Is technology good for ham radio?

Several ham radio blogs have linked to the Wired article Why Ham Radio Endures in a World of Tweets. “What is it about a simple microphone, a transmitter-receiver and the seductive freedom of the open radio spectrum that’s turned a low-tech anachronism into an enduring and deeply engaging global hobby?” the author asks. He goes on to describe the thrill of establishing a direct, person to person long distance contact and exchanging QSL cards, which he contrasts with “a world of taken-for-granted torrents of e-mails, instant messages and Skype video-chats.” It’s a point of view that QRP enthusiasts and many others will identify with.

In the comments to the article many have been keen to say that ham radio is not low tech, citing “VoIP Radio” and digital techniques as examples. They may be true, but I’m afraid the commenters miss the point. The more high-tech ham radio becomes, the less magic there is. Developments like D-Star are about as far from the concept of a simple transceiver and the freedom of the open radio spectrum as it is possible to get. It isn’t simple, it isn’t free (since it depends on a network controlled by someone else) and it isn’t open. Which is why it is anathema to many of us.

There is a danger that the pursuit of technology could turn ham radio into a poor copy of existing communications networks. Ham radio has endured because it has held on to its traditions involving relatively simple technology that most hams can understand and even build for themselves. If we ever lose sight of that the hobby is as good as dead.

Julian Moss, G4ILO, is a regular contributor to and writes from Cumbria, England. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “Is technology good for ham radio?”

  • Matt W1MST:

    Here, here, Julian. My thoughts exactly. Simplicity is our greatest strength.

  • Tom K4TOJ:

    I’m not so sure that you are right about technology. When I was younger, I liked to listen to AM radio and the crackle that came with it. Then I got in to SWL and CB with a little interest in becoming a HAM as well. I’m a technology guy. I understand the freedom it gives you. There were essentially two reasons why I got my ticket last year.

    One reason for me becoming a HAM was the removal of the CW testing requirement. I had a straight key hooked up to a small speaker / amplifier and taught myself some CW when I was a kid, but never felt I was good enough to pass. Plus, my real interest was in phone.

    The other reason was how reliant we have become on instant communications through cell phones. They are somewhat reliable, but don’t always have a signal and when there is a true emergency, the cells tend to become overloaded. I wanted an alternative way to communicate in case it hit the fan.

    Then, I found out about Echolink and DSTAR. I HAD to get involved with HAM radio after finding out about those two “modes”. They made the hobby more interesting to me. And they peak the interest of others.

    The thing is, HAM radio has a stigma about it that keeps some young people away. Bringing some technology in to the hobby helps break that barrier and leads some in to the older, less complex “technologies”. For instance, I tend to spend more time on HF than anything else because the challenge of making those contacts across great distances by using just a radio and a wire in the sky. It’s cool.

    I certainly understand how you feel and that there are many others that feel the same way. But the thing is, we need more people coming in to the hobby to keep it alive. We need to keep them here once they arrive. Technology can do both of those things.

  • Demetre Valaris - SV1UY:

    Hi Julian,

    Although I agree with most of your comments, I must say that APRS is also based on APRS-IS, which is not free and even DXers today rely on the DXCLUSTER, which is not free either.

    Personally I have never being involved with DSTAR for different reasons than you (I think it is a waste of cash and bandwidth, since most DSTAR NODES only use DSTAR for voice QSOS and not for DATA), but I do not think that we must battle modes that partly rely on Internet, at least not until we manage to built our own Radio Links that will eventually connect all our DIGIS and NODES via Amateur Radio instead of using the Internet as a substitute, if we ever manage to built these radio links!!!

    73 de Demetre SV1UY

  • vornadvense:

    god byrjun

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