No-Nonsense Guide to Amateur Radio: Do they still do that?

My next book is going to be titled, The No-Nonsense Guide to Amateur Radio. What I’m shooting for is a combination of  Ham Radio for Dummies, AC6V’s DXing 101, and the ARRL Operating Manual.

As with my latest book, 21 Things to Do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License, I’m going to be posting chapters here for comments. Feel free to blast away…..Dan

Do they still do that?

I am the station manager for WA2HOM, the amateur radio station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. I spend a lot of time down at the museum operating the station, demonstrating amateur radio to the museum’s visitors, and answering questions about amateur radio.

Without question, the most common question I get is, “Do they still do that?” My answer, of course, is “YES, we still do!” There are more licensed amateur radio operators now than there ever were, with more than 700,000 in the U.S. alone and more than 2 million around the world.

Probably the second most frequent question is, “Isn’t ham radio old technology?” My answer is always a resounding, “NO!” Modern amateur radio gear, I point out, is quite sophisticated. The transceiver we use at the museum, for example, has several embedded processors and uses some of the latest digital signal processing (DSP) technology. Hams may not build their own equipment—like they did in the old days—but there are still lots of us out there working to “advance the state of the radio art.”

What else do hams do?
If I haven’t lost them at that point, I try to tell them about all the services that amateur radio provides and all the other fun stuff that amateur radio operators do. This includes:

  • Emergency communications,
  • SkyWarn,
  • Operating Morse Code,
  • DXing,
  • Building kits,
  • Contesting,
  • Experimenting with computers like the Raspberry Pi,
  • EchoLink and IRLP,
  • Satellites,
  • Vintage radio,
  • QRP (using low-power transmitters),
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Of course I never have enough time to tell them all about amateur radio. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do with this book. I want this book to not only serve to get folks interested in amateur radio, but also to help newcomers get involved in our hobby. If I do my job right this book will be a combination of Ham Radio for Dummies, AC6V’s DXing 101, and the ARRL Operating Manual.

There’s a lot of nonsense floating around out there about amateur radio, and I’m making it my job to get it straight, so that the amateur radio can be both the public service and the hobby that it was meant to be. That’s my “no-nonsense” approach to ham radio.

SIDEBAR: Why is it called ham radio?
“Ham radio” is a nickname for amateur radio. There are many theories about how our hobby came to be known as ham radio, but the one I like comes from the days when all radio communications was in Morse Code and many men (and women, too) made their livings as professional telegraphers. These telegraphers were proud of how well they could send Morse Code. They chided the amateur radio telegraphers as being “ham-fisted operators,” meaning that their sending was awkward and inefficient. Along the way, this got shortened to “ham operators” and the hobby became known as “ham radio.”

Whether or not this story is true, the ham in ham radio is definitely not an acronym, and should never be spelled HAM. Nor should the hobby be referred to as simply “ham” without the word radio. I prefer to call it “amateur radio” myself, and even that term doesn’t describe all that we do.

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  1. Bob, KG6AF says:

    Looks good. It’s a worthy project.

    I wanted something to hand out to new hams at our VE sessions, so I wrote a new-ham FAQ. It’s much narrower in scope than what you’re working on, but the intent was to give new hams a minimal introduction to the hobby.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      Wow. I didn’t get to ready through it completely, but it looks like a great booklet to get new hams started.

  2. Frank WA8WHP says:

    I object to the use of the term “amateur.” We are more professional than most other users of the spectrum. An instance just occured in Alliance. The police and fire departments coud not communicate using their radios during a recent drill. We have had a problem providing our service as communication back-up as the powers that be have the idea we are trying to take over. I have given presentations at city council meetings, maybe we are seeing a crack in the wall.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I tend to agree with you, Frank. We also do a lot more than just radio, too. Legally, however, we are the “Amateur Radio Service.”

    • Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

      In my dictionary the first definition of “amateur” is someone who performs an activity for pleasure without being paid, as opposed to “professional” which means being paid. The FCC is using this legal distinction when they call us the “Amateur Radio Service”, there is no intent to be derogatory. Another example is the athletes that participate in the Olympic games. They are required to be amateurs, not professionals, but no one would argue they are any less skilled. I am proud to volunteer my time as an “amateur”.

      • Dan KB6NU says:

        We know what the term means, but that’s not necessarily true among the general public. There’s no doubt about the “professionalism” of many amateurs, and the desire for a term to describe our service that has fewer negative connotations is understandable.

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