I’m Tired of Pessimism

About a month ago, I wrote a column titled “Let’s Get on the Maker Bandwagon.” Basically, it says that Makers are the kind of people we want in ham radio, and it would be a good thing if ham radio (meaning the ARRL) had a presence at the Maker Faires. Also, I noted that if Dayton wanted to appeal to more than the same old crowd that it would have to be more like the Maker Faire.

A couple of days ago, I got this response:

Thanks for your well thought out column…BUT…

Makers are inner directed people…You can’t make makers make what you want them to make. Nobody can. They aren’t kit builders who only make the designs of others. They are often original craftsmen and artists…Unfortunately there may be little left for Ham makers to make that isn’t now being made in Japan or China using surface mounted microchips. The joy of trying to build stuff with war surplus parts after reading Hugo Gernsback magazines and catalogs is gone. Soon all of us real hams will also be gone…along with the Tesla coils and spark gap transmitters…as well as the CW bugs….and analog instrumentation. I have been taking to writing about the history of radio…especially amateur radio…because unfortunately there is more in our past than there is in our future.

OK on Dayton. The Dayton converntions are attended by fewer hams every year…The hobby is going to survive for some time…but it is gradually fading like a dampened wave. You will see its demise as QST becomes smaller and QSX stops publishing. There is now only the hope that a major national depesssion may save it for a while because the “makers” who are unemployed may resort to making powerless green economy crystal sets again as they did in the 1930s…but I doubt it because they may be too busy trying to reprogram the hard drives of discared refurbished computers, which may cost less than the components of a crystal set and not even need any elaborate antennas.

You can make some people make all kinds of stuff some of the time,
And you can make many people make some kinds of stuff some of the time,
But you can’t make all kinds of people make ham radio stuff none of the time,
Because..Them days are gone forever!

Once the fiber optic cable enters your home…The magic is gone!

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!! I am really tired of this kind of pessimism. I e-mailed back:

Boy, if we all were as pessimistic as you, we’d really be up a creek, now wouldn’t we? You’re a VE. If the picture was as grim as you paint it, why even bother with that? And what’s so magical about optical fiber? When anybody can do it, it’s no longer magical.

Fortunately, I think that there will be plenty of “real” hams following along behind us, IF we bring ham radio into the 21st century. And that was the point of the article. You may not be able to make Makers, but we should be trying to attract those with the Maker mentality into amateur radio. They may not be making IC-756PROs or Orion IIs, but they will be making other fun radio gadgets, developing interesting amateur radio software, and moving ham radio into directions we haven’t thought of yet.

They won’t be doing it if guys like you are already writing them off, however.

I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I pledge to counter this kind of negative attitude in any way that I can. I’m open to any and all ideas as to how to do this.

Ham Radio’s Rejuvenation??

In a recent column in Electronic Design magazine, editor Don Tuite, NR7X, said the following:

Hypothesis: Doing away with the code requirement last March has completed a rejuvenation of ham radio that was triggered by the World Trade Center attacks and Katrina. I’m looking for reader comments yea and nay.

He goes on to say how in the San Francisco Bay area, they are licensing 50 or more new hams ever month, and one of the biggest draws seems to be the ability to use ham radio for emergency communications. Furthermore, he says, dropping the Morse Code requirement for the General and Extra Class licenses is now encouraging those who have Tech licenses to upgrade and do things like HF DXing.

I’m not so sure that this is happening here in the Ann Arbor, MI area, but I do think that there has been a resurgence of interest in amateur radio. I attribute it to the convergence of a number of factors. Eliminating the code test requirement was one of them, as well as a renewed interest in emergency communications. (I think Katrina had more of an effect on those folks than did the 9/11 disaster, though.) Another factor is what I call the “MAKE movement,” that is those that find satisfaction in creating things with their own hands and minds. I also think that amateur radio itself is doing a much better job of drawing people in, or at least doing a better job of not turning them away.

Jim, W6RMK, commented that emergency communications is only one of the five “purposes” of amateur radio, and the other four should be given some consideration as well. I agree. When I speak to organizations about amateur radio, I try to emphasize all five of them, as they are all equally valid reasons for folk to get licensed and equally valid reasons for the continued existence of the amateur radio SERVICE.

WA2HOM is on the Air

Earlier today, we activated the WA2HOM callsign for the first time at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. WA2HOM is the vanity callsign that I was issued specifically for operations at the Museum.

The first contact occurred at 1510Z with KA3FNH. Overall, we made 14 contacts, including nine SSB contacts and five CW contacts. Four of our contacts were with stations operating from lighthouses that were participating in the International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend.

More importantly, we were able to give some several adults and kids an introduction to amateur radio. One, Brian, who’s ten years old, says he’s all ready to take the test and can’t wait until the September 8 test session.

For the next four months, we’ll be operating from the museum on two Saturdays each month. The dates are:

  • September 15th, 29th
  • October 20th, 27th
  • November 10th, 24th
  • December 1st, 15th

If you’re in or near Ann Arbor, come on down and operate for a while. If not, listen for us, probably around 7280 (SSB) or 7050 (CW).

Two More Takes on Morse Code

The 12/27/06 edition of the New York Times contains the article, “A Fading Signal.”.

Paul Saffo opines in his 12/16/06 journal entry:

It is tempting to conclude that the FCC’s action spells the end of Morse, but I am certain we will see a very different outcome. Freed from all pretense of practical relevance in an age of digital communications, Morse will now become the object of loving passion by radioheads, much as another “dead” Language, Latin is kept alive today by Latin-speaking enthusiasts around the world. Latin fans eagerly tick off the practical benefits of speaking a dead language, but of course they pursue their study because it is fun and challenging, gives them a sense of accomplishment and links them to a community of other passionate speakers.

The demise of CW has been greatly exaggerated.

Ham Census

Don, KB9UMT, moderator and owner of the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list came up with the following chart:

Year___ %Ham__US Population___# US Hams
2004 672,622
2005 662,600
2006 654,291


  • http://www.hamdata.com/fccinfo.html
  • http://www.ah0a.org/AH0A.html
  • http://www.ah0a.org/FCC/Licenses.html
  • http://hamcall.net/divisions_by_callsign.html
  • http://www.speroni.com/FCC/index.html
  • http://www.qrz.com/i/census.html?
  • http://www.jarl.or.jp/English/1_Amateur/A-1-9.htm

Don notes that the number of licensed amateurs has declined since 2003, and that the population of the U.S. has increased. If we use a figure of 300 million for the population of the U.S., then the percentage of the population that are hams in 2006 is 0.22%.

Should we be disturbed by this? I’m not sure. I don’t think we should go out and recruit new hams just to pump up our numbers. I think that we’ll find that if we recruit new hams for good reasons, such as increasing the number of hams capable of providing emergency communications or to just share the fun of ham radio, then we’ll be more successful and draw more active, interesting people into the hobby.

Early Radio History

Tim, N9PUZ says:

If you get bored with fretting over the loss of the CW testing requirement there is a lot of interesting reading about our early history here:

This is a very cool website. Thanks, Tim!

FCC Makes Sweeping Rules Changes

Last week, the ARRL reported that they would “press” the FCC to release the “Omnibus” Amateur Radio Report and Order. Well, yesterday they got their wish. The executive summary of R&O FCC 06-149 states:

In this R&O, we amend the Part 97 Amateur Radio Service rules as follows:

  • revise the operating privileges of amateur radio operators to allow more spectrum in four currently-authorized amateur service HF bands to be used for voice communications;
  • permit auxiliary stations to transmit on additional amateur service bands;
  • permit amateur stations to transmit spread spectrum communications on the 1.25 meter (m) band;
  • permit amateur stations to retransmit communications from the International Space Station;
  • permit amateur service licensees to designate the amateur radio club to receive their call sign in memoriam;
  • prohibit an applicant from filing more than one application for a specific vanity call
  • eliminate certain restrictions on equipment manufacturers that are no longer
  • permit amateur radio stations operating in Alaska and surrounding waters more
    flexibility in providing emergency communications; and
  • remove certain restrictions in the amateur service license examination system that are no longer necessary.

One item that will affect those of us who operate HF is that most of the Novice bands has been re-allocated to phone operation. The full, 45-page Report and Order is available online on the FCC website.

“No Ham Left Behind” Feedback – Restrictive Homeowner’s Agreements

QST finally published my op-ed piece “No Ham Left Behind” in the September issue. I’ve already gotten several e-mail comments. A couple of them have mentioned restrictive homeowner’s agreements as a factor in ham inactivity. While I don’t mean to minimize the problem of restrictive covenants, there are ways to get around them.

First and foremost, don’t move into such a development! I had one guy e-mail me saying, “I know I chose to move here, but….” Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. I do realize that this could be a big impediment for youngsters who don’t have the option of moving, but adults have no excuse.

Second, there are a variety of stealth antennas that amateurs can build and use effectively. We had a great presentation at our club from a member who’d moved into a condo and experimented with a variety of antennas that he could put in his attic. He’s now happily working 80-10 with the results of his experiments.

Third, clubs should work to establish club stations. These could be located at a local community college, community recreation center, Red Cross chapter, or Salvation Army facility. Certainly, in the case of the Red Cross or Salvation Army it’s a win-win situation. The club gets a club station that can be used by the members and the agency gets amateur radio capabilities. Our club right now is working with the local Red Cross to set up an amateur radio station in their new facility.

I’m sure there are other innovative ways to get around this problem. If you know of one, please let me know.

A New Ham’s Perspective on Amateur Radio

In a message to the University of Michigan Amateur Radio Club’s mailing list, Vishal KD8DTF offered the following:

Hi everyone,

You may be aware of flood situation in India, especially in southern Gujarat, which is my home state. Until yesterday 70% of my home town, Surat, was flooded with water. In fact, there was 4 ft water level on the first floor of my house and about 10 ft water level on the streets of Surat. It is estimated that the water that flowed in 3 days through the city amounted to be the water required by the whole state for 3 years! This estimate is sufficient to give us idea of enormity of flood. There was no power, communications, and in some areas, no drinking water for three consecutive days. The situation is improving but there is still no electricity in major areas and phone lines are down. I still cannot call home on land-line, but cell phones are working on and off. This would’ve been the best time to make use of our favorite hobby of amateur radio and I really wish I could help people.

What inspired me to write this is the fact that there are indeed three ham stations set up in Surat, and they have been really helpful in saving hundreds of people from drowning, hunger and thirst. We all are pursuing such a wonderful hobby that can really make us proud. My association with this hobby has made me feel proud one more time, so I thought of sharing my thoughts with you all. To get more clear idea of the situation, please check the following links. These links are provided by a regional newspaper, which is in Gujarati. You wouldn’t need to know the language, because a picture is worth a thousand words.

Finally, the good news is that water is receding and situation is improving.

73, Vishal

Two Interesting Items from the 6/21/06 ARRL Letter

The June 21, 2006 ARRL Letter had two items that seemed worthy of comment. The first, “FCC SUSPENDS HAM LICENSES FOR FAILURE TO MAINTAIN MAILING ADDRESS” reported on the suspension of five licenses for failing to maintain a valid mailing address in the FCC database.

Part 97.23 of the Amateur Radio Service regulations require licensees to notify the FCC when they change addresses. The rule also says that “revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct mailing address.”

In all cases, the FCC was trying to contact the licensees about allegations of harmful interference, and in most of the cases, the licensees failed to responded to warning notices. In one case, the licensee simply turned in his license rather than respond to the warnings.

All of this is very puzzling to me. The report did not make the incidents sound all that serious, and the alleged interference could have been incidental and not malicious. Why didn’t these guys simply respond, say “I’m sorry,” and learn from the experience.

The second item is “FBI’S “INFRAGARD” PROGRAM COURTS AMATEUR RADIO AS ALLY.” InfraGard is an FBI program whose goal is to promote dialogue between the private sector and the FBI “concerning critical infrastructure protection issues.”

If you go to the InfraGard website, the first thing you note is that it’s really not clear what InfraGard really does. Their mission statement reads:

It is our goal to improve and extend information sharing between private industry and the government, particularly the FBI, when it comes to critical national infrastructures.

Does this sound like Big Brotherism or what?

Secondly, how is amateur radio supposed to fit into this mission? Amateur radio is, undoubtedly, valuable in providing communications during an emergency, but I don’t see where InfraGard is involved with emergency response. Rather, InfraGard’s goal is to prevent emergencies from happening in the first place.

Not only that, InfraGard is soliciting private companies to become members. and that “InfraGard members gain access to information that enables them to protect their assets…” Should amateur radio be used to protect the assets of corporations?

I hate to be skeptical, but it seems to me that there are already plenty of other organizations out there that we should serve before we get involved with something like InfraGard. Let’s concentrate our efforts on serving groups like the Red Cross and local emergency management departments—where we can really make an impact— rather than some amorphous federal program with vague goals.