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.


  1. I agree. This attitude is at an end. We cannot afford to follow individuals like this anymore. We must lead ham radio. The hobby will change and one golden rule among many in this life, “All things change.”

    Like you, I’m tired of this, and it is time to charge forward. They can live in history while we write history.

    Scot, KA3DRR

  2. Hey Dan

    I’m (somewhat) new to amateur radio (a few years, but not a lot of time/space to spend on it), and I’d LOVE to build stuff to get more familiar and learn more. My problem is not knowing what to build/where to get started. Any suggestions of kits and/or plans which would be good for someone with a decent knowledge of electronic assembly techniques?


  3. Hi Joe,

    Well, you might get started with something like the DC40A from qrpkits.com. Something even simpler would be the keyer kit from hamgadgets.com.

    Another thing you might consider is the the ARRL’s Hands-On Radio Experiments by H. Ward Silver, N0AX. This is a compilation of N0AX’s articles from QST along with the components needed to build the experiments. A friend of mine who I’m Elmering just bought this, and I think it looks pretty interesting.

    73, Dan

  4. I think that most of the historical making occured for one of two reasons:
    1) The item was too expensive
    2) The item was unavailable

    I think that much of today’s “making” is in the software realm. With SDR this becomes even more the case.

    Small gadgets that perform needed tasks still hold interest, but surface mount has all but made it impossible to build.

    With today’s rigs capable of darned near anything, acutally working for RF is only for those who who are true tweaks (steampunk stuff come to mind).

    Advancing the art? I want a better understanding of propagation and how if at all it can be manipulated/accounted for (other than cranking out more watts).

    There are large groups of people within the ham community for whom the magic of wiggling electrons in one place makes it possible to be heard halfway around the globe is no longer magical.

    Me? At nearly 55 I still like Disneyland.

    Maybe what we need is not so much makers as children or the child-like – people who look at glowing tubes and let out a contented sigh.

  5. Thanks Dan … I am a new ham (3 years) a new cw fan (2 years) and I just discovered kit building thanks to the ranks of the QRP side of CW. I am thrilled to have this side of the hobby. I hope that kit building continues as well as my interest in radio. I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

    I am also trying to figure out how to get more people interested in the hobby. I hope to inject a little kit building into my club to see if that will spark any interest as well.

    Enjoy the blog.
    72 & 73, Keith, WA5LPW

  6. Hi! I completely agree with you! I see a great future rife with opportunity! I think the person that wrote the email you quoted above hasn’t thought through all the possibilities. I just got back into ham radio after a couple of years out and I’m having a great time. I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering through forest’s with a radio kit with a ‘surface mount’ mixer chip, and an on-board microcontroller making increasingly routine 2000 mile per watt QSOs. It’s awesome! I’m starting to wonder what I can do with different antenna designs, and with the onboard microcontroller, there are tons of possibilities! Imagine what can be done with an A/D converter attached to one of the spare GPIO pins! S meters, SWR detectors, the list goes on!

    The new technology that’s available now is an innovation enabler as far as I can tell!

    Now, we just need to get the word out!

  7. K. Wing WB6IVK says:

    One of the things that bothers me is the idia that as we are getting older our eye’s are getting better and our fingers are smaller. I have an IC 91AD which givs me hell for punching the rong keys that i can’t see anyway. It bothers me that in an emergency, your equipment better be set up right as you probibly will not be able to reset anything while dealing with advers conditions.


  8. David N8SRE says:

    I’m always a little puzzled by people who talk about homebrewing being dead. There’s never been a better time for it, really. You can get a whole RF mixer stage on a chip. Digital frequency synthesizers are readily available and fairly cheap, making a stable VFO easy to accomplish. You can build a working direct-conversion receiver with a handful of components, and it will probably be cheaper (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than what people were building out of war surplus parts in the 1950s. Maybe a DC receiver isn’t too exciting on its own, but follow it with an I-Q detector, pipe the results into your soundcard, and you’ve just made a very versatile software defined radio. (The recent QST articles showing how to build a modular VLF receiver are a great example of this — and an example of something we can homebrew without too much difficulty, but can’t easily buy. Such projects still exist!)

    I think this thread actually shows why we *do* need to get a new generation of tinkerers interested in ham radio. The kind of people who participate in things like the Maker Faire aren’t intimidated by ICs and surface-mount components; many of them already know how to handle and work with these parts.

Speak Your Mind