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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does Ham Radio Suck ? You Tell Me



I had hoped to do these little blog entries on a more frequent basis. However, because I pretty much edit (and mostly write) a club newsletter, there's little time to add to this blog. However, every once in a while I find a reason to write something and this, I believe, is one of those times.

I would love to think ham radio is a noble hobby and an opportunity for others to enjoy the social and technical aspects of this hobby; a method of exercising "both" sides of the brain in a constructive and one would hope, fun way.

One thing I'm discovering as I enter my 3rd year in this hobby is a bit of, shall we say, disappointment in several areas. These would be the "myths" of ham radio which I though were the unchanging "truths" about the hobby and the people in it.

I bring these things up - not in anger or in malice, but as a point of discussion or reason.

At any rate, your mind may be wondering; What's my beef?

Myth #1 - Ham radio is the pinnacle of technology for civilians interested in electronics and communications.

While this sort of thing is true with some hams - those who experiment with frequencies and modes of operation - these folks are in the minority. Most ham radio activities actually hearkens back to earlier times, from AM to the "newer" yet 50 year old SSB. One can go to any hamfest and pick up any piece of ancient equipment, get it on the air, and successfully use it - perhaps even to another station using the same identical equipment.

Digital modes and capabilities are 40 years old, by many standards, and many hams still use 15 to 25 year old modems to communicate. When I attend hamfests it's more like a trip down memory lane - VOM's, oscilloscopes, even shortwave equipment I used when I was in high school are numerous and prevalent at these events.

I have no problem with preserving our past, but I really question whether we want to LIVE in it. This concerns me to no end and hams spend considerable time and effort obtaining, preserving, and using these relics - to the detriment of more modern equipment or for missing the joy of tinkering in a new mode or capability.

Myth #2: Hams are primarily social animals and seek other hams and members of the public to promote and preserve ham radio.

Some do this, but, as I've mentioned in prior blog entries, when attending club meetings (and I'm talking different clubs and meetings - not just the groups I belong to) the LAST thing fellow hams want to do is reach out and talk to either "new" people in the hobby, or fellow hams they don't already know. In short, they head to their friends they met 30+ years ago and stick with those people. You won't find them congregating with new people, nor do they extend a hand of friendship to people possessing new call signs or help others who look "lost" amongst in a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Also, I've noticed, when hams have an opportunity to promote the hobby they "talk a great game" - saying they will attend this or that event to promote ham radio - but as is the situation with any ordinary hobby, fail to show up. The same handful of people attend and promote those hobbies while the vast majority of those who SAY they contribute - don't. They perpetuate a lie and their imaginary presence at events speaks volumes about how much they really care about their hobby and their community. "Let someone else do it and I'll take 'credit' on the air." I personally grow weary going to event after event and seeing the same 1/2 dozen faces doing all the work and all the promotion. Yet I can expect three or more times that number of hams headed to a local hamfest "looking for deals". To me, that's selfish and self-centered.

Myth #3: Hams are optimistic.

No they aren't. They could quite probably be the most pessimistic, negative, people I've ever met. I think some people actually exit this hobby because they get so tired of the negative vibes over the airwaves and at meetings. It's an increasingly older crowd of white men who lament "America's diminishing greatness", evil politics, terrible nations, and lousy operators worldwide.

Yawn. Let me speak to this ham directly: I'm tired of hearing about how your fellow ham is "lousy human being" and "doesn't deserve a radio license". I really don't want to hear about how you hate "this or that" political party, or how the loss of "CW" has created "morons on the air" and yes, I can tell from your "codified comments" on HF that the "knuckle-head" operator you were referring to from "last Friday night" was a new operator. Good for you. You proved my point by personally dispelling the first two myths. Otherwise you would have pronounced to your fellow hammies how you actually HELPED that operator at better operation. But you know, I've NEVER heard that commentary on HF. Not once. Never. Nada.

Your personal opinions are heard not only by your small group of friends on your nightly informal net - it's heard by many more people - some hams, some shortwave listeners, some international. When they hear negative comments about political parties, people, and countries - that leaves a lasting, NEGATIVE impression of the transmitting party (that would be YOU) and a negative impression of ham radio in general. You are, in effect, driving another nail into ham radio's coffin. Doesn't that make one feel great about the hobby?

Myth #4: Hams mentor others and help them become better, more knowledgeable operators.

Hardly. Many hams never venture out of their shacks. They hide in there - away from family, friends and other hams. Their hobby is their oasis and they selfishly never share their passion or interests with other family members, kids, or new hams. They don't attend club meetings, or if they do, run to their friends with the sole intent to talk about what new "do-dad or "what-not" they acquired for their shack. You never hear a story about how they visited the BSA or some social event and brought in new people to the hobby. You don't hear much from them talking to a new ham on the radio. If they DO talk to a new ham it's usually about how they had "no clue" what an RST is - or how they ventured into contesting frequencies causing the earth to fall out of equilibrium and ruining their contesting fun.

It's another "object lesson" for "listeners" to stay out of the hobby.

Also, you'll hear how these individuals speak affectionately about their Elmer who got them involved in the hobby, but never about how they helped someone else - new - get into their beloved hobby.

Myth #5: Hams are prepared for any emergency and willing to take on health and humanitarian messages and missions for their community.

Nope. Most who claim ARES or RACES certification, or drone on during emergency preparedness nets NEVER check in on their local traffic nets, or actively pursue contact with their local hospitals, Red Cross, or other organizations. Case in point, I had a RACES member proudly check into my NTS net. The usual 3 or 4 people who regularly handle message traffic weren't available. I asked him to take a message in his local area. My request was met with silence. I know he heard my request because he has never checked in on my net ever again. My punishment for daring to ask "royalty" to do something constructive on my net. I can only speculate that his opinion is "how dare he request help of ME - MR. RACES."

In short, if there IS an emergency and his services are needed - I seriously doubt he'll be anywhere NEAR a radio. It's a farce, perpetrated and reinforced on practice emergency nets. I wonder just what would happen, in a real emergency, who would show up and who would pitch in. In another example, NTS performed an emergency drill on our local repeater. This drill included the same 4 or 5 people who regularly check in. The ARES and RACES people - who were given a month's notice as to where and when this event was taking place failed to show up for the drill. Man, now THAT'S community involvement, isn't it? Yet on their own nets, it's so important to give out their "card number" and show THEY CARE (oh - sorry - SPECIAL) and have the card number to prove it.

"Tiring" doesn't begin to describe my feelings about all this.

Myth #6: Hams respect each other.

No, they don't. A recent case in point include a club member of one of the clubs I belong to who won't talk to another member because they felt "they were done wrong." It doesn't really matter that this member has a rather negative profile amongst fellow hams or that they failed, numerous times, to "come through" when they promised to do so on any number of requested club activities. Failing to see the "mote in their own eye" they simply decided to opt out of talking to this person on the air. Childish.

Another example comes from a ham who achieved Extra under the new FCC rules. He immediately applied for a vanity call, and disappeared into the Dirty Secret Ham Association. This is an informal group of people who impersonate "old time" hams - talking and acting - like they've been in the hobby for years. To make matters worse, this individual thought it would be a great idea to berate another ham - on the air - by stating this ham wasn't worthy of doing anything for the club because "he didn't even know CW". This is an interesting comment as the "Extra" ham making the accusation didn't complete Element #1 the entire year he was licensed, instead opting for the change in FCC rules DROPPING Morse Code before venturing into General and Extra class and not actually having to "validate" his CW claim. I doubt the lad could pound out a single letter of code himself! If it weren't so tragic what happened, it would be laughable. His public service was non-existent - his willingness to do things for his local club - noticeably absent.

Lastly, a recent event involved a very public condemnation of ARRL policy in front of an invited ARRL official, in a club meeting - suggesting termination of contact with another organization.

Members were subjected to the tirade which should have happened (if at all) behind closed doors. In fact, the entire episode played out like a scene from another club - one whom the angry club member didn't particularly like for that exact same reason. The irony was striking. It's unlikely this invited ARRL official will ever attend this club's meetings ever again - just because this one member wanted to "set the record straight" in front of "everyone and God". I say, "if you wouldn't do it at work - don't do it anywhere else either!" It was uncalled for and very uncomfortable to watch.

So, if you've read this far, and you are a ham, your blood pressure is probably through the roof. Good thing too, there's a reason why I wrote this. It's simply this. Ham operators - myself included - aren't special - nor do we wield special powers, insight, loyalty, or love. We are ordinary people who, potentially, can do good for their community, but they have to recognize several things.

1. In order to gain the respect of the community, you must give to it freely and honestly before they respect you. No "official" capacity, radio related or not, will automatically give you that respect.

2. You must be honest and caring about yourself and others around you. How you conduct yourself speaks volumes about you and how you relate to others - on and off the radio.

3. Give back to the hobby. Offer your services and not lip-service. A liar is easy to spot - particularly if you are the person "giving" and someone else is SAYING they are "giving".

Our hobby is in trouble. Frequencies and operators are in short supply - both at our peril of non-interest and collective dysfunctional behavior. We have more passion for berating others and "making that radio deal" than finding ways to preserve the hobby.

I find this misuse of personal energy most disturbing. Don't you?

ke5icx

p/s: original post http://ke5icx.blogspot.com/2008/02/does-ham-radio-suck-you-tell-me.html

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