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Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio

from Don Keith, N4KC on April 22, 2016
View comments about this article!

Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio

By Don Keith, N4KC
http://www.n4kc.com/ www.donkeith.com
© 2016 by Don Keith, used by permission

You may as well accept the fact that eventually people will figure out that you are a licensed Amateur Radio operator. No matter how hard you try to hide it, they will sooner or later catch you. It may be the HT you monitor in your cubicle at work, the Ham Radio license plate on your old beater, the ninety-foot skyhook in the backyard, or the “Know Code” tee shirt you wear everywhere you go…except maybe to church. Regardless how they come to the conclusion, they will break your cover and deduce that you are, in reality, a real, live Ham nut.

And when they do, they will ask you questions. They will likely do so for one of four reasons:

1 – They are just being polite and don’t really care at all what your answers might be.

2 – Now that they have found you out, they are convinced that your station is the reason the picture on their TV freezes when they try to watch “Dancing with the Stars.”

3 – They want to sell you something, like vitamin supplements, plastic-ware, makeup, or timeshares, and now they have an excuse to talk with you.

4 – They actually have an interest in the hobby and want to learn more about it.

One thing you can count on, though. Many of the questions will be—at least to you—very basic and, frankly, dumb. Never assume your new friend knows enough about our hobby to even ask a cogent question. Don’t roll your eyes and let out a big sigh! Instead take the stance that the person is asking that dumb question because he or she actually wants to know the answer. Seize the opportunity to give a smart response and you may just be able to evangelize a bit about our great hobby.

To assist you in this effort, I am going to list below some of the really goofy questions folks have asked me through the years. Then I will give some of my own suggested answers. You can likely come up with your own better responses. But remember, don’t get too technical. Make your answers short and to the point so they can ask more if they are truly interested. Don’t lie or exaggerate. And try not to get wild-eyed and foam at the mouth in your eagerness to share with a potential new Ham your immense enthusiasm for the hobby.

So, here are the questions and possible answers:

Question #1: “How far can you talk on that thing?”

Ah, the “how far” question! Careful. Regardless your answer, this often leads to question #2 below so be prepared for that follow-up. Don’t worry, either, about whether the questioner is referring to the 2-meter HT on your belt or the five-element beam watching over the neighborhood from your backyard. The question is hypothetical.

You can be flip and say, “As far as I want to.” You certainly don’t want to break into a detailed explanation of ionospheric refraction or sporadic-E VHF propagation. I usually go for the “impress ‘em” answers, though.

“To the other side of the planet,” I proclaim. Hey, with Echolink or similar technology you can even use that HT to talk far beyond just the local repeater. Maybe even the other side of the planet. Technically it is true.

If their eyes don’t go blank and they don’t erupt into a gigantic yawn, I trudge on with, “I’ve talked with other Hams who were operating from an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, almost exactly on the other side of the world from where you and I are standing right now.”

Even if you haven’t quite accomplished that feat yet, you can confidently make the same point by proclaiming, “Some Hams talk with other guys operating from the other side of the planet…”

If the person has not begun inspecting his car keys or picking lint from his sweater while he thinks of a way to courteously get away from me, I go even farther.

“Many Amateurs bounce their signals off the moon, off the Northern Lights, or off the tails of comets. We have Amateur Radio satellites orbiting over our heads right now and you can even talk with the astronauts in the International Space Station.”

“Really?”

You got him! There is the first sign of a spark of interest. Hopefully you can set the hook and reel him in. But don’t be surprised if he asks the next dumb question:

Question #2: “But what can you do with that radio of yours that I can’t do with my smart phone?”

Or tablet or laptop or two tin cans and a string? Yep, it’s the dreaded “smart phone texting Facebook Pinterest social media flavor of the day” question. “I don’t need a license or a radio or a big antenna to talk to people. I got me an Avocado SPF-7 with GPS, a mega-pixel mini-movie-screen, 30 watts of hi-fi stereo audio and a built-in bottle opener and belt-hole puncher right here on my hip.”

“Well, you certainly can talk on that bad boy. But Amateur Radio is far more than just talking to people. It’s communicating with others of a like mind, using a station that you put together yourself, using a wide array of technology, and doing so in such a way that you will often be surprised and fulfilled.”

Blank look? Move on and talk about something else. Or tell him or her bye bye. Still seems to be paying attention, though? Move on to the next part of the answer.

“You can also buy fish at the market so why do so many people purchase a boat, fishing tackle and beer and head out onto the lake? Golf? Just walk over and drop the ball into the hole. No need to whack at it a bunch of times with a club. See, you do these things because there is a challenge and a fulfilling reward if you try and succeed.”

Maybe it is at this point that you get the squinty-face look and the person responds with something like, “Okay, but it still seems like a lot of trouble just to be able to talk to somebody.”

So you shake your head sagely, put your forefinger to your chin, and issue a dare.

“Maybe so, but I’d like for you to try something for me. Take that smart phone and dial an international area code and random number. First, let’s see if you can even get an answer. If, by some miracle you do, and if that person just happens to speak your language, engage him or her in a half-hour conversation. What is the likelihood that this random call will net you somebody that not only is willing to chat with you and knows your language but that he or she immediately has some very strong common ground with you? I mean besides also being an owner of a smart phone. These sorts of communications happen all day ever day on the Amateur Radio bands. With a contact on the radio, you automatically have something very big and exciting in common. You are both Amateur Radio operators, members of the same fraternity. And whether or not either of you can explain the magic of that, you know it and you feel it.”

If the questioner doesn’t get that point, you are probably wasting your time.

Question #3: “Is Ham sort of like…what?...that radio Burt Reynolds and Sally Field used in that trucker movie? CB? That was it, right?”

Citizens Band had its day and you may as well admit it. Millions who would never have picked up a microphone jumped aboard CB over the years. Many still do. Do not make the mistake of instantly condemning the “Chicken Band,” all who have ever yakked on it, or the whole notion of people being able to “work skip” without a license. You might be surprised how many of the folks you admire and talk with regularly on the Ham bands actually began with a “handle” and an 11-meter radio.

“CB is one way many people first realize that they have an interest in a radio hobby,” you might answer. “But they want to learn and do far more than what that particular service offers. Some of our most avid Hams started out with a CB radio but moved beyond the low power, limited coverage, crowded frequencies, and lack of choices.”

Question #4: “You guys still use that Morse code, too, don’t you? And I heard you have to know how to send it to get a license to be a Ham.”

Depending on how you feel about CW, you may feel inclined to preach the gospel of “you ain’t a real Ham unless you know Morse!” But trust me, now is not the time to launch into that sermon. Temper your answer. You can convert the person to the paths of righteousness later on if you see that as your mission. The fact that this question even came up confirms that this particular person sees the code as a roadblock. First help him get past that for right now.

“Well, no! It is no longer required at all. Hasn’t been for years. You don’t need to know the code to do most of the fun things in our hobby either.” Pause for a breath. Let that sink in. Then do a low-key sales pitch. “I should tell you, though, that since the requirement went away, more and more Hams have started to learn and use Morse code, by choice and not because they have to. They see it as a fun thing to do. But that is totally up to you. Our hobby has lots of facets and options and learning and using Morse code is just one of them.”

Mentioning “facets and options” may well key dumb question number five.

Question #5: “Still seems like a lot of trouble just to talk to other Ham types. Is there other stuff a Ham license would let me do?”

Okay, that isn’t a dumb question at all. If I’m going to get interested in any kind of pastime I want to know what it involves.

“Absolutely!” you can chime in without fear of contradiction. “Not only is Amateur Radio just about the perfect hobby because you can do it regardless of age, gender, or physical or technical ability, but it offers such a wide area of possibilities.”

You can talk about your own interests here or find out what the questioner likes to do and hone your pitch. Don’t forget activities like contesting, kit building, DXing, tying radios and computers together for SDR, digital modes and more, working satellites, weather spotting, DIY/”maker,” public service, RVing, amateur television, hiking and activating mountains and islands, drones and other radio-controlled devices, experimenting with antennas, propagation, battery/solar power and other alternative energy sources…well, the list is lengthy. -- Practically endless, in my opinion.

While many Hams simply enjoy talking with other like-minded folks, there is plenty more to do with the hobby. And regardless of what other interests a person might have, there is a pretty good chance it marries well with Amateur Radio, enhancing your enjoyment of all of them.

Question #6: “It’s expensive, right? All that radio stuff and antennas?”

“Not necessarily. Like most hobbies, you can spend as much as you want to, but you can also get great satisfaction with a modest station.”

Invite the person to price a bass boat, trailer, motor, tackle box full of lures, a place to keep the boat, and all the other necessities to get involved seriously in fishing. Or check the cost of a decent set of golf clubs, club membership, greens and cart fees, lessons, and all the other things you need to become a golfer.

If pressed, you can honestly say that you can get on the air with a pretty good station for less than a thousand dollars. A thousand dollars! That is a lot of money!

Yeah, about four trips to WalMart for my family. Far less than that boat or golf club membership. And you have a station that will stand you in good stead the rest of your life. Plus, if you have someone who can help you find and evaluate used gear, you can get in even cheaper.

Question #7: “Oh, speaking of antennas, I doubt my homeowners’ association would ever allow me to put up a tower. How would I ever be able to get on the air?”

Wow! These questions are not only getting less and less dumb but also more and more difficult to answer. But answer you must. You now have your questioner asking about the right things.

“That is an issue for many Amateurs these days. There is even legislation pending in Congress right now that will make it easier for Hams to get HOAs to allow a reasonable antenna system. But there are plenty of ways to get on the air without having to put up an elaborate antenna or tall tower that will cause your neighbors throw rocks at you. There are many books and articles on the subject, too. Rest assured, Hams are pretty good at finding ways to pursue their hobby regardless the restrictions or impediments.”

Now, if you have done your job of answering the dumb questions without getting frighteningly animated or veering off subject, you may get the least-dumb question of all.

Question #8: “How do I get started? How can I learn what I need to know to pass the test?”

Bingo! You should be a salesman! Or politician! I hope you have a good reply ready for this strong “buying signal.”

But first, here is the wrong answer: “Don’t just learn the answers to the questions on the test. Learn all there is to know about radio and electronics before you even think about taking the exam.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! A Ham license is a license to learn. Encourage those interested to go ahead and study for the test but assure them they do not need to qualify for a degree in electronic engineering before actually taking it. If their experience is typical, they will start learning while getting ready for the licensing test and they will not stop until the day they go SK.

Many people—including those with a technical background or a real interest in the technical side of our hobby—are still a bit leery of learning enough to pass the exam. They shouldn’t be. And neither should you give them any reason to doubt their ability to pass it. Encourage them to get the ticket. They’ll have the rest of their lives to learn all there is to know.

“Our Amateur Radio club meets every third Thursday at the library, starting at 7 PM. You’d be welcomed by a friendly bunch of folks and we have licensing classes starting next week. You can also visit the American Radio Relay League’s web site. That’s our hobby’s national organization and their site can answer about any question you can think of.”

If the questioner’s response is, “Hey, you have done a pretty good job answering my questions,” then take pride in knowing you may have recruited yourself a new Ham.

Remember, too, what one of my school teachers used to say. “Mr. Keith, you will never pass my class unless you stop reading that Ham Radio magazine while I am lecturing.” Whoops. He did say that, but he also said, “The only dumb question is the one that is never asked.” I suspect we all asked even dumber questions than those above before we started out in the hobby. I know I did.

Thank goodness several very helpful Hams took the time and showed the patience to answer them for me. The result is not only a hobby that has given me endless enjoyment and gratification over the years, prepared me for a 45-year career in media and communications, but also led to many people approaching me with some of those same questions.

In many cases, I was able to answer them and those folks went on to become part of the greatest hobby on earth.



#



Don Keith, N4KC is an active Ham and a best-selling author with more than thirty books in print. He writes on a number of subjects including World War II history, military thrillers, submarines, sports, Amateur Radio and more. His novel Firing Point will soon be a major motion picture titled Hunter Killer. His web sites are http://www.n4kc.com/ www.donkeith.com .

Member Comments:
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Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by ONAIR on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Question 3 was funny! A lot of them still think that hams are CBers!!
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by VK3YE on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks Don - this will help improve my answers. Most questions I get are when portable. This video has a few of them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_e7sSwHcNs
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WA2ONH on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Another good explanation of Ham Radio by Don was in American Legion Magazine Online with this article...

Wave of popularity dated 27 Feb 2015
http://www.legion.org/magazine/226238/wave-popularity
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AA4OO on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Very well written article, Don. I had a neighbor ask me about the wires hanging from the eve of my house and had my opportunity to talk a bit about the hobby.

Now I get a lot of questions from other hams about why I operate QRP. There are no dumb questions.

Rich,
http://hamradioqrp.com
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KJ4DGE on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Great article Don. I know I have had people ask me the same sort of questions. It is hard though not to get animated in your response to them though :) Still it helps to promote a hobby many see as being just for old foggies. Our club president is in his 20's and every other member is 50's and above. Making the hobby more friendly to young folks who have grown up with a computer is easier with Echolink, IRLP and digital modes. I also feel inviting curious parties to club events or meetings is also a great idea. We had a recent presentation by a younger HAM op who was activating NPOTA sites all around the DC area. The photos of the parks were real nice to see and the thought of a camper seeing you and coming up and asking what all those radios and wires made me chuckle. Never hurts to be enthusiastic about a hobby.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AI4WC on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Well, it's like this: I've collected stamps, coins and rocks; I've flown a small plane to the Bahamas and down the Caribbean island chain; I have snorkeled among 5-foot barracudas in the Florida Keys;I've raced boats and sports cars; I've grown orchids; I've explored overgrown Mayan temples and overgrown Mayan settlements, and on and on...but among my favorites was when I entered the world of shortwave radio as a boy in the mid-1950's with my Hallicrafters S-38D or making the first DX contact on Norfolk Island on the day I received my General license after 40-odd years of knowing the wonder of radio. When I get those "Why do you..." questions, I have to try and present a good answer, and I can assure you, most of my answer will revolve around the thrill of communicating - with someone near or far - and simply talking for a while, sometimes using equipment that I have constructed. Radio - my enduring lifelong love. All my answers to such questions are an attempt to explain technical love in a non-technical manner. It is difficult, but I keep trying.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
The inconvenient truth is:

If you catch someone's curiosity, they will comment that you must have a CB radio (question #3), show no further interest, and write you off as having static in your attic.

An extremely small number of people will show some interest, listen to you, then never mention it again.

An even smaller number may actually memorize the questions and answers and get a license, only to permanently lose interest within a year, or less.
Many who DO get a license, only want it to wear on their orange vest.

Those who actually get a license and become active in the hobby will look like the rest of us, rotund old white men over 65.



 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KC7YE on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Don, you nailed it ! With your permission will print out and present to our club as a templet for FD, 7QP, IllW, WA Salmon Run operations / operators. Public interface always a challenge, will help.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K0CBA on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!

Outstanding article and very well written.

 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WS4E on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
An analogy I use for the "why don't you use a cellphone" question is:

- Why do people still enjoy sailboats when motorboats have been invented?

or

- Why do some people ride bikes instead of motorcycles or drive a car?

If you put your mind to it, there are a million hobbies still around that people do that are based on old technology. But they still do it because it is more challenging, more interesting, more personal, requires more craftmanship etc...woodworking with hand tools instead of a shipsmith mark 5, hot air balloning, cooking from scratch instead of using a factory produced mix, sewing clothes from scratch, etc.

Putting ham radio into the picture along with those things helps some people.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KB1GMX on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
My favorite answer...

I'm a technical person and I enjoy technical hobbies like flying, boating, and radio in all its forms.

If they are interested we continue... often that's enough.

What gets the most attention.... The 6M squareloop
on the back of the truck. It tends to defy the usual expectation of antennas. The favorite line is the verizon "can you hear me now/" and the answer is yep, not deaf, and a quick its for Amateur radio. IF they ask can I talk to the space station with it I point to the other side wher ethe 2m antenna is, no that one is for that.

I prefer the technically correct but not super serious
non ogre approach.

But yes the article is pretty much dead on.

Allison
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by DL8OV on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I've found in the past that it's the WOW factor that gets them every time. OK,if asked, you can tell them that the 70cm and 2m antennas on the pole are for talking through a satellite, but when they hear the bird coming over the horizon they realize how cool it is.

The mobile phone question comes up a few times and I tend to point out that yes, they can use their iPhone to talk across the Atlantic but that takes a lot of infrastructure. I can do it direct, and using no more power than the headlight on your car.

Morse code? I do that for fun as I find it relaxing. If pushed I dig out that You Tube video where sending a message by CW is faster than sending an SMS. It's back to the WOW factor again.

Peter DL8OV
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K4EQ on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
A very enjoyable article, Don!
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KI4VEO on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
To me, calling "CQ" is akin to putting a note in a bottle, and tossing it in the ocean.

Except, you may never get an answer to the note.

Most of the time, when I call, "CQ" I get an answer.

Nice article.

 
Not to be confused with...  
by AD7DB on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Good article!
For a moment I thought it might be on the theme of Al Jaffee's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" from MAD Magazine.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K4KYV on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
> Question 3 was funny! A lot of them still think that
> hams are CBers!!

More likely they don't know there is any difference. The majority of people under 30 to-day probably never heard of ham radio or CB.
 
RE: Not to be confused with...  
by N3HAM on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
The WOW factor for our club station operating on board a museum ship, is inevitably seeing the kids eyes light up when operating cw. On phone, they just pass by. We set up a code practice key for them to try their hand.

The smartphone thing...I just say I can communicate around the earth, even with someone operating /mm on the far side of the world without billions of dollars, euro, rupis or whatever of infrastructure with just a hunk of dumpster diver wire or aluminium on my roof or in my yard. No monthly fee except to the power company.

As far as the rotund and over 65, got the last part nailed. Ran a 5k last week and do a half marathon each fall.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KK5JY on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I had a hexbeam in the middle of my back yard for a couple of years, up about 25' or so. The installation looked fairly professional, but it definitely looked like a ham antenna.

The next-door neighbors invited me to a back-yard party they had one night, and afterwards one of them told me they thought I always worked from home, because that "umbrella-looking antenna" was obviously for me to get high-speed internet for my job. :-)

I have tried to explain ham radio to a couple of people at work (high-tech types with recent technical degrees), and they keep trying to figure out what kind of broadcasting I do from my "radio station."

I'm pretty sure people these days are oblivious.

If ham radio survives another ten years, CC&R may not be a problem anymore, because people won't be able to recognize that the structure you put up in your yard is "an antenna."
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2OBM on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Your well thought out answers, graduated approach and selection of analogies to add the right context is spot on (as usual). You are one hell of a wordsmith and I admit, I am jealous.
obm
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WA7SGS on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Hams ARE CB'ers. That is what the mayor of my town thinks...LOL! Considering he is a long time teacher as well, it is pretty amazing to think he would be so easily confused.

The love of radio is so rare out there. That is why in the US, where the second largest amateur radio population is, comes in well under one million. There were more Bernie Sanders voters in NY, where he got steamrolled by Crooked Hillary than there are hams...LOL! Out of those who are licensed, how many are actually active in some aspect? The numbers shrink even more once that question gets asked.

We could use more CB'ers. Heck, we could use more AM DX'ers, SWL's, scanner enthusiasts and those who use commercial gear while wondering what kind of fun they could have with a transceiver. Instead we have the net, smartphones, smart TV's, smart watches, vehicles with more digital doodads than a Space Shuttle, tons of complex video game systems, laptops, tablets, readers and whatever else that Silicon Valley can come up with to keep the masses sated and distracted. The soil is not fertile for traditional radio hobbies these days.

One thing that might get the attention of the few who ask is to tell them when the system which supports their digital comm tech goes down, ours will endure. From there, segue from amateur radio being more an art than a science as there are so many avenues to explore. It's like looking to see what is behind the curtain! Those are two points I think would be good for conversing with someone who does not understand amateur radio. The curious will keep asking for more. The bored will wander off. In any case I'm not a Jehovah's Witness or an LDS missionary looking for converts so there's no pressure on me!
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KJ4DGE on April 22, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Trying to get a non-ham enthused today is not realistic in a world of instant internet and WiFi. Still as op's that enthusiasm usually shows enough to get a few questions. As to CB. I am wanting to get a rig again and see who is interested in starting a local net of sorts or a casual group of HAMs/CB'ers that might benefit both. As to explaining public service and disaster comms to a non-HAM, they would say, "Well I rely on my paid public servants to save my bacon in an emergency" Most of the time they are right. A untrained but well-meaning operator can cause more harm than good.

Radio is so multi-faceted an covers so much more bandwidth, interests, and types of users to be unique in many ways as compared to someone with a cell phone.

Lastly being in the over 50 crowd and without a car and walking blocks on end to get places I am in better shape than most my age.Want exercise? Try walking a 62 lb Pit Bull for a week sometime :)
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K8PRG on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I don't consider any of the questions listed as "dumb".
You can find most of the "smart" answers to them in the Tech book you study to get your first licence.
I ask Google a question almost every day about amateur radio...I'm just glad he doesn't respond to me in a way to make me feel dumb....I already know I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!

K8PRG said: "You can find most of the "smart" answers to them in the Tech book you study to get your first licence."

The undeniable truth is that one does not "study" to get a ham license, rather one MEMORIZES to get a ham license. Dick Bash made money in the early 1980s, once he realized that.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K8PRG on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
OK JohnZ....The answers can be found in the Tech book.
Period...feel better?
My point is, they wouldn't be in there if they dealt with dumb questions. Besides, I must have not memorized much as I still use the book as a reference to look up answers for "dumb" questions as I think of them.
Man...will this memorizing whining ever stop??...sorry, that's a dumb question.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AC5WO on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I think this list is outdated. I haven't heard anyone ask “How far can you talk on that thing?” in decades. The general public just assumes that one can talk to anyone anywhere on planet earth. What's missing is even a basic understanding of all the things that have to happen in the background for information to magically get from one wireless phone to another. Similarly, most people alive today have never had any personal exposure to CB radio. It's something that happened a couple generations ago.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by W6TGE on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Funny about the How Far Can You Talk question. I was always used to that, and quite a while ago when my wife and I lived in Saratoga, Ca, she had her fellow workers come over for a pool party. It was so much fun eating, talking and splashing around in our large in-ground pool! Well, one of the girls she worked with was drying off and looked up at my R5 vertical antenna. She asked...wait for it..."Is that working very well"?

You all know what I WAS expecting, but she had a slightly different spin on it! So I answered that it was working great, and, in fact just got a confirmation card that I spoke to 3Y0PI on Peter I Island (Antarctica). Imagine my surprise when her reply was "OH, that was Uncle Bob". I brought out the QSL and she pointed him out!

Who would have thought? She also told me a few things that were not made public!
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KV4BL on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for a very useful article, Don!

73,
Ray KV4BL
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KV4BL on April 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for a very useful article, Don!

73,
Ray KV4BL
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K6CRC on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Good article. Maybe it is my area, but 99% of the people don't notice or don't care what the SpiderPole in my backyard is for, assuming they can even see it.

People in general do not know about anything past their backyards, or care about anything that does not involved them or their immediate family. At the same time, many people have an interest that seems odd to the rest of us. For many of us, it has to do with what our kids did in their school years. How many would go to a Marching Band competition, a Dragon Boat race, or a formal debate unless they had a direct reason? At the same time, how many adults would even be interested in Ham radio if it were not being used as part of a local CERT or emergency prep group?

Because I live in an area that employs a large number of people in tech, nearly everyone has come in contact with a slightly wacko ham with a 80ft tower on their small lot, or a Honda with 5 antennas attached to the bumper. The opinion of the hobby is then set for life. I know people who are otherwise 'normal' who have model railroads, a wooden boat, an old Porsche, or $25K worth of woodworking gear. All say the same thing, no one else seems to care.

I enjoy the hobby, but understand that few if any people, even them most curious neighbors will ask. I have had exactly ONE person ask me a casual question, and I answered it simply by saying it is a hobby that is fun for me because I enjoy electronics. That was the end of the conversation.

Which brings up a useful tip. Ask other people about themselves, and actually LISTEN to the answers. About half the time you will struggle to get out of the conversation, but the other half you will learn something, make someone happy, and even enjoy your new knowledge. The WSJ has had several good articles about the health benefits of having friends and even human contact. You would think Hams would be there, but most the conversations beyond a signal report on HF are a quick dump of the stuff in the shack and a look at the weather. Then, a '73, got to go feed the dog'.. For all we say, Hams are no better at the communications than the other 99%.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K8AXW on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Very well written! I suspected a professional writer from the beginning and had it confirmed at the end.

At any rate, it was a very interesting, amusing and informative 'read'

Well done and thank you.

K8AXW
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K9MHZ on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
"Similarly, most people alive today have never had any personal exposure to CB radio."

Thank God. Now, if we could just get the memory of disco out of our heads.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AF7EC on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you very much for the fun article. :-D
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AD5VM on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
My answer to question 2 comparing ham radio to cell phones:
"In order for you to pick up your cell phone and call your neighbor who is 50 feet away, requires litterally billions of dollars worth of equipment to all function correctly, as well as thousands of people need to show up to work that day and do their job properly. For me to contact my buddy on the other side of the planet, requires that only this radio and his radio work".
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by W6TGE on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Also, regarding Cell Phones, would you call a random number to see if someone 1000 miles away would answer and talk to you about where they live, etc?

No, that is why people only using Cell Phones have very narrow opinions as they just communicate with friends who think the same way.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WA9RHD on April 24, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
The most often asked question I get is -- what do you talk about - especially with foreign operators

and I'm always taken aback with this question as we all know how many S9 QSOs we have had with our favorite DX station

or even our local US contacts where we can discuss our equipment ad nausea

Which leads me to the really good QSOs, where we share some real common interest but those being very few a far between

Now -- I'm afraid of getting back to where I was when I quit the first time!
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WO4K on April 25, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
But what do you hams talk about?

One of my favorite book passageson this topicis by the prolific Hollywood screenwriter Ernest Lehman (silent key K6DXK). He wrote the screen plays for many of the classics of the 1950's and 60's. Among them: "North by Northwest", "West Side Story", "Sabrina" and "The Sound of Music".

In his 1977 book "The French Atlantic Affair" (in which ham radio was a central part of the plot)he wrote:

"Yes, Dr. Berlin, but what do you hams talk about? Is what they usually said to him, and he'd realize then that they'd never understand, and he'd change the subject. But sometimes, though rarely, he'd come across someone who really dug his hobby, and then you couldn't get him off. He'd go on and on about the feeling it gave him of being able to move himself through time and space, annihilating time and distance, his mind, his body, his consciousness out there roaming the planet like some cosmic spirit, and the sense of power, benign power, not the evil kind, knowing that his voice was rattling a loudspeaker in a far-off room in Bombay, or going out through an open window in Johannesburg to someone walking by on the street outside, or filling a room carved out of ice below the frozen wastes at the South Pole.

The here and now, the physical and geographical limitations that all beings are stuck with, would fall away from him as he immersed himself in the action on twenty meters on a good night in spring when the sunspots were dancing and the ionosphere was in a reflective mood and the short path was open to Europe and the Middle East and the Antarctic and Australia, and maybe Africa would come sneaking in the other way around, and later the Far East and Indonesia, you never knew what. He'd close his eyes, or gaze hypnotized at the speaker, and he'd listen to them and talk to them, voices in the night, his night, that is, with the moon shining into the den through the great beam antenna that rose from the lawn outside...

...And while it was his night in California, it was tomorrow morning in Oslo and Hil was getting ready to shovel the snow from in front of the garage so he could go to work, and in Brisbane it was late tomorrow afternoon and Tommy had just gotten home from a rainy day at the lab, and Toshi in Kyoto had just finished tomorrow's dinner, and then later, Phil was talking to him from his car speeding through the Malaysian jungles to pick up Margaret at her French lesson in Penang, and Phil would lower the car window and let him hear the street noises of Penang even as he sat in his den in the house in Bel Air while the guy right next door was listening to the eleven o'clock news on Channel 2, for God's sake, and you ask me what do we talk about? We don?t talk about a damned thing and it's terrific."
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N4KC on April 25, 2016 Mail this to a friend!


Wow! I love the Lehman passage. Thanks for posting it.

Also, as I hoped, many of you have given some excellent possible answers to these inevitable questions about our hobby. Keep 'em coming!

I am always happy to give permission for clubs, licensing classes, or other groups to reproduce the articles I contribute here on eHam or on my web site. I only request that you include the following ("20XX" should be the year in the copyright notice in the article or the current year):

"Copyright 20XX by Don Keith N4KC. Reproduced by permission. For other similar articles, visit www.n4kc.com or www.donkeith.com."

Reproduction of my article for American Legion Magazine (http://www.legion.org/magazine/226238/wave-popularity) needs to come from the publication but it is typically and happily granted.

73,

Don N4KC
www.n4kc.com
www.donkeith.com


.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by W3WN on April 25, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Well Don, I was about to ask for your permission to use your article, but I see you anticipated that & beat us all to the punch!

 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KB1ZHF on April 26, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
On question #2, ask them how well their smart phone works when the electric grid is down for a few days and the cell towers batteries run down. Many cell phone users do not know that they are talking on a radio. Also there is no monthly fee for ham radio use.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by K6CRC on April 26, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
'Now, if we could just get the memory of disco out of our heads. '
Want to start a conversation? Get a T-Shirt like the one I have
'Death Before Disco'
Men will laugh and say 'I still have nightmares about it', women will say 'hey, I liked Disco!' In either case, you will get a reaction.
 
Question 8 ?  
by G3SEA on April 26, 2016 Mail this to a friend!

When they see the computer screen which is prominent in
many ham shacks they will ask the inevitable and logical question ie

" Why don't you use the computer instead of all that equipment to converse " ?

At that point you could explain Echolink to them in the hope they would eventually progress to HF.

G3SEA/KH6
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2OBM on April 26, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
"We don't talk about a damned thing and it's terrific."

What a beautiful summarization and that statement, by itself, but only a few would understand...

I have to find that book!
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KC2QYM on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Add another question...which may not be so dumb for a newbie or soon to be ham:

> Do I have to install a weather station at my home to join in on NETs?

On my shortwave radio I monitor many NETs. It appears that everyone on the NET always reports their local weather report and that's about all they seem to offer when their turn comes up. Oh they sometimes talk about their health problems which is often disgusting, and they sometimes talk technical which I do like. But for the most part, I find these NETs to be the most boring part of ham radio and if that's all these guys have to say it's rather disappointing. Which brings me to my other questions:

> Do I have to talk about the weather only when my turn comes up?

> Can't I talk about politics, social issues, history, etc. and exercise my first amendment rights to free speech?

> Why are many ham radio operators so limited in the subjects they talk about?

> In other words...where are all the smart ham radio operators?
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N4KC on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!


KC2QYM:

I know we all appreciate your effort to stir things up but in my 55 years in the hobby, I have never heard "newbies" or would-be Hams ask these particular questions. "What do Hams talk about?", yes. "Any and everything," is my usual answer. "What are you interested in? Yes, they talk about that."

Look, I know it really tweeks some folks when they hear those "NETs" to which you refer, or when they listen to weather spotters or long-time roundtables where personal and medical problems get discussed or see other Hams gearing up for emergency drills or others yelling "59! 59!" in a contest or spending all their time trying to make contacts with 5 watts or using CW or slow-scan TV or using a satellite or listening to hundreds slogging through a pile-up to make a two-second contact with some guy on an island in the Caribbean.

But those so-easily-tweeked folks should, in my opinion, follow a very basic tenet: just because those other people do something on the air that we would not necessarily want to do doesn't make what they do wrong, bad, silly, boring, or a waste of time or spectrum! Or even a turn-off for potential newcomers (with the exception of those mental cases on 7200 and 14.313) If people want to get up, check in and give their local temp to a tenth of a degree every day, and that is what they enjoy about the hobby, then fantastic. That's just another aspect of a very broad and diversified--and, hopefully, welcoming--avocation.

I'm sure you, me or that generic prospective new Ham you mention will hear plenty of smart folks on his or her shortwave receiver if they take the time to turn the dial and not linger on activities that some of us don't especially care for just so we can show how clever we are by denigrating those who do.

And if all those "smart hams" like you would get on the air and fill it with scintillating conversation instead of posting on web sites and putting down folks who enjoy other aspects of the hobby, then there would be plenty of fascinating repartee to which you more enlightened Amateurs and would-be Amateurs might listen. And far less for you to complain about.

But what's the fun in that?

73,

Don N4KC
www.n4kc.com
www.donkeith.com






 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
The undeniable truth is we are no longer a hobby of QUALITY. In 2016, we are a hobby of QUANTITY.

QUANTITY has vastly diluted and reduced the QUALITY we once had.

Lower the entrance requirements and it will result in QUANTITY, and that QUANTITY consists of low QUALITY.

For example, SAT tests continue to be dumbed down year after year, and colleges have vastly lowered their grade standards. Result? Today we have college graduates who cannot compose a coherent sentence and have no idea how many senators compose the U.S. Senate.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KC2QYM on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Don, point well taken. Yes, I think we have to have balance in our hobby and sometimes be self deprecating and hyper critical. FYI, I check into some NETs all the time and give my local weather report, gas prices, and other mundane information that is not important to anyone except ourselves. Each brings a different approach, sense of humor, and satire to the discussion. That's what makes us a community with different interests.
All best!
Peter
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2KMF on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
My favorite answer to the 'Question #7: “Oh, speaking of antennas, I doubt my homeowners’ association would ever allow me to put up a tower. How would I ever be able to get on the air?”' question is this:

"Think like a spy".

I invariably get a quizzical look. So I explain that during WWII and the Cold War, spies often had to transmit time-sensitive information over the radio, a very risky business. Obviously, putting up a tower just wasn't possible. But stringing a wire antenna up into a tree was, as was stringing an antenna up inside a building, or indeed even going portable or mobile. I point out that I've got *FOUR* external antennas at my home that you can't see from the road: A 200' sloping long wire, a 102' doublet, a 2 meter copper J-pole, and my 20 meter wire J-pole ( http://www.eham.net/articles/14559 ).

Usually, when people ask me, I'm operating a portable QRP station in a local park.

I've also had to use that line on some experienced fellow hams, too: "Yeah, I put the HF rig away because I can't have an outside antenna because [some stupid reason]". That's the kind of thing I consider a challenge. Just *TRY* to keep me off the air! I'll homebrew some solution that is either portable, or so stealthy I'm the only one who knows it's there. Or both.

Will I be able to beat those guys with 4 element monobanders and 1.5 kilowatts? No. But I'm going to be making contacts no matter what.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2KMF on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I'll have to check it out. My standard answer when someone asks about what us hams talk about is that the medium is the message: What we talk about isn't as important as that fact that here we are, hundreds or thousands of miles away from each other, bouncing radio signals off the ionosphere. Sure, you can do the same thing with a cell phone, but there is billions of dollars of installed infrastructure between you and your aunt in Meeteetse, WY. We've got nothing between us.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!

N2KMF said, "My standard answer when someone asks about what us hams talk about is that the medium is the message:..."


You should really give credit for that statement to the person who coined it, Marshall McLuhan.


 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2KMF on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Meh. Who said it, in the context of having that conversation, isn't as important as the idea itself.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on April 27, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
@N2KMF

Eoww, nice deflection and spin.
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N2KMF on May 1, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Lots of practice.

But seriously, whether or not I give credit to the inventor of the phrase when talking about ham radio to someone who is largely ignorant of the hobby is pretty much irrelevant. It just doesn't matter in the context of explaining ham radio and what we talk about to someone who doesn't know but is interested.

Your opinion may of course vary.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by JOHNZ on May 1, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
As you say, "talking," yes, there is a huge difference between the spoken and written form of communication. The later would be considered a more formal mode of communication, although admittedly, eHam is sort of an informal forum for discussion, and you are not submitting your comments here for close scrutiny.

Nevertheless, for example, if you were to use a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, as you have here, and you were using it in an article for QST, then you would be obligated to give McLuhan credit. Otherwise, that would be considered plagiarism. Moreover, the phrase you chose to use is very closely associated with McLuhan, as any Freshman communications student would tell you.

As an old college prof once told me, it is better to err on the side of caution and give credit where credit is due.

But hey, spin it any way you want, just sayin'.





 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KJ4I on May 2, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I once had someone take notice of my antennas and say to me "you sure must like to watch a lot of tv. I bet you get some darn good tv reception." I just simply said, I sure do. I left it at that. I wasn't about to open that can of worms.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N5TWB on May 3, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent use of comparisons and analogies, especially on golf and fishing. The description of what DX is like might get a few people's attention, too. I'm always amazed with the way the "magic" works.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AK4YH on May 7, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I was operating QRP CW from the outside of my favorite coffee shop using a Buddystick. A young guy asked me who I was talking to... I said "the mothership." He looked up!

Gil.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by AD5TD on May 8, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I get quite a few questions about my mobile rig. I have a large motorized antenna and several smaller V/U antennas on my truck. Most think it's a CB antenna and I'm running a large amp. (I'm not) It's usually, "What's that thing for?". I explain that I'm a Ham Radio Operator, most just give you a blank stare it you say "Amateur Radio Operator", but most people have heard of "Hams".

The only time it is a little disconcerting is when the Officers at the Border Patrol check points start asking questions....
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KB3WGE on May 19, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I like perking up the interest in non hams by explaining to them the aspects of the hobby without getting too technical.If they REALLY show interest I'll direct them to the local library to look at some ARRL books. I always have my Yaesu VX-3R mini 144-440 ht with wide band recieve with me ...It's a great conversation piece.The Echolink app in my phone is very cool ...A couple of cute young ladies got a big kick listening to me talk to a ham in Australia with it.So ROCK on und Elmer on 73's Jimi*Starr a.k.a. KB3WGE.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by N9YNG on May 25, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
> Question #6: “It’s expensive, right? All that radio stuff and antennas?”

This is what I say: All hobbies can get expensive. Some people spend lots of money on motorcycles. I spend lots of money on radios, but not as much as a guy with a Harley. These are my motorcycles.
 
Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by WD8DUP on May 31, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Great article, Don... I presented questions like this as a kid in a Radio Shucks store and was then told I was too young for a license ...
 
RE: Smart Answers to Dumb Questions About Amateur Radio  
by KG5RJS on June 7, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
>To me, calling "CQ" is akin to putting a note in a bottle, and tossing it in the ocean.

>Except, you may never get an answer to the note.

>Most of the time, when I call, "CQ" I get an answer.

It seems lately that every time I call out on a seemingly empty channel, "Is this frequency in use?" I get get a reply. At least I know my station works.
 
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