had truckloads of ice melting 2 blocks away from a distribution location. Why? They were using smoke signals to talk to one another. The first communication out of Washington Parish to the state capital was provided by one of those Hams. Guess who got the local government radio communications repeater back on the air. Again one of those hams. Guess who was supplying power to the repeater system? The ham. Guess who ran traffic for days as the only communication out Washington Parish. That ham. Oh did I mention that he did all that using a 12 volt battery charged by his truck.He should have waited for a 350kw generator. The EOC people in their infinite wisdom bought the multi-million dollar trunk radio systems. Data lines were out for weeks here. You know the radios that the feds and EOC people wanted to go to. Most agencies could not use their radio system due to a couple of reasons. There were no analog point to point communication frequencies programmed in by the radio gods company. Second,a lot of the backup battery systems were dead even though the radio gods had the maintainence contracts on these systems. Lets see there was a ham in a parking garage in New Orleans running traffic relaying information as to the location of victims to be picked up by helicopter. Oh I am sure he whished he would have brought a weapon with him as he heard the bullets ricocheting off the buildings.
Let's move to Gustav. At one point yours truly (a ham) provided the ONLY COMMUNICATION out of the local LSU hospital. The radio gods system, landline, cell and internet was down. EOCs in both instances had sat phones but had not turned them on in so long they had not updated and could not connect. Let's see Red Cross. Seems like they were not distributing the millions of dollars they were crying to the public to give them for the hurricane victims. Only after it hit the national news did those funds start being disbursed in minute proportion to the amount coming in to them. Lets move on to Issac. Once again this ham powering his equipment by a 12 volt battery relayed information to the EOC to another ham. Though it was not life threatening the information concerned roadway issues, health and wellfare traffic.
After three hurricanes I still would prefer to rely on my fellow hams rather than any of the agencies you seem to think will save us. I have found that none of these fine folks with their MOUs, disaster plans and their radio gods systems have gotten their acts together. Most alarming to me is the fact that they are going backwards in technology when relying on 700 mhz TDMA radios. There is a lot to be said for uncomplicated point to point communications. I was not a licensed ham during Katrina but got myself licensed right after the dust settled. I did so because after seeing communications fail under the stewardship of our leaders on all levels. I am sorry your Hams are so inept where you are located but glad to hear you have better luck with all the agencies. I would have had more respect for position if you would have included your name and location. Obviously you work for some of these fine folks.

Alan Travis ARS- KR5T

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2013

In reply to your comment on Radio Operator openings, I have worked as a law enforcement dispatcher/supervisor for almost twenty years and before that worked in radio during my stint in the military. In searching for dispatchers I seek out those with radio and or technical experience to dispatch. These are not low paid positions but positions that starts out at 32k a year with minimal experience required. I yearn for an operator who not only has amateur experience but an active interest in the technical side. As our systems become more and more complex, I see operators who can barely change out a keyboard or a mouse. It is for this reason that we have always kept a backdoor open into our agency for those with such experience. Please remember the plug and play, disposable nature of today's electronics makes those that understand the most basic principles of radio communications even more valuable.

wa7nwp (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

Software Defined Radio technologies and the reuse of routers for HAM networking is bringing back the excitement just like the good old days. There has never been better technology available to put to work for EmComm, education or just plain fun.

pe1rdw (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

There are still a lot of fields in hamradio that can only be explored with building it yourself, things like ATV, broadcast fm qualety audio on vhf/uhf, shf experiments etc, to name a few.

as for giving back in times of emergiancy, those skills at least around here are best served by directly working for organisations like red cross instead of ham run organisations that may or may not work when it is realy needed simply because hams are technicaly skilled but lack the organisation skills to be effective on their own for the most part and those that do have the skills tend to bring ego's to match that also get in the way.

on Mar 1, 2013

My story is from somewhat of a unique perspective. As a Ham and as a member of Florida Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 3 (FL-TF3), I was privileged enough to set foot in Biloxi Mississippi to lend a hand to the local citizenry just hours after Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

My job as a Fire Fighter gave me the opportunity to join an elite, diverse group of individuals who constantly train to travel at a moments notice to help others in crisis, but it was my avocation as a Amateur Radio Operator that won me the unique slot on the USAR Team as their CommTech.

To the Government or Commercial types, Hams are something of an enigma. We play by different rules by virtue of the fact that the Amateur Radio Service promotes experimentation and innovation, not to mention 'making due'. If you were to lay a PL-259 connector, a piece of coax and a stick of aluminum in front of any one of us and asked us which one we could do without - we'd pitch the aluminum in the can and build you a working, tuned vertical or horizontal radiator, complete with transmission line and connector.

Ever the consummate communicators, we train 'for the big one' by providing communications for hometown events such as marathons and run/walks as well as severe weather spotting and reporting via our VHF and UHF repeater networks through our Skywarn training with the National Weather Service. Not ones to leave the paperwork and logistics to others, many of us actively participate in NIMS training opportunities throughout the year.

When most commercial means of communications fail, hams will always find a way to get the word out. We're quick deploy before and after natural or man made disasters - often times leaving home for days and doing so with no expectation of remuneration, whatsoever. Call it the 'challenge' of doing something that few are capable of doing or the simple fact that we enjoy communicating, being involved, being patriotic.

73 (Best Regards),

Jon Pearl - W4ABC

Gregory Glenn, NR6Q (not verified)
on Mar 1, 2013

This county sorely needs more RF engineers. In my 30 years in the business I have never seen a time when we (the US) has been so short on qualified RF technicians and Engineers. Most of the so called technicians we have today have never seen, much less used a soldering iron. Most of the so called RF Engineers today could not engineer themselves out of a paper bag. It used to be we had the military pumping out good techs and engineers along with the amateur community. It amazes me that we have engineers that cannot apply ohms law, or calculate a link budget without the aid of a computer. Ask todays cell site technician what frequency they are operating on and you will get “oh E block”, ask the split between transmit and receive and 90% will not know. Unfortunately we have commoditized our RF engineers along with our communications products. When the infrastructure fails we will be in a very sorry state indeed. It used to be that there were a lot of good engineers and technicians that were not hams. Today, most of the good engineers and technicians come out of the amateur radio community. I am glad to see that the amateur community is growing and these are the folks that are truly students of the technology.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 2, 2013

Amateur radio is a valuable tool, though I would argue that mobile satellite systems (VSAT, Iridium, Inmarsat, etc.) has gained a lot of ground in the past decade for major, regional disasters.

More & more hams these days are simply memorizing the correct answers (the FCC amateur radio question & answer pools for the three levels of ham license tests are published/public info) to the tests, and as a result, receive or upgrade their license with little to NO actual knowledge, skills or abilities relating to electronic & radio theory, laws, operating procedures, etc. It's a silly misnomer that any, or even most these days, hams have special skills, knowledge & abilities. Cranking-out new amateurs simply to increase #s does not benefit anyone, yet it seems to be the current trend here in the USA. Nothing wrong with new hams asking other hams questions on the radio, but when the questions relate to something extremely basic that the person should have learned in preparation for the test they somehow passed, it's time to be both concerned about the future of amateur radio, and embarrassed. You wouldn't issue a driver's license to someone who took & passed a home correspondence driving course, but the that's the sort of thing that is done with ham radio in the USA these days. Unless I actually got to know an Extra-class license holder, my only assumption about that person would be that they were skilled-enough to memorize the correct answers to some pretty tough questions.

Further, only a minority of amateur radio operators actually participate in emergency/public service related activities such as ARES/RACES & Skywarn. It's not accepted that everyone with their ham license has some sort of moral obligation to partake in such activities. Sadly, they're just another amateur radio niche, just like those who specialize in using Morse Code, extremely low-power/weak signal work, etc.

Bottom line: Just like you can't put all police officers into one category, it is (unfortunately) erroneous to stereotype all US amateur radio operators as being skilled communicators with technical proficiency and motivated towards public service. Emergency Management agencies should certainly incorporate ARES & RACES groups into their Emergency Operations Plan's communications annex (they're a n0-cost/low-cost volunteer resource!), but continue to plan for the bulk of emergency comms to utilize non-amateur systems, and spend your planning time & budgets appropriately.

I am a General-class ham, first licensed in 1983, and have had leadership roles in several ARES & RACES groups around the county over the past 25 years. I also have 25 years worth of operational experience with federal, state & local public safety & emergency communications systems.

Keith Kaiser (not verified)
on Mar 4, 2013

I've talked with Kings, doctors, actors, astronauts, aristocrats, Indian Chiefs and Fire Chiefs, the news makers and news reporters all over the world. I've talked to Dictators, Communists, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, and independents. With Russians, Chinese, Italians, the Scottish, English, Germans, French and now and again a Spaniard. I've talked with Eskimos at the North Pole and scientists at the South Pole, ships on and under the sea and others in flight.

I've done this by bouncing my voice off the face of the moon or the tail of a meter or the space shuttle vapor trail as it was coming in for a landing. I've watched the aurora borealis dance and twitch as my signal was passing through it. I've followed the sun during its eleven year cycle while it strengthened and weakened the ionosphere making all of this possible by bouncing my signal far beyond the horizon.

I've taken regular trips deep into the stratosphere on a helium filled balloon and peered out from the edge of space at our hazy blue atmosphere as it hugs the curve of our planet against a backdrop of the black abyss beyond. And tracked it using mobile computers and radios I can carry in my pocket. And at the same time I've exchanged notes with astronauts on the International Space Station comparing the view from above and below.

I've pulled a child's doll from the wreckage of her home after a cyclone tore it asunder, and then communicated the rescue to her. Built road signs in a city so devastated by a tornado that none remained. Delivered messages of love and well being from Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the back woods of Minnesota, Joplin, Missouri, Greensburg, Kansas and soon the mountains of West Virginia.

I've taken this hobby to the young at Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps, the old at retirement homes, the sick in hospitals, the blind at the Courage Center in Minnesota, the deaf, and the dying. Demonstrated it from schools, farm fields, homes, RVs, cars, bicycles and once from the top of a ski jump.

I've used transmission modes with names like PSK31, RTTY, Olivia, Domino, Hellschreiber, JT65, Packet, Pactor, and Throb. I've swapped images via television using SSTV and conversed for hours on CW and SSB.

All these things and more I've done with a battery, a length of wire and a radio I built myself.

W6KOZ (not verified)
on Mar 4, 2013

recently as net control of the early session of a 40 (7MHz) ham net I mentioned that I was recording QRP (low power) stations ton play back for an entry level license class.

Response was astounding - Within 1/2 hour I had recorde4d more than 20 stations using 10 watts or less - in one case 1/4 watt from over 200 miles away

on Mar 7, 2013

I can count myself as being one of the fortunate Hams that have experienced the satisfaction and pride of building Heathkits, as well as a few hombrew radio and antenna projects over the years. Back in the early eighties, I actually visited the El Cerrito,CA Heathkit store on occasion for some of my kits while serving aboard USS Enterprise CVN-65 in the SF Bay area. I still enjoy working on my own gear (when my hands are not shaking) and have built a couple of Ten-Tec Kits. I've seen the multitude of kits and suppliers online, and only hope that I can find the time and money to experience some of them. There is some neat stuff out there, especially now that software-defined radio has become available in kit form. I am very interested in some of the SDR receivers and transceivers myself. I've also been planning to go to Guadalupe Peak (highest point in Texas at 8749') for a hiking and QRP expedition someday, so I guess I need to get crackin' on a new kit or two. Long live Amateur Radio.

David Pollard, N5IT

K9UQF (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2013

This article is DEAD on. I was one of those Heathkit builders from the 1950's and was the path to HAM radio. I built MANY of these kits and some of my own from scratch as a result. Public service by HAM radio is most satisfying and effective. Walter Cronkite said it best..."Amateur Radio is the best backup communications system in the world, and that is just how it is!"

on Mar 18, 2013

I would hope that alot DHS / LOCAL / STATE Agencies keep
moving towards intergrating Amateur Radio Skill Sets and to
develope key plans for the use of Ham Radio during drills.

Qouting my co-hoart W4ABC
Ever the consummate communicators, we train 'for the big one' by providing communications for hometown events such as marathons and run/walks as well as severe weather spotting and reporting via our VHF and UHF repeater networks through our Skywarn training with the National Weather Service. Not ones to leave the paperwork and logistics to others, many of us actively participate in NIMS training opportunities throughout the year.

When most commercial means of communications fail, hams will always find a way to get the word out. We're quick deploy before and after natural or man made disasters - often times leaving home for days and doing so with no expectation of remuneration, whatsoever. Call it the 'challenge' of doing something that few are capable of doing or the simple fact that we enjoy communicating, being involved, being patriotic.


Embrace our practices, and failure should be the last of your worries...

Evans F. Mitchell

NXDN / TDMA-2slot
D-Star / P-25
Product Support and Programmer

I.T.T. Tech Graduate – AAS – EET 91’
20+ yrs 2-Way Radio Tech. Experience

A REAL Ham (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2013

It's always nice to flash back 40 years and see what has happened.I'm here to tell you it's NOT all good! YOu have the "Appliance Operator" that BOUGHT his license from Gordon West. He learned how to PASS THE TEST, not how radio works.Most of these NEW hams couldnt care less what goes on INSIDE the box.They build nothing, they repair nothing and they talk all day about nothing. They have turned 2 meters and 440 into a "ELITE CB" service."Public Service" you say? well when they get TRAINING on how to deploy, how to follow instruction in a UNIFIED command...THEN they are of service to the public, otherwise they are dweebs driving around in funny looking cars with antennas all over them.Sorry guys, but thats the way it is NOW. The 50/60/70's are gone! While a lot of the "old timers" are still on the air...there are WAY too many LIDS/KIDS and Space Cadets/Appliance Operators. today. i have had my license since 1972, thats 40 years..the era of REAL HAMS.....

Vernon R. Harris (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2013

Yes. All this background is a seed bed for modern advancements in communications science. Without all this background, we would not have today, as it is. I recently made a discovery associated with antennas and radiation theory that has never been addressed or used in ham radio. Without all the years of background this advancement in radiation theory would not have been possible.

A REAL Ham (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2013

While I DO agree with you Vernon, very few are now "Cutting edge" type HAMS.Most are appliance operators.It's a complete role reversal.While many paved the way into the digital era (Packet/AMTOR/PSK31 etc) the rest wont even bother to build or convert surplus equipment to HAM service.A few came up with IRLP/Allstar for VoIP applications.The 21st century hams cant even figure out the correct size of a 1/4 wave antenna on 145Mhz.With the Internet ANYONE has access to an unlimited supply of information on anything, including HAM radio.There is no excuse for the "ELITE CB" type of operation these days....

WP3UX (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2013

QRP? Why? go max. with your license, and you work everyone, life is too short for QRP, go max. work QRO! (QRO 3 call’s you work him, QRP 1500 call’s you have still NOTHING)

on Jun 15, 2014

Yes I'm an Amateur Radio operator, I'm also APCO certified and an employee of a regional telco.

I've had to work both sides of the Amateur Radio debate during real emergencies and I can make six definitive statements.

1/ Disasters are "come as you are" events and you almost never have enough first responders.

2/ No two disasters are alike, stop planning for the last one and start planning for the one you never thought of.

3/ It's not the technology, it's the adequate supply of properly trained people that saves lives. Take the time to train everyone for complex multi-agency responses.

4/ The most important piece of equipment any EOC can have is the giant sign that says "Check Your Ego at the Door".

5/ The most important technologies during any emergency are the ones that survived the event and are available in a timely manner.

6/ The most important people are the ones that can get those surviving resources to work when the chips are down. Just because you have a maintenance contract that guarantees serviceability does not mean that there are enough technicians to repair all of the damaged systems in the first 72 hours.

As an emergency coordinator I found that I needed to filter my volunteer responders in the same way you would professionals. Assess their current skills and the will to use them. Don't allow past glories or failures to bias your views of what they can accomplish today. Test them regularly.

I'd rather have a horse with a saddle bag and a rider blessed with common sense than non function trunking radio system after all the infrastructure gets damaged.

A farmer with an amateur radio can be incredibly creative after the storm has gone though his county and blown the towers down. She may be the only one in the right place at the right time with skills to get the first messages into or out of the disaster zone. Has she been trained who to call?

The best way to prepare for disaster is to to practice working with a broad range of resources and people both professional and volunteer. That includes training people about when to ask for help, and when to stand back and get out of the way. It also includes working with people that you normally would not have to. Like all groups of people, professional or volunteer, some will be brilliant under pressure and some will be a hindrance. It is best to find out during an exercise.

Nurturing volunteer backup and knowing how to use them wisely is a great way to mitigate the impact of ever shrinking public service budgets and dealing with the unexpected event that overwhelms the regular staff.

Finally, no skilled volunteer should ever be out of pocket for helping local government with a donation of their time, skills or technology. Buy them lunch and gas during a disaster or exercise.

on Oct 21, 2014

There are some great comments here from other Hams, I'm AJ4XM, and most I agree with. There are a few folks that have made outrageous claims that are so wrong it's laughable. Absolutely when all else fails, Amateur Radio works. That's been proven time and time again for almost 100 years.

There are some comments about training and jobs as radio technicians. My experience is that there are fewer jobs because there are fewer radios. And that goes both for receivers and 2-way communications. Most receivers are throw away devices these days when compared to the cost of fixing them. My grandfather had an appliance repair shop back in the late 40's and into the 60's. At one time people brought in table lamps, fans, toasters, irons, radios, record players, TV's, etc. Now people pretty much just throw away a broken one and buy a new one. The cost of repair is too high versus the cost of the item. At one time beepers and 2-way radios were essential to many businesses. Today most just use cellphones. So there are fewer places to work and fewer people training for fewer jobs. And much of today's electronics requires more extensive test and repair equipment. So when my under warranty TV failed and they changed 4 circuit boards and then just replaced the set with a new one, I got a 3 year old TV with a lot of new boards for the cost of a 72 cent surface mount capacitor. The "factory authorized techs" only change assemblies, they do not actually repair anything. And if it is more than 12 months old they just write it off with a lot of new parts in it! There is rarely an opening for a electronics technician, radio or otherwise, where I am. But there are a lot of jobs that pay $10-13 an hour to be a part changer. And for that price that is all you can expect to get.

I would love to see the US design and build and repair more things here. But as long as China can make an iPhone for less than we can, that will continue. But I can have the fun of designing, building and repairing Ham and 2-way radio equipment on my own. That's a large part of the hobby for me and I think would be for more of the "Makers" out there in the DIY movement.

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