The Amateur Radio Theory of Everything?

In physics the Theory of Everything is a scientific quest for the holy grail of theories that will pull everything together in one neat package and explain everything in the universe.  It’s unlikely that we’ll come close to the theory being realized in our lifetimes, but Jeff, KE9V, has perhaps stumbled upon a “Theory of Everything” in amateur radio, if there could be such a thing.  Jeff writes:

“I recently happened upon the home page of a fellow who was newly licensed. This fellow described what he thought ham radio was all about, and in four short sentences he captured the essence of the thing. He wrote that “the ham radio operator is like MacGyver. Bad guys put him in a tough situation, then he uses clever methods to get himself out of those tough spots. Except in ham radio, it is the radio operator who puts himself in these tough spots and then devises clever means to get himself out.”  ”

Jeff goes on to cite various MacGyver scenarios in amateur radio that we’re familiar with, such as operating QRP with little homebrew rigs in parks or on mountaintops.  The MacGyver analogy, while quite simple really sums up for me the raison d’être of amateur radio, and with every sub-hobby from DXing to QRP to homebrewing to contesting to CW, to even, yes, emcomm.

Having struggled with my interest in amateur radio recently, I realized if you lose the MacGyver instinct or curiosity, your interest in amateur radio will wane.  You have to get back in touch with your “inner MacGyver” to rekindle your interest.  That may mean going away from a part of the hobby that has become commonplace and mundane and going to new challenges that give new opportunities to put yourself in a “tough spot.”

I think the MacGyver concept can also explain the public’s perception of amateur radio.  One cannot really appreciate MacGyver’s ingenuity unless A) they benefit from it (i.e. he saves the day) or B) if they themselves are MacGyvers with the knack for doing what he does.  So the public often just doesn’t get what we do.  While other hobbies like playing an instrument such as a guitar (one of my goals for 2011) are as equally arcane or complicated as amateur radio, the general public can understand the benefits and satisfaction of playing an instrument and enjoy the results.  While it’s easier to just go buy some music on iTunes, I don’t see a similar MacGyver scenario with making music.

The MacGyver concept can also explain mode wars within amateur radio.  Anyone who’s been in amateur radio awhile knows that we have CW aficionados among us who think “real radio” must involve CW.  Some take the MacGyver quality too far and don’t see others as being worthy radio amateurs because they put themselves in less of a tough spot than CW ops choose to.  I think there is often a similar sentiment with QRP versus QRO.

One area in amateur radio that can be at odds with this MacGyver concept is emcomm.  I think the MacGyver-like motivation still applies, it’s just that the so-called “tough spot” Jeff refers to is slightly different.  Emcomm participants tend to prepare for a real tough spot by creating simulated tough spots in the form of drills.  The real tough spot rarely, if ever, happens.  To many people inside and outside of amateur radio it’s questionable whether amateur radio is in a position to save the day in these situations, and I think that’s where the trouble with amateur radio emcomm lies today.  I do think however that the MacGyver concept still applies.

I would love to go on a major DXpedition like the South Georgia or Heard Islands, but paradoxically DX chasing holds little interest for me.  Yes,  it’s the MacGyver concept at work again; working DX really doesn’t challenge me but the thought of a DXpedition does.

Perhaps I’ve beaten to death this concept, but Jeff’s article really struck a chord with me.  Keeping in mind what is at the core of our love of amateur radio can undoubtedly guide us, keep us interested and on track for years of enjoyment.

On a side note, I guess I need to give the obligatory “Happy New Year” greeting.  I’ll spare everyone the resolution list as you all probably know what’s on it and I’ll be writing much of the same list again at the end of this year.  :-)  I thank all of you, my readers and fellow radio artisans, for reading my thoughts, rants, and satire here the past year and hope you’ll stick around for another year.  Happy New Year and 73!

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