Newsflash: Not Everyone Is Going to Be an Expert

You’ve probably run into this situation…some of the more experienced radio amateurs commenting about how so many of the newer hams are incompetent. “Yeah, they’ve dumbed down the FCC exam, so now anyone can get a license. Back when I got my license, I had to copy Morse Code in my head, design a triple-feedback-loop vacuum tube amplifier and recite the Gettysburg address backwards in front of an FCC examiner.”

A while back, I wrote about the time when a newbie on an email list asked a simple electronics question and got this reply: Not to pick on you, but is there any requirement these days to have a basic knowledge of electricity and/or radios to get a ham license?

Often this shows up as an elitist attitude of If you don’t pursue the hobby my way or at my level, then you are doing it wrong.

Since amateur radio consumes most, but not all, of my hobby time, it is easy to lose perspective on this. And, yes, I am sure I have complained about clueless newbies and LID operators from time to time.

It’s interesting to put the shoe on the other foot and think about activities that I pursue with much less time and intensity. In other words, think about activities where I am not that experienced and certainly not an expert.

For example, I enjoy fishing but I am really not that skilled at it. For me, fishing is just an excuse to sit next to a stream and enjoy the scenery. If I catch fish, that is a plus (but I always throw them back in anyway). When I encounter Real Fisherpersons, they are usually friendly and helpful, passing along a few tips on what they using for bait, etc. Sometimes I will encounter That Fly Fishing Guy that looks down his nose at any form of fishing that does not meet his high standard.

I also enjoy photography. I have a decent Canon DSLR camera with a few lenses and I manage to capture some reasonably good photos that way. (This probably has more to do with the quality of the camera than the photographer.) My interest is mostly to capture experiences and events in my life and create photos that I can use in my various writing activities. But I know a number of people that are infinitely more skilled than I am. They are generally very helpful and I usually manage to learn something from them. Come to think of it, I have not encountered very many condescending photographers — most of them have been very helpful. Maybe I have just been lucky.

Although it’s a cliche, Life is Too Short. There are so many things we can choose to do with our time and, really, so little time to do it. People must make choices about how deep they get into any activity, all while balancing family time and demands at work. It shouldn’t surprise us when some people choose to be part-time hams and don’t aspire to be the expert in all things radio.

And the final point is, if you think you have something to offer to the newbies, make sure you come across as helpful and make sure it looks like you are having fun. Being the Old School Grumpus will not attract people to your favorite activity. Having fun and inviting them in will!

73, Bob K0NR

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

11 Responses to “Newsflash: Not Everyone Is Going to Be an Expert”

  • Mike Ve3wdm:

    Good afternoon Bob, very nice post and just recently I was approached to mentor a gentleman to become a ham. I looked at the material and what was needed to get the basic ticket as I have been a ham for over 20 years. I was shocked to see how much more detailed and relivent it was. I honestly think they dumbed the exam down for me 20 years ago. This is going to be a learning exercise for boht me and the soon to be new ham.

  • Don N4KC:

    Bob, I’ve blogged and commented on this very subject many, many times, and you said it very, very well. I wonder how many of those sanctimonious old-timers who denigrate the abilities of newcomers to the hobby could pass today’s test, or could copy even 13 WPM if they really had to.

    The fact is, even though ours is somewhat of a technical hobby, the amount of interest in the purely technical side of it can vary greatly. There is nothing at all wrong with someone getting licensed to ragchew, chase DX, or work EMCOMM. So long as they learn enough to pass the test and to know when their radios are not working properly, then I’m fine with it. I also salute those who ask for help and opinions and want to learn, but it is NOT required.

    Heck, I started learning about radio and electronics when I began studying for my test, I have continued to learn, and I even learned a couple of things just today. The time that has passed since the exam and this morning is just over 50 years. I still don’t know it all and never will. I like learning about antennas but I still have only scratched the surface. I care nothing at all for building UHF stations or software defined radios and so I know nothing at all about them.

    Welcome newcomers in the proper spirit and they could well become lifetime learners and true assets to the hobby. Shut them out because they did not have the opportunity to pass the same exam you did and you will almost certainly chase them to some other pursuit that will benefit from their skills, interests, and personalities.


    Don Keith N4KC

  • Kevin Porter G6UCY:

    Hello Bob

    Here in the UK we have the same problem with some people putting novice licensees and newer licences down. It is not new I remember back when I was first licensed in 1983 the same thing happening to me. Hearing tales on air of how far standards have fallen since the multiple choice RAE, introduction of the novice license, abolition of the Morse test requirement etc is hardly likely to encourage people to join and remain in the hobby.

    Amateur radio around the world holds a very special place with governments allowing people (with a few restrictions) to use bands commercial interests would pay a lot of money to get their hands on. In my opinion amateur’s have done pretty well the last few years, gaining new bands and expanding existing ones but in the future this could easily change if amateur radio fails to encourage new people in to the hobby and maintain and hopefully increase the number of licensees.

    It’s a thought but perhaps people just need to take a moment to reflect a little about how they would feel themselves if they were the target of what they were about to say on air before pressing the PTT button.

    Kevin G6UCY

  • JoelB K7BCI:

    Enjoyed your comments. I’m the photo guy (and the fly-fisherman, who DIDN’T look down his nose!). Plus, I’m relatively new to ham radio, but I CAN say that the hams in my area have been very helpful, friendly and “elmerish”! They are great people and good friends, and I look forward to years of fun and activities with them.
    I’ve heard of the greying of the ham communitiy, and I’m there also, but I have some family who will get some exposure to the airwaves and the technology and maybe even join the ranks.
    Thanks for you post and 73s!

  • KC2UOQ Raymond Slate:

    I totally agree,being as a past president of the jeffeson county amature radio club in nny,seeing to many hams pushing for advaced activities and higher standerds of radio work. the main reason for the hobbie is experimentation and person and group fun with radio communication, it’s not a requirement for all hams to provide for advancment in communications technology and or radio science or volinteer for races or any other singal part of the hobby. This dose not mean you cann’t just that people see all the responcabilities and no fun drives espacially the youth and the casual on looker from even getting interested. Don’t bager the Tech.’s to get general or the generals to seek the extra ticket. Hams will progress at thier own speed,and myself included have a large family and personal obligations that do go first before the hobby. I will end my entry with this piece of advice. Show how you are having fun and what can be done,and you will provide plenty of insperation and encouragement to all level of hams and prospective hams.

  • Bill, WA8MEA:

    I have a different take on this. I often try to help others in the “Elmers” discussion thread at a popular ham website.

    Although I have been a ham for over 40 years, and in the ham antenna manufacturing business for over 25 years, it seems my expertise is trumped by newbies and rookies who seem to know it all!

    In one particular post, I was getting so irritated at the total nonsense that was being spewed regarding an antenna issue, I offered the ham who was questioning my FACTS a $1000 bet. I also offered to pay for his gas to my QTH and included my purchase of a steak dinner; with an invite for both of our xyl’s as well.

    Needless to say, when it came to the issue of putting one’s money where their mouth is, their mouth (or keyboard in this case) became silent. The offer was never accepted. (Or even acknowledged!)

    73, Bill – WA8MEA

  • John Olson W9JJG:

    In our local social group of hams we have fellows with 50+ years in the hobby and fellows with just a very few years, plus everything in between. We have dx’ers, builders, cw and digital ops. Appliance ops and experimenters. One of the statements I often hear is “There is room for everyone in ham radio”. Those with less ham experience may be “long” on knowledge. Often the younger hams are great on organizational skills. There is a place in the game for every player. I’m in the 50+ year range, but I sure am happy to learn from a younger ham who maybe really in to something I don’t understand.
    Thanks for your very constructive post
    73, John, W9JGO

  • John Olson W9JGO:

    Sorry for the call sign typo in the previous post… Apologies toW9JJG.
    73, John, W9JGO

  • Benny SA5BYS:

    How true also in Scandinavia.

  • Del AJ4EM:

    as a just getting started ham, I have to say I’m not opposed to the lower license class being available to just about anybody, I do think to be an Extra you should be and be able to prove you are an expert.

  • Joe VK6AAO:

    I have had my license for over 40 years now , and I am still learning .
    The doing and learning is definitly part of the attraction of ham radio . It is those who have helped me along the way that remain very memorable and part of the rich experience of ham radio . It is this tradition of the friendly exchange of wisdom will help ham radio grow and continue to be the best hobby in the woirld .

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