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I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Amateur Radio

Created by Joseph B Cotton, W3TTT on 2019-10-22

I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Amateur Radio

I have always wondered about the attraction of operating amateur radio. What is the benefit, what is the emotional payback? I am sure that everyone reading this does experience some thrill in operating on the ham bands. And everyone has a favorite type of operating, whether it is DXing, Contesting, Net operations, CW or SSB or digital.

It occurs to me that there are other human activities that have similar emotional payback, as we experience in ham radio. One of these other activities is hunting. The other activity that seems to provide an emotional payback is gambling.

With gambling, the gambler puts down the bet and expects a real monetary payback. The gambling games include poker, blackjack, roulette, and of course, the "one armed bandits" otherwise known as slot machines. Like hams who have their favorite types of operations, gamblers have their favorites too. Poker is the most active; and slots are the least active for the operator. I really do not understand the attraction of slots. Today's slot machines are just random number generators, with a possible payout. The odds are very high. But people will sit at a slot machine for hours, just pushing the button and getting some sort of emotional payback.

Hunting is similar in these ways. It is not always certain that a hunter will make a kill and bring home the meat. There is an uncertainty to the process. And a great emotional payoff if and when the hunter is successful. Hunting is also a type of gamble.

I'll bet that many of you hams reading this can guess where I am going with this piece.

My theory is that all three activities, Ham radio operating, gambling and hunting affect people in a similar way. All three will "light up" the areas of the human brain that are known to researchers as the pleasure centers of the brain. And did I mention "drugs" in connection with the pleasure centers of the brain?

"Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain's pleasure center. All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens." (Understanding Addiction -

"The ventral striatum, located deep inside the brain, has been termed the brain's reward center, and it's been implicated in reward processing as well as substance abuse.

When people with gambling disorder watch gambling videos or participate in simulated gambling while their brains are being scanned, scientists can see changes in blood flow in specific brain areas, indicating which areas are more active. In one study, both problem gamblers and cocaine addicts watched videos related to their addictions while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Both groups showed diminished activation in the ventral striatum compared to healthy control participants." (

So, science has located the brain's pleasure center, and has shown that drug addiction and gambling addiction are "in control" of the brain's pleasure center.

Now, with that said, let's take another look at hunting. The activity of hunting might have been vital to survival of the species. At some times, in the ancient past, it might have been necessary for survival to hunt. Those individuals who got pleasure from hunting would have an advantage over those who did not. The act of hunting (searching and pouncing for the kill) then affects the brain's pleasure center.

In fact, it might be this very pleasure mechanism in hunting that motivates gamblers. That is, because humans evolved with the hunting pleasure center in the brain, that gamblers use this for their own and get their emotional payback through the hunting pleasure center in the brain. Gamblers have high jacked hunting brain pleasure center. It seems that people can do this - substitute one pleasurable activity for another.

Which brings us back to ham radio. Could it be, that we hams have associated (in ourselves) the brain's pleasure center and redirected the brain to light up the pleasure center when we do our ham radio activities?

For instance, consider contests and contesters in ham radio. Many like to "hunt and pounce" on stations to contact.

Consider DXers. These fellows certainly spend hours "hunting down" DX stations, and when found, they pounce!

Builders, on the other hand, don't do a lot of "hunting", unless you consider "hunting for parts". But there is certainly a type of pleasure in building, completing, debugging and displaying a home brew rig.

Summing up, we see that ham radio has a very pleasurable aspect to it, and that this pleasurable aspect is mostly a learned pleasure, that does not come naturally, but must be developed and learned.

Therefore, in order to attract new people to ham radio, we need to somehow teach or instill this "joy of the radio hunt" to them. Sure, one can pick up a cell phone and dial anywhere in the world. But, that's no fun. The fun is in the hunt. And in the pounce.

Thanks for considering this aspect of the hobby.
73, W3TTT

WA5VGO 2019-10-30
Re: I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Amateur Radio
Building and experimenting is the thrill of amateur radio. Operating is nothing more that social media.
N2MG 2019-10-28
I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Amateur Radio
OZ8AGB 2019-10-28
I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Amateur Radio
Been a HAM since 2004. But I still get amazed by the fact that I can communicate directly with another person located on the other side of the globe directly only using my radio and antenna. No billion dollar infrastructure needed.
K7JQ 2019-10-23
RE: I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating
I've been a ham now for 60 years, and still get on the air pretty much every day. When I first started at age 13 in 1959, the allure was the "magic" of communicating wirelessly with others thousands of miles away As technology evolved, wireless communication has become mainstream to the public, and isn't as magic as previously perceived.

However, amateur radio has so many facets that, to me, it's easy to keep my interest in it. While I still enjoy a good ragchew, and my DX country totals are fairly maxed out to spend a lot of time looking for the few new ones, I now operate about 90% contesting. Living in a HOA antenna restricted community, operating with stealth antennas, I enjoy the challenge and competitiveness of comparing my contest scores to those stations, especially in my local contest club, that have tons more aluminum in the air. It's amazing what you can do with a screwdriver antenna! I've tried FT8, and just can't get into the impersonal computer talking to a computer mode.

But to each his/her own. That's what makes our hobby so fascinating!

73, Bob K7JQ
K6CRC 2019-10-23
I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Ama
It would be hard to tie Ham Radio to other hobbies.

With two grown boys and some time on this earth, I believe the Ham hobby is in a long term downward spiral. All the adventure of remote communications has been displaced by pedestrian consumer devices that can be bought in any drug store for a couple hours of minimum wage.

The thrill of working that obscure island with a Heathkit TX does not translate into next generations with the Internet and a Cell Phone.

The solution is to just not worry about it, enjoy your time on this earth doing what you want to do.
KC7MF 2019-10-22
RE: I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating
My suspicion is that Ham Radio's allure, for most people, is social. Unlike hunting and gambling which are both solitary pursuits for the most part, ham radio is a group venture.

Another appeal is the equipment. Clearly we hams are inveterate gearheads.

There is a great deal of talk and research today about how people are becoming more isolated by technology. Ham radio is the opposite of that. Look at the push-back we are seeing with regard to more "automatic" forms of digital modes. Many hams opine that they take the human contact out of the hobby.

Social media, of which ham radio is arguably the first example, are popular specifically because people are looking to make contact with their friends. Home visits and the corner pub are far less common these days. I have many good friends who do not really communicate with their next door neighbors. That would have been highly unusual a mere 40 years ago.

(It occurs to me that the fact that I just said, "a mere 40 years ago) says something about the hobby too.)

AK4YH 2019-10-22
I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Ama
I don't think it always applies that way... I am not a gambler, hunter or fisherman. I have zero interest in collecting callsigns, though I admit, distant contacts on QRP power give me a lot of satisfaction. My interest, and I suspect it is similar for many people, is building... Building QRP kits and antennas to test them during field operations. It gives me an excuse to go camping, take challenging trails with my Land Cruiser. Radio gives extra meaning to the activities I am already involved in, like sailing. There is also a thirst for scientific knowledge... I watch a lot of scientific videos on Youtube, some I barely understand, just to try to get a grasp of our universe. Radio fits in there nicely. At last, there is the assurance that if our communications infrastructure was to fail, I can communicate. When I go hiking in places lacking cell phone coverage, I always have a tiny CW QRP radio with me. I believe the motivation isn't always the chase, although there is a bit of that too...
K8QV 2019-10-22
I Have Always Wondered About the Attraction of Operating Ama
"The fun is in the hunt."

My analogy is usually "fishing" but hunting is the same idea. Fly fishing and bow hunting are like QRP and the fun is in the challenge. Some prefer to hunt squirrels with elephant guns and fish with dynamite because only the result matters to them. As stated, there are easier and more reliable ways to achieve communication than amateur radio, so the challenge would seem to be the only real attraction of the hobby. These days it seems most people aren't interested in challenges, only results. That makes radio a hard sell.