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Author Topic: Why do you Ham?  (Read 3837 times)

Posts: 109

« on: June 06, 2011, 07:58:46 AM »

Just wondering.

I got my Tech license a few years ago, pretty much because I picked up the ARRL study book, and after 3 days I finished it and didn't miss a single question. After that, I went to a few local club meetings (yawners), and made a couple of 2 meter simplex conversations with my dad across town just to see if we could.

It seems like to me that there probably used to be a lot of reasons to Ham. For instance:
1) You could make free long-distance calls without the phone grid.
2) You could share digital data.
3) You could talk to someone while driving.

#1 was supplanted by VoIP and cell phones. #2 was probably good between the PC age (~1985) and the explosion of the internet (~1993) and the 56kbps modem. #3 is cell phones. I'm probably missing a lot, but these seem to me the most obvious.

As for me, I think the reason I'm doing it is because I can test my skills at custom-building antennas and homebrew radios. In other words, its an outlet for my itch to design an manipulate electronic things. Other than that, maybe it's cool to have brief conversations with DX stations, or experiment with designing low-bandwidth data modes.

Since I am far too young (25) to remember a time before the PC and internet (but at least a time without cell phones), I especially want to know what the draw was for the older generations, and how that has changed over time. I am wondering, because recently I went with a group of undergrads at Northwestern (I am an EE Ph.D.) to their radio room (which is really sweet, giant 10 dB yagi for HF, 1500 W, all kinds of radios and equipment etc.) to see a demo, and as the operators made some voice and digital contacts, I could see on most of the kids' faces "what's the use?" and "why would I do this if I can just Skype them?"

I realize I have probably just touched a hot-button topic, but regardless, I still want to know.


Posts: 2380

« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2011, 09:36:28 AM »

I think you've asked a perfectly reasonable question. 

Young people today have grown up with easy world wide communications available; however they are mostly unaware of the infrastructure that supports this.

Amateur radio (at least as I've enjoyed it) is almost entirely free of this infrastructure.  When I work someone in Europe or Asia on 160 meters, there is nothing but the ionosphere between my backyard antenna and the other station's antenna.  I'm conducting two way communications on a medium-frequency band just above the AM broadcast band that is used almost exclusively for local communications.  That's still a thrill for me.

Chuck  NI0C

Posts: 162

« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2011, 10:13:17 AM »

I have to second Chuck on this.

A couple of winters ago, I seem to recall a large part of New England losing cell service because of damage to the towers from snow, ice, and high winds. Cell phones, the internet, and even regular phones are dependent on the infrastructure surviving whatever nature can throw at it.

Ham radio only requires that you have sufficient power, either from the utility or your batteries, and an antenna (and if your antenna took a hit, most of us can rig up something with some wire and coax).

This does not mean that ham radio always will work. Solar activity is good, but too much is bad. Also, in the event of widespread outages, the repeaters you depend on for VHF/UHF may not work. However, the events that take ham radio out of the running are more rare than what will knock out your phone, power, etc.

There are many facets to ham radio to make it an interesting hobby, but I think all of them require some intellectual curiosity, something sadly lacking in a lot of people I run into. Some of my fun comes from making contacts with low power and simple antennas. QSL cards are fun to look at, too.


-- Tom

Posts: 12641

« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2011, 10:18:10 AM »

The late 1950's and early 1960's was a time when many hams built their own stations, including transmitters and receivers. I could purchase a brand new military surplus receiver or transmitter, still sealed in the original packaging, for $10 and convert it for ham radio use for a few dollars more. I could often pick up old black and white TV sets for free that contained a wealth of parts including some pretty big power transformers that could power a 50W or larger transmitter with no problem. There were a couple of well stocked electronic wholesalers within a short driving range that had displays of construction components like metal chassis, cases, tubes, capacitors, chokes, etc. and they had all that stuff in stock. Back then the hobby was affordable for even a poor teenager.

Electronics was simpler in those days. You could actually see the components and fully understand how each stage in a receiver or transmitter worked. Today its a PCB full of chips that all look pretty much the same but work differently - some of which contain proprietary firmware that you can't obtain information on. Things have gotten so complex that engineers tend to specialize in just a few areas and design projects often use a team of people, with each person working on one particular piece of the design.

The greatest fun came from communicating across the world (or even the next state) with something you built yourself that didn't depend on someone else like the phone company or Internet service provider. It was something you were never satisfied with. As soon as you made a few contacts you began thinking about how you could improve it in some way.

Society was different then too. The owner of a local heating shop used to let me (as a young kid) come in and use his tools to bend and form my own custom radio chassis. Today they'd probably be too afraid of the liability issues to let anyone do that, let a lone a kid.


Posts: 214

« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2011, 10:49:17 AM »

I'm of the "younger crowd", and I "ham" because it's fun.  Atmospheric research, electronics tinkering, creating RF-based data paths, etc.

Only a few of the interests...

Posts: 267

« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2011, 11:33:00 AM »

I'm 45, and I do it because its just fun to make HF contacts across the world, and to tinker with my own antennas, learn about the vagaries of propagation, and try and inprove my operating skills. Its by no means my only pastime, I also read a great deal, am a sceptic, secular humanist, surf and ride a motorcycle* and an MTB. I have just completed a 100 mile off road MTB ride (hence a day off work and sore legs!).

*Actually the motorcycle thing is more serious than just a pastime - I'm a lifelong biker. And the passion for surfing (kneeboarding) is pretty strong too - been doing that 25 years and both of these are more important to me than ham radio, by a long way. But ham is fun.

Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.
George Orwell

Posts: 44

« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2011, 12:55:40 PM »

I got into ham radio when I was asked to help bring a sailboat back to Los Angeles from Hawaii after the Transpac race. We had a marine SSB on the boat and used it daily to send e-mail and keep in contact with people back home.

The sailing experience got me thinking about ham radio but it wasn't until I was involved with a search-and-rescue event that pushed me even closer to getting my ticket. One of my neighbors went hiking in the middle of the Utah desert and didn't come home. He was only supposed to be gone for a day and so the next morning, a bunch of us got asked to go an look for him (I grew up with search and rescue dogs and have the necessary training, so don't try this at home). I was with another SAR buddy and we were able to make it to the top of the mountain where we knew the last known text message from the missing hiker was sent. We started following shoe prints down the back of the mountain and were stuck in a ravine with no cell phone service. We had FRS radios, but they didn't work either and so we had no way to keep in constant contact with the other searchers. They knew which direction we headed, but didn't know that we had decided to spend the night on the mountain so we could continue the search in the morning. A simple FT-8800 at the top of the mountain as all that was necessary to keep us in contact with the rest of the searchers. While my wife knew I was safe because of my training, a lot of other people were needlessly worried that night.

I walked out of the desert the following day and got back in cell phone range where I called in some friends to come and pick me up. A short time later, a few of us in the neighborhood went and got our amateur radio licenses. Now we help out with several community events (this last weekend was the Squaw Peak 50 trail run and later we will help out with the Wasatch 100 trail run) as well as participate in a weekly EComm net. It is one of those things that we hope we never have to use, but if we do, we want to be prepared (why yes, I am an Eagle Scout).

I currently work for a video game company where I stare at a computer monitor all day making sure a proverbial light stays green. That gives me a bit of time to hang out on places like and respond to such questions. Hopefully this helps.

Matt - KF7GFL

Posts: 2232

« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2011, 02:46:47 PM »

In 1965 I was 10 years old and heard my commercial first short wave broadcast.
I was in Chicago in my Grandfather's attic listening on a 1937 Philco radio. (Model 37-650)
I'll never forget it. It was a blistering hot, humid July evening, and the attic was sweltering.
Stations from thousands of miles away like BBC, Deutche Velle, Radio Netherlands,
Radio Moscow,etc came in quite clearly.
I thought "This is MAGIC!".

A year or so later, back here in So Cal, my dad bought a National 183D and we began listening
to ham transmissions. Wow! You mean people can talk to other people thousands
of miles away from their own homes? Incredible!
(Sadly, my father never was able to master the then 13wpm CW requirement.
Though looking back, he didn't seem to have put much effort into it.)

Yes, the Internet, Cell Phones, GPS, 3G, etc, all technologies you can
do a lot more with and far more cheaply are wonderful.

But....for some odd reason, I still do think radio is magic.
You'd think after 5 years as a serious SWL and 25 years as a licensed
ham, that "Radio is magic" feeling would have faded.
It has not..

I guess it sounds stupid when you try to explain it.
73, Ken  AD6KA,  ex 5R8GQ,  ex KB6LEA

Posts: 290

« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2011, 03:44:22 PM »

Because it is there.

That and they won't pay me to do it so it must be amateur radio.

If you have a clumsy child, you make them wear a helmet. If you have death prone children, you keep a few clones of them in your lab.

Posts: 8852


« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2011, 08:48:13 PM »

I ham because I like to jam.



Actually it's because I like radio Grin  I don't really care about the fact that we have other ways to communicate.  It's not the same.  A lot of my love for ham radio can be summed up in the sound you can hear on an open band with no one on it.


Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.

Posts: 3598

« Reply #10 on: June 06, 2011, 09:48:12 PM »

You want to know why I ham?  Well, a very long time ago I had all of this money see..... and found myself walking down a street in Boston and went by a Radio Shack store.  I stopped, went in and looked at all of this very impressive electronic gear.  The clerk was very helpful......

During this part of my life I also had this uncontrollable urge to self-inflict pain, anxiety and stress.  I also had a tremendous amount of free time on my hands.  A job, wife and kids takes only a small part of the day. 

The clerk went on to say that in order to use this equipment that I just bought I would have to have a ham license and pointed out that it would be necessary to read several books which he happened to have stocked and also learn Morse Code.  All of this fit perfectly into my needs perfectly.

It wasn't until later that I found that it would be necessary for me to drive over a hundred miles to the closest city, a place full of crazy people who never learned to drive, try to find this particular government office and set before a government employee who I found simply didn't want to be there to take this test.  I was in hog heaven!

I also found that there were several more tests that I could study for and make the same 100 mile journey and mingle with the city full of crazy people who couldn't drive, pay more illegal parking tickets, all the while dealing with the anxiety and stress, which I thrived on.

Ham radio also taught me how to be strong, especially when my wife, who never asked for anything, told me the kids needed food and clothes at the same time I needed a new pair of 3-500Z tubes or a new antenna.

Ham radio also taught me self-reliance after my wife took the kids and left during the last WWDX contest..... or the one in 1967.....not sure which....

Yes, ham radio has been a fulfilling hobby and I recommend it to anyone.  Let's see, if I can do without bath soap and toilet paper for 6 months, I could get me a.......

Posts: 1553


« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2011, 11:58:00 PM »

As for me, I think the reason I'm doing it is because I can test my skills at custom-building antennas and homebrew radios. ...

That is EXACTLY why I "Ham".  The license makes it legal for me to test my latest antenna, mod, etc.


Posts: 28

« Reply #12 on: June 07, 2011, 11:21:59 AM »

I am always amazed when people ask why I bother with ham radio when there is much better technology available (for the record I am a technology/gadget freak and work in the IT industry so I am not anti-technology).  I simply reply with a few questions of my own and eventually the person who asked "why use ham radio" gets the idea:

Why do people go fishing when they could just go to a store and buy fish?
Why do people drive 200 MPH race cars when they could travel on a 500 MPH jet?
Why do people sail boats across the ocean when they could just hop on a plane and get to their destination much more quickly?
Why do people go camping when they could stay in a nice hotel room?
Why do people hike across the country when they could travel in a car?
Why do people run marathons when there is any manner of transportation that could traverse 26.2 miles much more quickly?

The common thread in all of these things is that there is an inherent enjoyment in the activity itself.  Yes, there may be a better way to get to the end result but in general those 'better ways' are boring (going to the store to buy fish is certainly no fun).  For me the enjoyment in ham radio comes from working distant stations using just a wire in the trees for an antenna.  I also enjoy the unpredictable nature of propagation.  There are many other aspects to this hobby that I find fascinating and fun as well.

Fun and enjoyment - that's why I ham.

Posts: 962

« Reply #13 on: June 07, 2011, 12:29:36 PM »

Because of the magic! HF propagation is still magical to me - a few simple antennas, headphones, key and paddles, a decent rig, and folks on other continents, isolated islands, remote states, all kinds of places can hear your signal and respond. I work mainly CW because the station is right in the middle of the house, and work a couple of contests a year because I'm more likely to get a response. I love being able to follow the changes in the ionosphere by changing bands as the sun coverage shifts. VHF weak signal is an occasional bit of fun, and sometimes the propagation there is a pleasant surprise too. VHF/UHF FM is excelent for public service, and the go-kit in my vehicle gets exercised several times a year. I hope we can continue to get the younger generations interested - satellites, IRLP, backpacking adventure radio - enough kinds of fun to keep things interesting, and the possibility of building equipment and antennas is still there, tho not as simple as in the days of tube and WW2 surplus gear. A shorter answer - if your mind is cluttered and overbusy with other topics, tune the radio to an open CW band, get on the headphones, and delete the other cares from you mind as you decode the cw coming through your headphones - and chat with someone else, somwhere on the planet, who's doing the same thing!
73 to all -
Fred Wagner

Posts: 2528

« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2011, 04:51:10 PM »

Because I have FUN while I play radio.

Plus, I like making antennas just to see if it works.
And, I enjoy chatting with other hams around the world. it's more fun than watching TV.

Because of ham radio, I learned how to solder which is a skill I've used many on projects not related to radio. 
One time I talked to the Minister of Communications in Nepal.  I bought a guide book about Nepal which made me curious about the religions there.

When I took a trip to India, I knew I HAD to go to Nepal.

One time I took a winter vacation and went to St. Kitts.  With the help of local hams there I got my ticket and set up a trapped inverted Vee and played DX for a week.

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