That’s Not Real Ham Radio

Things had been pretty quiet on the ham front lately but then I ran into a string of “That’s Not Real Ham Radio” discussions. This happens from time to time…I usually ignore it…but this time I got sucked into the topic.

It started with some HF enthusiasts I know talking about how “digital modes” are just not very satisfying. Their point is that with CW and SSB, there is an audio connection to your ear that makes you an integral part of the radio communication. The extreme-DSP modes such as JT65 insert serious signal processing that essentially removes the human connection.  This can quickly lead to the generalization that these digital modes “aren’t real ham radio.”

I think its fair to say that most hams think of the HF bands as the center of the hobby…getting on the air, bouncing signals off the ionosphere to talk to someone over the horizon. Some hams will go even further and say that CW is the only way to go. Anything less is just phone. FM and repeaters? Forget that stuff…not enough skill required. And certainly, don’t get stuck on 2 meters.

In a previous post, I argued we should not confuse religion with modulation. I do occasionally make snarky comments about the continued use of AM (AKA Ancient Modulation), but I’ve tried to tone that down in recent years.

What About DMR?

Just last week, I was playing around with a DMR hotspot on the Brandmeister network. It really struck me that people on the system were having a blast talking to each other across North America and around the world. But then that nagging little voice in the back of my head said “hey, wait a minute…this is not real DX…the RF signal might only be traveling 20 feet or so from an HT to a hotspot.”

This caused me to put out a plea for insight on twitter:

I received a lot of good replies with the answers tending to clump into these three categories:

  • I don’t know (“That’s Not Real Ham Radio”)
  • It’s fun, new technology
  • It’s a digital network that brings ham radio operators together

My interest seems to fall into the second category: this is fun, new technology. Which does make me wonder how long this new technology will remain interesting to me. Well, that is difficult to predict but I’ll invoke the principle of try not to overthink it. The idea that DMR is a digital network that brings ham radio operators together makes some sense. In the past, I have argued that amateur radio is not for talking. In other words, if you just want to talk someone, there are much more convenient ways of doing that. Still, there is something attractive about this ham-radio-only digital network.

It really is important to not overthink this kind of stuff. Ham radio is supposed to be fun, so if you are having fun, you are probably doing it right. If you are not having fun, then you might want to examine what you are doing. See my post on the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.

Sometimes hams can get a little spun up about those other guys that don’t appreciate our way of doing ham radio. What the heck is wrong with them anyway? I’ve always been inspired by the Noise Blankers Mission Statement:

Do radio stuff.
Have fun doing it.
Show people just how fun it is.

If your preferred form of ham radio is so superior, it ought to be easy to show other hams how cool it is. If not, then maybe you aren’t doing it right. Conversely, as long as other hams are having fun and operating legally, don’t knock what they are doing. In fact, encourage them. We need more people having fun with ham radio, even if it’s not your favorite kind of fun.

That’s my opinion. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

The post That’s Not Real Ham Radio appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

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

21 Responses to “That’s Not Real Ham Radio”

  • Ray Price KE4YOG:

    I don’t use DMR but I can see the enjoyment. No it is not DX. Yes some of the magic of propagation is missing but it is having fun with radios. That is the main point.

  • jeff WW6L:

    sir! you preach anarchy!

  • Tony N8WAC:

    Why anarchy? Digital is just another path that a ham can take to communicate. Be it dx’ing (JT65) or voice (DMR,Fusion,D-star). I myself love JT65. I also own a DMR radio. DMR isn’t my cup of tea. But I’ll never sell it because it’s an option. Years ago I was going to go to Florida for vacation. I needed information on scanning public service. For almost a week I tried to find somebody in Fl on HF. Couldn’t find a soul. So I dialed up the local IRLP directly to the area I was going to stay. Got my answer in 5 minutes. Digital….as much as some don’t like it…..does have it’s purpose.

  • Angelo DePalma, KD2HPQ:

    If you use radio, and only radio, to get your signal to the other operator then it’s radio. If you use radio only as a means of connecting to a wired network then it’s not radio. DMR, etc. are the justification for asking the question ignoramuses often ask about our hobby: Why not just use a cell phone? The whole attraction of amateur radio is the ability to communicate without the multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure.

  • Ron Wright, N9EE:

    Ham Radio is about radio, you aint interested in radio then Ham Radio is probably not for you. Having said that there are other aspects of the use of radio and other sources like the internet to enhance the capability of radio communications. We do think a microphone is part of radio although it deals with audio and not doing any wireless transmitting. Should we say since we use the mic to work at audio for our voice and connected with wires that it is not part of radio??? I would not think so. We might argue comm between computers on the internet like with EchoLink is not Ham Radio, but I tend to see it more of just another part of Ham Radio. I see these technologies as an expansion of radio and is part of Ham Radio. IMHO

  • Tony N8WAC:

    “Why not just use a cell phone?” A cell phone is a radio not a phone. A phone has a cord hooked to it. A device transmitting an rf signal via an antenna is a radio.

  • Goody K3NG:

    Not to be a provocateur, but I have a thornier and more difficult question. Is someone a real amateur radio operator if they get licensed merely for utilitarian purposes, like for prepping or like back before cell phones when people got licenses just for repeater autopatch use? Discuss.

  • Tony N8WAC:

    A real amateur is in the eyes of the beholder is what it sounds like here. I recognize a real amateur if they hold a license given to them by the FCC. Not by what their interest is. That’s the problem I think that Bob in his article is trying to get the point across. Too many people trying to define a real amateur.

  • Alan WE4AL:

    If you’re having fun, operating legally, and what you’re doing requires a ham license than you are a ham and operating as a ha. The most important thing is your doing something within the operating conditions of amateur radio.
    I’m also a photographer (for the past 40+ years), and I hear the argument all the time that if your not using film than your not a photographer. To those folks I say “show me your glass plate negatives and tin types”.
    I say to Amateur’s who judge other hams involved in newer or different fields of Amateur operations “show me your spark gap equipment”.

  • Dean N4AJK:

    DMR is fun. It lets me communicate with other hams. It is getting harder sometimes to communicate with 100 watts and a wire with the current sun spot cycle.

    Why is someone telling me what ham radio is and isn’t? Enjoy it anyway you want that is legal.

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    Spark gap hams tells CW hams that CW is not real ham radio… CW hams tells AM hams, that only CW is real ham radio… AM hams tell SSB hams that sounding like Donald Duck is not real ham radio… SSB hams tell RTTY hams that RTTY is not real ham radio… RTTY hams tell PSK31 and other digital hams they are not doing real ham radio..Now it is JT65/JT9 and DMR/Fusion/D-Star that is are real ham radio operators… I don’t go back to Spark gap days, but do go back to 1963 when I became a novice. I have heard this crap all my life…. Listen people it is all ham radio. The only difference is how limited or expansive you want to make it… Give it a rest… There is more coming in technology and I am sure some idiot will say it is not real ham radio… Now I think I will play “Ping-Pong” radio, You know it as JT65. 10 watts with a 6BTV at 10 ft and 2 really bad radial and guess what? I can play real ham radio and make contacts all over the country and world… Lighten up and have fun… 73
    Harry K7ZOV

  • Bob KK5R:

    I’m reminded of the old saying that everyone has an opinion. Also, opinions are based on a combination of experience and knowledge, the experience means that is has been done and knowledge means it was done in a planned way, not as an accident. Sooo, here’s my opinion and please keep in mind that it does not negate other opinions which are valid and useful.

    I believe ham radio is licensed activity using a “box” that can receive and transmit signals in a coherent way. Furthermore, that box is connected to an antenna using some kind of transmission line. The math/formulas to make that system work successfully is, to me, the essence of ham radio. That “box” can be any form of legal, FCC acceptable design that hears and talks to other “boxes” in a coherent way.

    Along the way, I also think that Ham Radio, to me, is building the system elements but this does not mean opening a package from some company and finding a box that can be used.

    The bottom line is that Ham Radio is a rich source for communication and a very worthwhile hobby which can be used for personal gratification in many different ways and these ways are almost unlimited in the range of possibilities. There is a mix of operation, design, building and use that can also go beyond the personal to being used in emergencies and it is important to keep in mind that such emergencies are sometimes directly connected with our personal lives and not on a community level.

    Many of the modes other Hams use are not used here at my station but this does not mean they are not part of Ham Radio. If they are in a ham band and used legally for communication or properly identified signal measurement, it’s all Ham Radio as long as it’s legal.

    I’m glad that the hobby has CW, RTTY, SSB, FM, AM, PSK, moonbounce, etc., etc. The range of possibilities are nearly unlimited. THIS is Ham Radio. As an aside, putting someone down for using a mode that is other than that used by the critic is a waste of good operating time. Spending any great amount of time discussing it sometimes promotes opinions that are narrow-minded and outright wrong by those who have nothing truly valid to add to the topic but they feel somehow obligated to go ahead and say it, anyway.

    When I pass a frequency where a group is discussing some dead-end, controversial topic, or where the language is peppered with language that many find disgusting when we remember that there are youngsters in the hobby and people trying to show off Ham Radio, I tend to do exactly that: I pass the frequency and continue looking for a better, more interesting (to me) topic being discussed. I suspect that the vast majority of dedicate Hams do the same thing.

    There’s too much good in Ham Radio to get bogged down in topics that do not promote the hobby and make it even better. As long as the FCC defines our methods and modes of communication, we are allowed to use any legal means at hand to do the communicating. This is the bottom line.

  • Bob KK5R:


    Where I said:
    “Along the way, I also think that Ham Radio, to me, is building the system elements but this does not mean opening a package from some company and finding a box that can be used.”

    I didn’t finish the thought. It should have said:
    “Along the way, I also think that Ham Radio, to me, is building the system elements but this does not mean opening a package from some company and finding a box that can be used, is not a useful and enjoyable part of the hobby.”

  • robert farey G6LLP:

    HI guys
    So this statement has done more to put off some from joining this excellent hobby when also aligned with only talking about Valves / tubes. Many young people come into this hobby here in the United kingdom as they can talk to others across the world. with just a basic knowledge of a simple test our Foundation licence. then they encounter some of the nasty old die hards. i do mean nasty they get all up in the air when a computer is mentioned. so tell me how many now build an amateur radio that does not have some sort of transistor or computer either in part of it’s construction or as a major part of it. So these rather silly ideas are just that down right stupid. we have benefitted since the early 1980’s for the implemented digital revolution into this most excellent of hobbies.
    Best Regards Robert G6LLP (70 year old)

  • Kevin M0XLT:

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with the post from Angelo KD2HPQ.

  • KD0TLS:

    This almost sounds like “elitism”, but that can’t be because I’ve been told for years that only “cynical” people believe that there’s elitism in amateur radio.

    There’s a universal undercurrent among these elitists that it’s some kind of impertinent insult that they are forced to associate, even indirectly, with their perceived inferiors. Yet, when you isolate these “superior” hams, they don’t seem to have much to say to each other beyond complaining about the “inferior” people.

    Most the people that I hear making these irrelevant distinctions (such as “real” hams) are those that really don’t have much going on in their lives outside of the hobby. Their sense of self-worth comes entirely from looking down on others, and they are constantly inventing new petty distinctions to ‘raise’ themselves up.

  • Ed K7HFU:

    It’s all Ham Radio. The best part is that we can choose to use what interests us. My thing is phone and CW. I have no interest in the other modes and that is OK.

  • Keith - G4JKZ:

    Lets also remember that the digital age has allowed those in care homes and where antenna restrictions apply, to maintain contact with their ‘pals’ across the world.

  • Dean KD8YNY:

    I use DMR, I built my own DMR repeater, I built setup all the required modems, boards, wiring for the radios, setup the software Etc…
    It is used to communicate with friends near and afar, just like using 2 meters for local or HF for distance. Building the system is no different from building an antenna, it is part of the hobby, fun and enjoyable.
    Unfortunately, and I hear this from time to time on different nets from the old time ragchewers, if it is not CW, it is not real radio, same aspect of “if you did not pass with CW, you’re not a real ham”.
    As mentioned above, if you enjoy it, do it, it is another mode, another mode for us all to enjoy. It is fun, challenging and probably not suited for the “old timers” as it can be pretty complex to first set up.
    I have a DMR repeater, I have 2 DMR HT radios, I have several 2m/70cm radios, I have a couple of HF radios, I used digital modes on HF…. I USE IT ALL and love it.

  • Ken lemke ac0dq:

    A good carpenter has more than a hammer in his toolkit….he has many tools, knows how and when to use them, and is always looking for ways to om prove his skill set. Nuf said.

  • Bob KK5R:

    From what I’ve seen so far, Ham Radio means different things to different people — and no one is wrong….!

    It’s more productive to say and describe what is right about the hobby and what it is to the person you are talking to than to get into heated discussion of what it is not. Leave “what it is not” to the FCC.

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