Ham radio is a different kind of hobby. Of course the same could
be said of most other of theses leisure time activities we call
hobbies. What makes ham radio Really different?
To appreciate that difference, we must have a better understanding
of what ham radio is, and as importantly, what it is not. We must
also understand who the people are who choose to take up the activity
as a hobby, and why. We must also dispel some of the old myths and
stereotypes about who ham radio operators are and what they do. Sound
like I'm try to sell ham radio? You're darn tootin!
I think most non hams who are turned off by the hobby are so because
they lack a real understanding about what the hobby is - what it is
not and, who ham radio operators as people really are, and what they
Ham radio operators are often perceived
as a weird and sinister bunch. Images of shadowy figures hunched
over secret short-wave radios in hidden chambers, making clandestine
contacts with spies somewhere in exotic and mysterious lands come
"He must be a spy or something! Listen
to all that strange jargon he uses. That's gotta be a secret code
of some sort. I wouldn't trust him at all!"
That's great stuff for the movies, but far, far from real life
and truth. The overwhelming majority of ham radio operators are
loyal and patriotic to their country. Many are in positions of voluntary
service supporting public service and civil defense needs. Hams
are active in severe weather watch programs and on emergency response
teams. This is all voluntary work. Receiving payment for ham radio
related activities is not allowed. As for the jargon, see my comments
on Ham Talk.
Then there's the space cadet. You know
from his type. Constantly trying to make contact with the mother
"Just look at those weird antennas pointed
up at the sky. Who else would he be trying to communicate with?"
This may be closer to the truth than expected. I doubt that any
ham would care for the label 'Space Cadet', and to date - as far
as we know, no one has made radio contact with real extraterrestrials.
With frequent communications taking place between Space Shuttle
flights and Earth-bound ham operators, as well as ham radios installed
on current and future orbiting space stations, ham radio contact
with "outer space" is a common occurrence. If and when a landing
occurs on neighboring planets such as Mars, there will likely be
a ham radio station set up. To date, all ham radio communications
have been with real Earth born humans.
There are also satellites in orbit around the Earth relaying 2-way
ham conversations. Oh yes, he may also be bouncing his radio signal
off of the moon. Or meteor trails. Or the aureoles. Yep, the antenna
has to be pointed up at the target.
Of course everyone knows that you've got
to have an engineering degree to be a ham. Right? It helps if you
are a really nerdy character.
"I enjoy technology and I like working
with computers and new things, but I don't want to have to learn
a lot of electronics stuff. Besides, I'm not a geek or a nerd!"
Actually only a modest percentage of hams hold careers in electronics.
Careers do span from lowly common laborers to kings. Among them
are doctors, pharmacists, entertainers, bankers, airline pilots
as well as computer programmers and truck drivers. Contrary to popular
belief, although hams, when they do get together in person or on
the air, sometimes talk about electronics, the topics of their conversations
range the spectra of human interests.
No special education is required to become a ham and to enjoy ham
radio. You will not be overwhelmed with technical jargon. Oh yes,
there's that jargon thing again...
And there's the granddaddy of them all.
The perception that ham radio communications is the source of all
poor TV and radio reception. Hams run so much high power and it's
always messing with home electronics.
"Yep, ever since that durn ham moved in
across town and put up that big antenna, TV reception here has been
lousy. I wish the FCC would make him go off the air."
On occasion interference to TVs or other consumer electronics devices
is directly caused by RF transmissions from a ham radio station.
More often than not, it is not, but yet the ham gets the blame.
It's common for reports of interference to occur even when the ham
operator is not at home, or at least not operating his radio equipment.
The subject of RF interference is beyond the scope of this page,
but I will point out that most hams are more than willing to cooperate
in helping to track down the real source of the problem and help
in the resolution of that problem. Even if the interference is a
direct result of RF from his or her transmitter, only rarely is
the transmitter at technical fault. It is unfortunate that manufacturers
of most consumer electronics equipment in the interest of keeping
cost to the consumer down, fail to build in proper safeguards against
outside interference. In almost all cases, the solution to the interference
problem resides at the receiving end of the interference. It's much
more common for computer devices, variable light dimmer switches,
and other electronic devices within our own homes to be the cause
interference to TV or stereo reception than a ham radio transmitter.
Many hams prefer to run their transmitters at very low power levels.
They do so for various reasons, not limited to the desire to minimize
interference problems with consumer electronics - both theirs and
their neighbors. If a ham chooses to use higher power, even up to
2000 watts, he or she is legally entitled to do so within certain