Ham Radio Is........ Not!
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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 are not.

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 to mind.

"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 ship.

"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 limitations.


Dan W. Dooley