Let’s Change the Term “Amateur Radio”

I don’t know about you, but I think the term we used to describe our hobby is wrong. The term “Amateur Radio” does not describe all that we do, and it creates the wrong impression about what we’re about. It’s an antiquated term that we should jettison.

Let me give you an example. Every week, I get the ARRL Letter. This week, there’s an item on “The Big Project” activities. It discusses an LCR activity board that allows students to explore alternating current and RF theory. In particular, the article says, “the board uses a microcontroller and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to generate the ac waveform used to explore L/C circuits.”

Microcontrollers are being used in many of the devices we now use in amateur radio, and all but the most simple rigs now have at least one microcontroller. Icom advertises that its new IC-7800 has four digital signal processors, and it undoubtedly has several more microcontrollers. Knowing how microcontrollers work and how to program them is becoming as important as knowing how RF works and how to put up an antenna, at least for those who want to stay on top of the art and advance it.

Even the QRP guys (and these guys are some of the most innovative in all ham radio) are using microcontrollers in their projects. I just purchased a Tenna Dipper from the Four States QRP Group, and this $25 kit uses a PIC microncontroller.

With all this going on, shouldn’t we broaden the term we use to describe our hobby? This hobby is about much more than dipoles and DX, and the way we talk about it should reflect that. The terms we use should reflect the fact that we also deal with computer hardware and software, computer networking and voice over IP (VOIP), television and other multimedia. We may know that this is what you can do with an amateur radio license, but the general public doesn’t know that, and simply calling our hobby “amateur radio” and calling ourselves “ham radio operators” doesn’t do a great deal for our public image.

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