Ham radio? Do they still do that?

When I tell people that I am a ham radio operator, I often get asked, “Do they still do that?” Well, of course, we still do that. So, when I was asked to speak to a Mensa group here in SE Michigan, I decided to use that as the theme of my talk.

Feel free to download this from SlideShare and use it whenever you’re asked to give a talk about amateur radio, adding or deleting what ever slides you think are appropriate.

Amateur radio in the news: Purdue club

Geoffrey Stewart, son of Andy Stewart of Chelmsford, operates his ham radio. His call sign is KB1USE. COURTESY PHOTO

Ham radio: the original social network
Andy Stewart and his friends could be considered revolutionary. “The jokes that I hear are that ham radio was the original social network,” he said.

Purdue’s ham radio club turns 100.
During open house, members can spend their time however they want. Most of the time, members learn more about ham radio, make new contacts from around the world and fix radios. One time, a few members even made a credit card scanner just for fun.

Volunteers vital to Weather Service during severe storms
With the forecast calling for possible severe weather Thursday, the National Weather Service expects to call on its team of weather spotters. They include Roane County ham radio operator Phil Newman. For 16 years, Newman has communicated to fellow operators around the region and the world….

Amateur radio in the news: School Roundup in WA, Laporte (IN) hamfest, the magic of ham radio

Middle schoolers in North Bend, WA participate in the School Roundup.

Two Rivers calling: Ham radio roundup connects students with learning moments
After a slow morning of attempting to contact other ham radio operators, middle-schoolers at Two Rivers School in North Bend enjoyed an afternoon chatting with people all over the world, as part of the annual School Club Roundup.

Amateur radio enthusiasts flock to La Porte for annual event
For one man it was the discovery of a nearly 100-year-old radio in his attic. For another, it was a Christmas gift that connected him to voices from around the world. And for a third, it was his father’s military career that led him into the world of amateur radio. Hundreds like them gathered in La Porte on Saturday for the annual Cabin Fever Hamfest at the La Porte Civic Auditorium.

Magic Valley Ham Radio Operators Share the Fun
Video allows Magic Valley (ID) amateurs share the magic of our hobby.

Why don’t we have a Spanish-language QSO party?

I think that this is an idea whose time has come. What do we need to do to get this started?……Dan

Several days ago I ran the idea of an annual Spanish language QSO party by the PR reflector. An ARRL Spanish language annual QSO party brings many benefits to Amateur Radio, to the League, and to those of us who look for PR opportunities for Amateur Radio.

Let’s look at the benefits!
For the League to reach out by incorporating Spanish would, in my observation —

  • further globalize US Amateur Radio,
  • make US hams more useful and valuable when events like hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes hit Spanish speaking areas,
  • demonstrate by action that we are truly an international community of communicators,
  • bring more Spanish speaking DX into US sub-bands, making stations in many countries easier for US Amateurs to talk with,
  • strengthen Amateur Radio in Spanish speaking countries, which gives Amateur Radio better standing at the ITU when frequency allocations are handed out,
  • and be an electronic person-to-person ambassadorship that’s priceless for making friends and building relationships people-to-people, culture-to-culture, and nation-to-nation.

Hispanics are the fastest growing components of our American population.  According to the US census, the U.S. Hispanic population surged 43%, rising to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. Latinos now constitute 16% of the nation’s total population of 308.7 million

A Spanish QSO party would be a great annual PR event, tied in with either cinco de mayo (although that’s an American-adopted Mexican holiday) or tied in with national Hispanic Heritage Month which takes place every year from September 15 to October 15.

My experience in broadcasting shows well that Spanish language TV station intensely serve their core markets – a great PR opportunity for PIO/PIC’s to spread Amateur Radio’s story to a part of our population that is both growing in number and gaining political strength every day. I guarantee great Spanish language and local TV coverage of a Spanish QSO party that also incorporates some field-day-like operation from public spaces (parks, malls, etc.)

The League could publish a handbook of Spanish Amateur Radio phrases that would help us all work Spanish speaking DX.  Exchanges during a Spanish language QSO party could be in Spanish, Spanglish, mixed Spanish and English, or in EnglishMultipliers would be given based on the number – or percent – or whatever – of conversations conducted at least partly in Spanish.

As some of us dust off or begin to practice our beginning Spanish language vocabulary, I expect Spanish speaking foreign stations will begin to spend more time in the US Phone Band Segments of our HF allocations, making them easier for the casual DXer to work!

Particularly for those of us in border states and other states with burgeoning Hispanic populations, an annual Spanish QSO party is the perfect PR, public-serving, new-ham-generating, all-inclusive event promoting the growth of Amateur Radio.

Listen for a few minutes to the Citizen’s Band along our southern border and in many other places.  Many of the truckers’ conversations are now in Spanish.  We’ve benefited by bring a number of CB operators through the years into Amateur Radio’s “Big Tent.”  Let’s keep up the momentum!

If you’ll give it a moment’s thoughts, I’m sure you’ll come up with additional benefits for Amateur Radio, for the League, and for our PIO/PRC participants. I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface. I hope this Spanish language annual QSO party idea will catch hold, and will be a real “plus” for Amateur Radio and for being one more step in making the world of Spanish and English speakers together.

A short bit of personal background
Here in New Mexico, the “border state” where I live  we have two official languages.  You can speak only Spanish and participate in state court proceedings, follow legislative initiatives, vote, read bus schedules, subscribe to city and council notices of meetings and their contents, and choose from several Spanish over-the-air TV channels and many Spanish language radio stations.

Nearly a third of our state’s residents speak Spanish (although perhaps not exclusively) at home.

My QSL card says, on its front, “New Mexico – where the sun shines on three cultures, two official languages, and the greatest scenic beauty in the southwest.”

My first job at age 19 in commercial radio engineering was at a “bilingue” radio station.  Every weekday night, movie tickets and other prizes were given away to listeners who could answer “Preguntas de la noche.”  I usually had no problem knowing the answer – but I had no idea what the question was.  Once a week or so one of the non-English speaking announcers (Jesus Buenrostro) and I would go to lunch, determined to talk with each other.  I learned some Spanish; he learned some English.  We’d end up scribbling on napkins and gesturing to each other, and frequently would attract the attention of folks at nearby lunch tables who spoke Spanish and English – and we’d all end up in roundtable conversation with smiles and grins at each other’s attempts to use a language we were just beginning to learn!

Our daughter, Susan (bear in mind that my wife and I are purely of northern European descent) teaches English as a Second Language to high school students from predominantly Spanish speaking households in Albuquerque’s most centrally downtown located high school in the mornings, and is a certified legal interpreter English/Spanish – Spanish English in the State and Municipal Courts in the afternoons. Not bad for a German-Irish gringa (young white woman)!

Yes, Spanish is an integral part of our community, and of our family’s lives.  And more and more, it’s becoming an integral part of yours!  Language shouldn’t be a barrier between neighbors.  And I hope the League will commit to spearheading a thrust to make Amateur Radio here in the US even more inclusive than it is today!

It would be great if the answer to the question “Can we (hams) talk” would be both a resounding  “Yes!” and ¡Si!

I would love to be part of whatever group forms to spearhead an exchange with Board members of the League and with League headquarters staff to create an annual Spanish language QSO party, with all the improvements that I expect you can and will offer.  It will be a big plus for Amateur Radio!

Let’s carry this message, to all interested parties!  We can make it happen for the good of Amateur Radio!

Siete tres a todos
73, everyone!


Ham Radio NowI don’t know how I missed watching HamRadioNow, but now that I’ve seen my first episode, you can bet that I’m going to be a regular viewer from now on. If you ask me, it’s more interesting than HamNation on TWIT.

The last episode I watched is episode #24, which talks about WB2JKJ, the radio club of Junior High School #22 in New York City. You’ve seen the ads in QST and the other ham radio magazines. If you ever wondered about those ads–and the program behind it–you should watch this episode.

The program is actually not about getting kids their amateur radio licenses. Instead, it’s about using amateur radio to teach language arts, geography, etc. And, the program is now more than just a New York City kind of thing. The program reaches out to all educators nationwide.

This episode of HRN was a real eye-opener for me. If you’re at all interested in ham radio in education, watch this episode. If you’re at all interested in any other aspect of ham radio, watch one of the other 20+ episodes.

Where are the hams?

Ralph, AA8RK, and I drove down to Findlay, OH for the Findlay hamfest. Findlay is normally a pretty good hamfest, and it’s worth driving an hour and a half to get there. On the way down, Ralph mentioned how disappointed he was that the level of repeater activity in the Detroit area seems to just keep dropping and dropping.

That’s a puzzle to me, too. We now have more hams than ever before–over 700,000 licensed radio amateurs in the U.S.–yet no one seems to be talking to one another. This seems to be happening on both VHF/UHF and the HF bands. Aside from contest weekends, it seems that fewer and fewer hams are getting on the air. This begs the question, why don’t hams get on the air anymore?

When we got down to Findlay, I was kind of dismayed by how few people were there. I have to admit that I didn’t attend last year, but this year’s attendance was way below what it was two years ago. What has happened in the last two years that has dissuaded so many hams from not attending this hamfest?

Ham Key HK-1 PaddleFortunately, there were lots of good things to buy. There were lots of decent deals on transceivers, for example.There was also a lot of tube gear for sale and several tube dealers, oddly enough.

I managed to pick up a HamKey paddle (see right). I had seen this on my first time around the flea market, and when I asked the seller how much he wanted for it, he said $45. Since I didn’t really need another key, I figured I’d stop by the table on the way out, and if he still had it then, offer him less.

Well, when I got back there, the paddle was still there, but a different guy was manning the table. When I asked him, “Will you take $40 for the paddle?” he replied, “Well, it’s my buddy’s paddle. I’ll have to ask him.”

Then, he took a look at my name tag and did a double take. “Hey, I know you,” he said, “I read your blog all the time.”

“In that case,” I said, “will you take $35?” We both got a laugh out of that. At that point, his friend returned, and he did indeed accept my offer of $40.

So, despite the lack of attendance, I still managed to get a good deal on something. I think if more hams made the effort to show up at these things, they’d find some good deals, too. And, maybe that would spur them to get on the air more. Well, I can dream anyway, can’t I?


Will NTSB Recommendation Affect Ham Radio?

National Transportation Safety BoardYesterday, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that “the 50 states and the District of Columbia:”

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving. (H-11-XX)

As usual, there has been a big hue and cry among radio amateurs who fear that this recommendation is going to somehow find its way into laws that ban use of mobile radio equipment. In my humble opinion, we really don’t have to worry about this.

In nearly all, if not all, states where laws have been enacted restricting the use of personal electronic devices, ham radio has always been exempted. One of the main reasons for this is that the National Safety Council recognizes that there is no evidence that operating an amateur radio set poses a significant crash risk. The ARRL and the ARRL members in states where this legislation has come up have been quick to point this out, and we will be quick to point this out again.

The accidents cited in the recommendation are certainly terrible events, and banning cellphone use while driving may certainly be a legitimate thing to do. Having said that, none of the incidents involved amateur radio or any other two-way radio operation, and we should be quick to point that out.

And one more thing: drive carefully, whether you have a microphone in your hand or not.

Ham Radio on the Net – 11/22/11

A couple of items that have appeared on the Internet have been making news in amateur radio circles.

The first, Ham Radio in the 21st Century, appeared on EDN.Com, the website for EDN magazine. EDN is a trade magazine for electronics engineers. It’s a very nice piece on the state of ham radio, including not only the basics, but also a discussion of some of the high-tech toys we now have. If someone you know wants an intro to ham radio, this might be a good article to point them towards.

The second appeared today on FoxNews.Com. Radio Days Are Back: Ham Radio Licenses at an All-Time High notes that the number of licensed amateur radio operators is at an all-time high, with more than 700,000 licensees registered in the FCC database. That number has increased by more than 40,000 in the last five years alone.

The next time someone tells you, “Gee, I didn’t know that amateur radio still existed,” make sure you tell them that not only is it alive and kicking, but growing.

Ham Radio Organizations, Revisited

About a month ago, I posted some ideas about how we might change the way ham radio is organized locally.  You can read that post, but basically, I think that we need are “real” nonprofit organizations, with paid staff, to promote ham radio and conduct ham radio activities.

I talk up this idea whenever I can, most recently in an e-mail exchange with my friend, Ralph, AA8RK. He challenged me, “What, in simple terms, would be the mission of this nonprofit? What would the money be used for?”

I replied, “A simple mission statement might be ‘to provide opportunities for people to become amateur radio operators and to become better amateur radio operators.'” Thinking about this some more, I think a good mission statement could be crafted around the five bases of amateur radio as spelled out in Part 97.1, “Basis and Purpose.” Each of those are great goals to strive for.

As for how we would use the money, I came up with the following list off the top of my head:

  • Provide more training than just quarterly one-day Tech classes, such as General and Extra classes, basic electronics and antenna classes, and emergency communication training.
  • Provide leadership training and perhaps other types of support services to ham radio clubs.
  • Operate publicly-accessible ham radio stations and workspaces, such as our station at the Hands-On Museum.
  • Run a “lending library” of equipment, such as beginner transceivers, antenna analyzers, and other test equipment.

These are things that clubs or the sections could do, but rarely do because they’re all-volunteer organizations. All-volunteer organizations can only do so much.

Anyone have any thoughts about this? Anyone good at fund raising that might want to join with me and start raising some dough?



Ham Radio in the News

One of the ways I gather information for this blog is Google Alerts. It sends me an e-mail every day with references to stories or web pages that have ham radio content. This includes newspaper stories that have found their way into online editions of the newspaper.

I’ve been slightly surprised by the number of articles. Every day, there seems to be one or two. Here are two that showed up today, for example:

  • Ham radio hangs on. This story from the Christian Science Monitor captures some of the essence of ham radio, including the do-it-yourself nature of our hobby and the camaraderie of our hobby.
  • Young ‘ham’ finds words are golden in radio contest. This story describes the efforts of 16-year old Matthew E. Morrison of Landisburg, who won several thousand dollars worth of amateur radio equipment from a radio club as a prize for an essay he wrote. He’s already licensed, but the story fails to give his callsign.

These are just two examples, and there are many more. If you all are interested, I’ll post links from time to time.