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Foundations of Amateur Radio #201:

from Onno VK6FLAB on April 13, 2019
Website: http://vk6flab.com/
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Fragility of Communication

Our day to day life is full of communication. We listen, although less and less, to the radio for news and entertainment, sometimes mixed together as food and games for the masses.

We can communicate with family, friends and the rest of the global population using a telephone. With the internet as a transmission medium, we exchange text, sound and vision with impunity to anyone who stumbles across it on a mind boggling collection of outlets, websites, social media, email, streaming services to name a few.

The vast majority of this kind of communication is a commodity, that means that with little or no training most of the population has access to this.

Another aspect of this commodification is that it's reliable. It works most of the time, it's generally good quality, with little or no loss, as in, you speak into your phone and there's an extremely high chance for the other party to hear your voice. While there are occasions that calls drop out, or the audio is chopped up, it's more an exception rather than a regular occurrence.

In stark contrast, amateur radio is none of those things. It's not a commodity, it's not reliable, it's a poor man's version of the ubiquitous mobile phone.

As amateurs we know why it's not the same, for starters, to make contact between say Perth and Bermuda using amateur radio requires exactly two pieces of equipment. Your radio and theirs. Making this contact with a mobile requires that both ends have a phone. They'll also need a way to connect to the phone network, either a local base station or a telephone exchange, those in turn connect via many different ways to each other, including repeaters, relays, perhaps a satellite, a fibre optic cable or three, too many devices to count today. Extreme level of complexity.

I'm mentioning this because it's simple to conclude that amateur radio is obsolete, but its just not true.

With the lack of reliability associated with an amateur radio connection comes something that is unique to society today. Thanks to reliable communication, we have come to expect that all communication is reliable, even our experimental hobby, but if you spend any time on air at all you'll quickly realise that for amateur radio, we need to conduct ourselves with protocol, using specific procedures, phonetics, structured phrases, callsigns and the like to overcome some of the aspects of unreliability.

Talking on the local repeater looks and smells like a mobile phone chat room, but it's not. It relies entirely on the participants collaborating to ensure reliable communication.

Similarly, calling CQ on HF, requires that you understand that the other station isn't on the end of a telephone connection and that parts of what you're saying are going to be missing at the other end. Using phonetics, speaking slower, waiting longer and monitoring, all assist with making contact.

If you're unsure about this, just listen in on a local net for regular confusion, or use an online receiver like WebSDR to hear what you sound like at the other end.

To make things a little more interesting, every amateur band has a different failure mode. On 20m from one breath to the next, the path might close, on 80m you might get overwhelmed by noise, on 40m you might find yourself all of a sudden sharing the frequency with another station, both of you blissfully unaware of the other's existence.

Communication in amateur radio is collaborative and there are common courtesy behaviours. If you're working a rare DX station, that's not a personal friend, don't start a whole conversation about your dogs, your medical issues, or the level of amazingness of your station. You're not alone in attempting to make the contact and they're not there for your personal enjoyment. Hogging the frequency is a sure fired way to acquire the ire of your fellow amateurs, especially in marginal conditions, where band conditions are rapidly changing.

There is nothing like getting your feet wet by actually getting on air and making noise, but when you do, remind yourself that this is not a telephone and it's not perfect. Be mindful of your on-air conduct and you'll find a globe full of friends.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

TL;DR This is the transcript of the weekly 'Foundations of Amateur Radio' podcast - for other episodes, see http://vk6flab.com/

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