Are You a Real Ham?

One night I am tuning around on 75 meters and I hear a piece of a ragchew QSO.

“Roger, Roger OM. I am a Real Ham too.” After a minute, I wondered, what other kinds of hams could there be? Unreal hams, imaginary hams, weird hams or phantom hams? I didn’t know.

Puzzled, I grabbed my FCC license and scrutinized it carefully. I was stunned. Right there in the middle of the license, under Special Conditions/Endorsements it says, “None”. Is that a mistake or a typo perhaps? Maybe I am a Non-Ham? I broke out into a cold sweat.

In a panic, I called my old buddy Ralph. Ralph knows everything about ham radio. He has been a ham so long that he says Marconi was his Elmer. Ralph calmed me down and assured me that I was a real ham. Ralph said that all hams are real hams if the FCC says so. Even though some claim only they are the real deal, anybody with a valid license is a real ham. What a relief!

With my fear arrested and my curiosity aroused, I wanted to learn more about the Real Ham phenomenon. Who are they? Are Real Hams like real men, who don’t eat quiche and don’t like change? Well, maybe they eat quiche in secret but they still don’t like change.

Since change is an essential facet of technology and amateur radio is a technology based hobby, then Real Hams should embrace change. Right? Apparently not; instead Real Hams complain about those that did not have to pass a code test, incentive licensing and the ARRL. I don’t get it.

What about the code thing? I’ve heard Real Hams say we should bring back the code requirement. I kept asking myself, what purpose it would serve other than to erect an artificial barrier to entry into our hobby. CW is a challenging and fun operating mode. It is a skill one could acquire if they wanted but is it any longer a core competency for a license?

My old buddy Ralph looks back on his CW days as a golden era. His radio lineage goes way back to the days of spark. Back in that day, that is all there was but even Ralph says the radio art has moved on.

“You mean it has progressed?” I asked.

“Sure”, says Ralph. “Listen kid (everyone’s a kid to Ralph), I got my first car in ‘08(that would be 1908). Back then you had to be a pretty good mechanic to just drive to town. You had to know about radiators, magnetos and manual shifting and you couldn’t call triple A either. Now you just jump in the car and turn the key.”

“We don’t have to rely on CW, like we did back then. With all the digital operating modes, VHF repeaters and the like we have lots of other choices. I haven’t tried it myself yet but I hear that you can even send e-mail by amateur radio.”

I began to feel better after my conversations with Ralph. Maybe I was a real ham after all. I’ll have to try CW after I finish my moon bounce project.

Ron, AE5NO

Ron Litt, K5HM, is a special contributor to and writes from Texas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

15 Responses to “Are You a Real Ham?”

  • John Yarbrough KR4RO:

    It’s really great to be able to just jump in the car and turn the key, and I appreciate having trained service people to repair an investment that I don’t want to learn how to service myself. I was first licensed in 1988, and I would have been on the air many years earlier if I had not had to face the code requirement. It’s only because I completely focused my spare time on learning the code that I finally gained the skill need for the test. It did turn out to be easier than I thought it would be, but that psychological barrier held me back for years. I still work CW from time to time. I have a very nice straight key and I’m trying to get back into CW after ignoring it for many years now. It’s great that I can do it because I want to instead of have to! I also work a lot of JT65, PSK, RTTY, and other digital modes. There are some basic things a ham should know and be able to do. I recently had a young ham who is studying for his extra license ask me what he should do for a center connector for a dipole antenna. I find that distressing, but not damning. I want the hobby to be open to more people, and I want our ranks to grow. I couldn’t repair my TS-480 like I did for my old HW-8. Modern radios are not made to be fiddled with very much. I inserted a new voice module and the essential filters that are an option for the radio, but when the rs-232 port quit working, off the unit went to Kenwood Repair. The best thing about this hobby is that it can be whatever you want it to be. You can ragchew in CW or sideband; you can participate in ARES or RACES, you can chase contests and awards; or whatever you like. Come on in, there’s a niche for everyone.

  • VE5UO:

    I find it ironic that these people call themselves “real hams”. I’d be curious to know what some of them have contributed lately?

    The “no code” requirement was probably the best thing that ever happened to the hobby. It recognizes that CW isn’t as significant as it once was.

    The old licensing requirements were, in fact, not reflective of the broad technological opportunities offered by Amateur Radio today.

    Did I mention that CW is my favorite mode, and that I had to be proficient to 15 WPM for my license class?

  • Don - AE7QL:

    Am one of those “no code” Hams. Because I spent my life in headphones in commercial radio…around loud noises and computers…it is difficult for me to deal with CW except on the computer. With the carpel tunnel issues in my hands and lowered hearing…I can’t hold a pencil much longer than to sign my name and have a hard time hearing the difference between a “.” or a “-“. How does someone like me tap out code when my hands cramp up in less than a minute or can’t deal with hearing differences by ear but can with a computer?

    I can use JT-65 and other digital modes. The reason…I can use a keyboard and a mouse longer than I can anything else. For that matter…I can also “rag chew” because I can switch the mic between my hands when one cramps up.

    Not being the smartest Extra out there…I have found helping administer exams is one way to help the club and new/upgraded Hams to join the hobby. That is why I got my VE exam into ARRL. What if I am the reason between a new ham being able to take the exam or not take the exam because they couldn’t find that VE?

  • Richard KW0U:

    This goes on forever. My brother complained that people didn’t have to know f-stops and how to thread film to take good pictures, my mother argued that folks really weren’t educated if they didn’t read Dickens, I’m sure somebody once complained that using papyrus rather than clay wasn’t really “writing.” Maybe the best thing is to just keep learning. Personally, I got (among others) the FCC’s general radiotelephone license just to improve my knowledge of electronics. Not sure that makes me any more “real” than the 12 year with a new tech–it’s the intent and effort that count more than what anybody else says.

  • Richard Corso:

    Isn’t this comment about “Real Hams” just a reflection on age? It’s the same comment you hear about most things from the elderly – “It was this way in my days” or “It was more difficult in my days” or “Standards have dropped since my days”!! Guess what the youth of today will be PD11 computer systems – but guess what I’m also programming and developing Apps – it’s much easier however you have to go through the same logical processes. This Ham Radio hobby has ALWAYS had some form of elitism even amongst the morse keyers – “How fast do you send” lot. You are now seeing individuals through the use of new technology – the Blog – cast venom on those Ham Operators that give up their time to train and volunteer to assist their local communities in times of need. It might be what they call “Penis envy” or just that they cannot think further than coax cable leading to their antenna. Best thing is to forget these small minded individuals and enjoy what the hobby brings you as an individual. God Bless Amateur Radio.

  • Richard Corso:

    Seems the gremlins got into my post – I hope you get the gyst about it.

  • BX2ABT:

    I’m sad now. The FCC never said I was a ham, so what does that make me? Ramen, Gouda cheese? Please, I need answers quickly.


    BX2ABT / PA2BX

  • N4LNE:

    I am a real ham also and I got a bit of a chuckle out of some young hams the other day. They were setting up a linking system for several different repeaters. They were certain of the fact that operator intelligence increased in direct proportion to the frequency being used. People that hang out on 900 mhz are way smarter than those that operate way down on 2 meters. Of course it never occurred to them that with all that linking going on and with all the wide band receive radios they might be overheard down here on earth. LOL
    73’s all

  • Garth KF7ATL:

    The thing I enjoy most about ham radio is the feeling of fraternity with my fellow hams. Because of radio I get to meet lots of interesting people. Most of them are friendly and will go out of their way to help a newbie. A funny thing though! I discovered that I can find another ham interesting and likable, and we can become friends, even though we don’t share the same specific interests in the hobby. I like CW because it’s fun, and I enjoy the challenge. It’s my preferred mode. And by the way, I was licensed after the code requirement was dropped, so I learned Morse because I wanted to! Having said that, though, I have no problem with those who enjoy SSB, PSK, 2 meter FM, or whatever. The hobby is big enough for all of us, and is better for the diversity. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who is willing to go to the effort to earn a license just to pursue a hobby is a “Real Ham”! How many other hobbies can you say that about?

  • Ulis K3LU:

    This tired and played out story is so, so 1990s. Many friendships unfortunately have been severed because of it. It is a toxic topic that not everyone will agree upon regardless.

    Any US radio amateur who doesn’t wish to learn Morse code and/or doesn’t like it for whatever reason is free to do so. It’s the law. It is their loss to not have Morse code in their arsenal of amateur radio communication tools. And I do mean loss as the many merits of Morse code make it worthy of learning if one desires to do so.

    Not every radio amateur is technically gifted but the beauty and one of our strength’s is that most operators have something special to offer our global fraternity. It is up to each radio amateur to share what experiences and expertise they have to offer and grow to their fullest and desired potential with technology. In other words… you get what you put into the hobby.

    Ulis, K3LU

  • Freddy McGavin EI4GMB:

    As a Cept 2 Licensee, morse was not a requirement for my ticket.
    Like others I believe Ham Radio should keep pace with changing technology.
    Besides, hasn’t anyone told these CW guys the war is over???

  • Don N4KC:

    Ron, wonder no more! I wrote an article for a while back that defines what it takes to be a “real ham.” See it here:


    Don N4KC

  • Tom. Kb3hg:

    The war continues… the fire being stoked by both sides. Get a grip, as previously noted Code is not legally required anymore. It’s a hobby, a vocation, not a be all end all deal breaker. I myself like code, but who am I to judge another concerning code. Nay I say, to each his own. We must follow our individual interests in this great hobby. That’s what really makes this great, freedom to choose the mode you want to pursue. The guy that has no interest in code may be the inventor of future mode. We learn from each other not feed off each other. This is not 14.270-5. a famous quote comes to mind,
    “If you don’t like the conversation spin the dial or pull the big switch.” So with that said I hope to run across you characters in the mode of your preference.

    Tom Kb3hg

  • Freddy McGavin EI4GMB:

    Some of our CW friends don’t seem to get irony.
    When I mentioned the war being over, I was trying to inject some humor into the debate.
    My remark was meant to mean World War II and outmoded Morse communications or the outdated attitudes currently shown by some of the Morse fraternity towards non-code operators. It can be taken either way, hence the irony! LOL

  • David KC4ZVW:

    I remember it only as being a Saturday morning and I was driving south on state road 419 and was listening to the local repeater from the HT setting in the cup holder.

    A few ‘old-timers’ were bemoaning the beginning of the end! It was all over it was … that might be five years ago as within the hour (EST) it will be 2014.

    I think we are still here and it was a few years ago that I upgraded to a General class license. But what I remember most was that morning and when I waited my turn in the queue to add my input …

    That I though a ‘real Ham’ was someone who knew how to repair equipment and troubleshoot and solder. I had built quite a few kits that were being used and some were useful station accessories.

    … and the return response to me (a no-code tech) at the time was …

    nobody does THAT anymore!

    I guess the quest for the real ham continues.

    73, David

    p.s. : that’s on the bench for 2014?

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