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Ham Radio Still Growing In the iStuff Age

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the dah-dah-dit-dit-dit dept.

Communications 368

vhfer writes "From NPR comes this story about old-school communications in the age of Twitter: 'Only a few years ago, blogs listed ham radio alongside 35 mm film and VHS tape as technologies slated to disappear. They were wrong. Nearly 700,000 Americans have ham radio licenses — up 60 percent from 1981, a generation ago. And the number is growing.' The article goes on to say that while there's plenty of 60-plus year old hams, there's also a growing contingent of teens. I just met a 14-year-old, licensed in 2009. Getting rid of the Morse Code requirement sure helped in that regard. So does the fact that the test questions (and the answers) are freely available, legally, on the Internet. Study, take the test, hang the license certificate on the wall. Your geek cred gets an immediate boost. And who knows? Maybe the next time there's a Haiti-earthquake-sized disaster, you'll be one of the thousands of ham volunteers who provided the only communications in/out of Haiti for weeks following the quake, not to mention all of the tactical comms the country had for nearly a month."

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FP (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753382)

..de KB0HAW

Re:FP (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | about 4 years ago | (#31753420)


Re:FP (1)

jmanforever (603829) | about 4 years ago | (#31753712)

KJ6BSO.. Hey Carl, You're 5-9 in Nebraska.


Re:FP (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753776)

Up 5 Lid, Up 5!

Re:FP (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753634)

Thank you for that input, Mr. Jones.

Incidentally, Anonymous Coward and a ham call sign do not mix well.

Unique ID (2, Funny)

CompressedAir (682597) | about 4 years ago | (#31753404)

... and if nothing else, you'll get a great unique ID to use online!

Man, I wish I had a link to that Dilbert where he is worried about going into management ruining his geek cred with his girlfriend.

"What if I got a Ham Radio license to compensate?"

Re:Unique ID (1)

vhfer (643140) | about 4 years ago | (#31753498)

Sure it's unique. But the FCC database is public information, and I don't always want my street address associated with an email ID or etc. Not where it can be so freely mined. And some ISP's still insist we add characters to our federally issued, guaranteed unique callsigns. I don't use ISP and mail providers like that (stupid) anymore.

Re:Unique ID (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753904)

Can I have your tin foil account?

Cue the Apple (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753408)

iRadio [apple.com] fans.

Yours In Novosibirsk,
Kilgore T.

P.S.: Support GNU - Don't buy the iPad.

As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (2, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | about 4 years ago | (#31753410)

What is the draw and use of this stuff? Not in a snarky sense, just that I'm half-way curious and ready to be pulled in.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (2, Informative)

lemur3 (997863) | about 4 years ago | (#31753522)

It is like the old version of IRC.... you can talk to strangers from all over.

For one thing... (5, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about 4 years ago | (#31753548)

With Ham Radio, it is possible to:

Talk with people around the world by bouncing signals off the moon

On "HF" or shortwave radio, you can talk to people around the world with 100watts of RF power. 100w is probably 1/3 or less of the power used to run your desktop computer.

It's probably one of the geekiest of the geek hobbies. You can play with electronics and build and repair radios. You can interface radios with computers and send and receive messages over radio. You can play with RF and antenna theory, flexing those math muscles to enhance your signal.

You get to talk without infrastructure

Cool people from around the world to talk with, and you never know who you're going to talk to next. Kind of like fishing

Moonbounce (4, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about 4 years ago | (#31753740)

For those of you interested in Moonbounce, google "eme moonbounce". EME is Ham Radio slang for bouncing signals of the moon, and it comes from Earth-Moon-Earth. These signals are in the VHF or UHF frequency sections. Most notably, it is in the 144Mhz (2m) or 432Mhz Mhz.

Sometimes you also get fun stuff like what's coming up in a week. The Arecibo radio astronomy antenna (huge white dish) is bouncing signals off the moon and listening for ham radio operators in a week or two [southgatearc.org]

Granted, it takes a fairly big antenna and lots of power to bounce signals off the moon. However, there are computer programs [nitehawk.com] that allow for slow text transmission (think really slow modem) via moonbounce, reducing the antenna and power requirements.

Re:For one thing... (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#31753866)

I, and the grandparent for sure, would probably jump on something like this if we had any clue where to start.

Am I going to find this kind of stuff down at a Hobby shop? I've never looked.

Re:For one thing... (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 4 years ago | (#31753960)

Am I going to find this kind of stuff down at a Hobby shop? I've never looked.

Probably not. You can google "ham radio equipment" or something like that. Ebay has lots of equipment too. Check out the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) website too (http://www.arrl.org/) for info too.

Re:For one thing... (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 years ago | (#31753984)

Here in the United States, the big umbrulla organization is the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). You can visit their website at ARRL.org. Most areas have their own local or regional organizations, too. And there are swapmeets, and get-togethers and what-not.

And the really cool thing these days is... there's so much surplus electronic everything floating around that you don't need to go to a hobby shop at all. If you're a hard-core tech ham, you fabricate your rig yourself out of parts on hand. Just visit your local library to get books to read up on it. The 'ARRL Handbook' comes out each year and many libraries keep a copy on the shelf. It's a phone-book sized manual of tech.

Sources (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about 4 years ago | (#31754024)

You won't find ham radio at your Radio Shack. You won't find it at your local hobby shop.

The Amateur Radio Relay League [arrl.org] is a great spot to start. They are the largest Ham Radio organization in the country.

Another good site with basic info is the How Stuff Works page [howstuffworks.com]

These links will give you a good spot to start. Best of luck!

ARRL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31754098)

I can't believe I mis-typed that - ARRL is American Radio Relay League!

Re:For one thing... (1)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | about 4 years ago | (#31753910)

Cool people from around the world to talk with, and you never know who you're going to talk to next. Kind of like fishing

Yet they all just seem to be guys masturbating...

There's a few... (4, Informative)

Estanislao Martnez (203477) | about 4 years ago | (#31753570)

  1. Talking with people from across the globe.
  2. Various sorts of technical challenges involved making a radio contact with somebody very far away. Sometimes natural challenges (distance, propagation), sometimes self-imposed (deliberate use of a low-power transmitter, bouncing radio signals off the moon or meteor trails).
  3. If you're into DIY electronics, ham radio is heaven. You can build, design and/or use your own equipment. Lately, this extends also to software, too--if you're interested in DSP, software radios can be pretty neat; if you're interested in networking technology, likewise packet radio can be fun.
  4. It's occasionally useful when regular communications channels go down.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (4, Informative)

Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) | about 4 years ago | (#31753582)

Well, in addition to the simple chatting thing and the gee-whiz hobbyist angle, it can be an extremely valuable resource in emergency response scenarios. Many areas have volunteer emergency networks comprised of ham radio operators that could relay information and coordinate response efforts if the official response groups are overwhelmed or disorganized.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (2, Interesting)

acrobg (1175095) | about 4 years ago | (#31753604)

There's the well-known disaster communications argument. That is, when the phone lines and cell towers go out, you will still have a means of communication. Also, various ham emergency groups are used to pass information about disasters, assist hospitals, provide communication, etc. Ham radio is a way to talk with people around the world from all walks of life without the need for any infrastructure. For me, I often talk on ham radio while in the car driving to/from work on one of the local repeaters (the "magic mountain repeater" for those of you in the LA area). To me, it's a bit more engaging than listening to whatever idle morning show is on the radio. And people often give live traffic reports when commuting, etc. Honestly, it's a hobby that I find fun as something to do. If you're interested in radio in general, it's one of the few hobbies where experimenting in the RF spectrum is encouraged. HAMs found out that HF waves (shortwave) bounce off the atmosphere as opposed to being absorbed or allowed to pass through, for example. Also, you get to have a cool ID code to use online and offline (the state of CA charges a 1-time fee to make it a vanity plate, as opposed to the annual upkeep of most other vanity plates). --KI6WPV

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (5, Informative)

zentec (204030) | about 4 years ago | (#31753638)

The draw depends upon the person. Many hams are drawn to the hobby by building their own equipment and/or antennas. There's a lot of math and theory that goes into building transmitters and creating good antenna designs. Not to mention, the pride of breaking through a pile of amateurs wanting to talk to someone in a foreign country and mentioning that you are using only 100 watts into your antenna that is a "homebrew 7 element beam at 50 feet".

Some modes in amateur radio require above average skills that the test doesn't cover; things like moonbounce, long distance microwave or satellites (hams have their own low-earth orbit satellites).

There's also the computer aspect of it. Hams have developed their own digital modes that use very low power and require DSP techniques to use, as well as software defined radios.

The hobby has a lot of interesting facets other than just talking to your friends on the radio. These are what keeps it going in an age when it's easier to just fire up Yahoo IM or use a cell phone.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (3, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | about 4 years ago | (#31753650)

What is the draw and use of this stuff? Not in a snarky sense, just that I'm half-way curious and ready to be pulled in.

Back when I got my ham license, in 1980, the internet didn't exist, and long-distance phone calls were extremely expensive. My parents were divorced, and ham radio was a great way to keep in touch with my father. It was also really exciting back then to be able to talk to people in places like Japan or Mexico; without the internet, there was basically no other way to do that except by getting a pen pal or something.

Those motivations have evaporated in the last 30 years, and that's one of the reasons I'm no longer active as a ham.

The main justification I hear quoted these days for the continuing existence of ham radio is emergency communications. That's a great justification for continuing to dedicate that spectrum to hams, rather than auctioning it off to corporations. However, I don't find it enough of a justification to continue operating as a ham myself.

If you have strong electronics skills, then ham radio offers a unique opportunity to tinker and play around on the radio spectrum. You can build your own antenna, bounce radio signals off the moon. Back in the 80's, a lot of people were experimenting with sending digital signals over the airwaves -- something that you couldn't accomplish at that time using the internet, because the internet didn't exist. There are no other radio bands where it's legal to do this kind of thing. E.g., one of the reasons that the technical details on wifi equipment is generally unavailable to the public is that the manufacturers are afraid that if they make the specs public, people will figure out ways to use the equipment to do illegal things.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | about 4 years ago | (#31753704)

There are a few uses, but one that has had me seriously looking to start operating a Ham radio is that you can often use the equipment to track the broadcasts [hobbyspace.com] of various satellites which orbit overhead. I know some members of cubesat projects use them for confirmation of spacecraft survival after launch. There are a dozen other uses, but I always found the idea of linking actual satellite data to be extraordinarily exciting.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | about 4 years ago | (#31753726)

What is the draw and use of this stuff? Not in a snarky sense, just that I'm half-way curious and ready to be pulled in.

How about sending a message from my shack here in southern California to a guy located in the Azores without wires or fiber optics connection using a radio connected to a 12V car battery and less power than it takes to light up a typical light bulb? If that ain't geeky-cool, I don't know what is.

If you enjoy electronic gadgets and building things with your own two hands*, ham radio is a great hobby.

KJ6BSO. Look for me on 20 meters PSK31.

* No offense intended to amputees

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | about 4 years ago | (#31753782)

I'm about ready to take the test. My motivation is to have a way of communicating with family when cell phones and land lines are overwhelmed (or down completely). A ham radio with tall antenna is the only real way to communicate with someone 15 miles away when phone and cell phone is out. If repeaters are available, a hand held unit might work. Both require a HAM radio license.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (4, Informative)

viridari (1138635) | about 4 years ago | (#31753886)

An amateur radio license is a license to make use of large swaths of radio spectrum set aside just for hams. There are many things that you can do within that spectrum, including experimentation of new ways of using spectrum that others haven't tried yet.

Most obviously, you can talk to people using your voice and a microphone.

Or you can talk to them with a number of digital modes, with morse code being one of the most widely known examples, but other computer-based digital modes also enjoying much popularity.

You can study theory on RF propagation on different parts of the radio spectrum using beacons.

You can transmit a TV signal from a model rocket.

You can install an APRS beacon in your car and use it like a LoJack if your car is ever stolen.

You can fly a radio controlled airplane really really far because your transmitter can legally greatly exceed the range of the stuff most non-licensed people get to play with.

You can fly a weather balloon and transmit photographs and telemetry back to you.

You can work on improving Search And Rescue communications capabilities.

You can provide direct vital assistance in the aftermath of a natural disaster by coordinating radio communication between government agencies and NGO's in ways that none of them have the internal capabilities to handle.

You can play some really cool uber geeky games like "fox hunting" where you put your radio direction finding skills to the test. If you like geocaching, you'll get a real kick out of this.

You can send data over vast distances wirelessly using more powerful transmitters than the unlicensed public on spectrum that is reserved for your use as a licensed amateur radio operator.

This can just keep going. You can push the envelope, developing new technologies, or you can master antiquated skills on vintage equipment. Or you can just jabberjaw on the drive to work with other hams. Whatever floats your boat.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (2, Insightful)

bsandersen (835481) | about 4 years ago | (#31753934)

One lament heard repeatedly is, "Why doesn't America BUILD anything anymore?" Americans used to be known for Yankee ingenuity, innovation, and know-how. There seems precious little of that anymore except, perhaps, in software and aircraft. We still write code and build airplanes. It is difficult to thing of much else. The love of building things is best acquired young, I believe. I have it. I learning how things work. I also like to build things. Ham radio is an outlet for me on all these fronts. In an era where so many electronic components are, by necessity, nearly microscopic or monolithic, fully-formed, and impenetrable, you can still build radios from discrete parts, understand each of their functions, and have the joy of using something you made. I cringed when I first heard that freshly graduated EEs may have never picked up a soldering iron! How can one gain that intuition about the physical world without experiencing it?! Ham radio in the 21st century isn't a replacement for the internet, cell phones, video games, or anything else. It is a really fun way to learn about electronics, wave propagation, digital signal processing, and a bunch of other stuff in a hands-on, practical, inexpensive way. Perhaps if fewer were embarrassed about their desire to learn and do things (you won't be one of the COOL kids if you do!) we would have more engineers, more things designed and maybe even built here, and a brighter future.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about 4 years ago | (#31753958)

In addition to comments made by some other posters, Ham radio is not just a high powered walkie-talkie. There's actually a lot of brand new tech involved as well. I'm part of the Ham club at Penn State University - got licensed last year as part of a freshman seminar class. And we're currently in the process of installing a D-STAR repeater. What this will do is:

1) Allow us to talk to people on other D-STAR repeaters through the internet - i.e., we have small handheld radios, but can send a message to our campus repeater, which will relay it to a repeater in Texas...or Germany...or Japan...or anywhere that one exists.
2) Provide internet access anywhere on campus through the radios. Not great internet access - probably about dial-up speed - but still, internet access
3) Allow transmitting video through the radios
4) And really anything that you can imagine could be done with such a system...the amount of software is increasing every day

So, there's lots of new tech, digital tech like PSK, D-STAR, Echolink, etc. But most of the hardware is still packaged with schematics. There's a lot of DIY involved if you like that (building antennas, building radios even) - or you can just buy everything. And you can communicate around the world for free, you can communicate in disaster situations, you can assist (or at least train for) many smaller emergency type situations (foxhunts and such), you can talk to the space shuttle or do a moon bounce....there's a _lot_ you can do with Ham radio.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 4 years ago | (#31754072)

Its like a really cool science experiment, maybe the worlds coolest EE lab ever, and co-incidentally you end up talking to people with the same interest. Imagine if magically doing geology rock collecting meant you'd inherently meet other people into geology (rather than just by accident or whatever). The average IQ of ham radio must be like 130, you don't meet boring people (mostly).

Also has a pretty libertarian bent. Here are some slivers of bandwidth of various levels of usefulness. Do whatever the heck you want, with very few limitations. Most of the limitations amount to not replicating the job of another radio service, like, say, public broadcasting. Some obvious safety type limitations. Some obvious "play nice with others" requirements. Other than that, have fun.

And then there are competitive contesters. Just how far can you talk to folks? And how many? Why? Same reason as climbing Mt Everest, just because you can.

Building stuff is quite a kick. I don't mean bolting together premade assemblies like "building" a computer, but I mean designing and soldering stuff together and then talking to people using it. Don't have to, but its fun.

There's the restoration crowd, that takes old/obsolete equipment, tune it up, use it. Like the car restoration folks. Interesting way to learn about history. And learning about history means you learn about the present.

The emergency service guys are a little odd. 50 years ago the hams had better equipment than the cops. Now a days, other way around. No point anymore. Lots of pompous, lots of small group politics. But its a pretty libertarian hobby, folks just stay out of each others way, mostly anyway.

Finally there's doing crazy stuff. I don't care if its obsolete, if you think AM NTSC TV transmitters are cool, you can use them if you want. Want to do something technologically odd for the sake of doing it? Fine.

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 4 years ago | (#31754074)

>>>What is the draw and use of this stuff?

The challenge of communicating through noise and static, especially if you are a DXer (try to get signals from 1000+ miles away). HAM radio can also be used for some limited data communication, so in theory you could attach your PC to your transmitter, and put a receiver in your car, and communicate with your home (like for example, listening to dialup quality radio, or accessing text services like usenet). I don't know how popular packet-switching is today, but it used to be common in the era of the BBS (1980s).

Re:As someone totally ignorant in this stuff (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 4 years ago | (#31754172)

Well, at a guess: Communications with people from all over the world. Independence from the telcos (no charge for air time). Pretty high access bar -> far fewer jerks to deal with. And Ham ->Packet radio -> planetwide "wifi".

recent usage (5, Interesting)

COMON$ (806135) | about 4 years ago | (#31753422)

Here in Nebraska just last week we had a need for Ham radios when our telephones went dead. No problem for cell phone users until they tried to dial 911. Out came the Ham radio operators using the contingency plans for y2K parked at major intersections where people could get a hold of them and contact authorities. There are just some technologies that are just too useful to get rid of.

Re:recent usage (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 4 years ago | (#31753772)

I wasn't involved in it myself, but I believe the Cornell Amateur Radio Club (and/or one of the other local ham organizations) received a commendation from the local emergency services when a nasty ice storm in the mid-90s took out the cellular system's infrastructure for a few days. Local hams filled in the hole left when the cell network collapsed under all the ice.

(This is hearsay by the way, and based on a story I heard years ago, so I could be wrong.)


Also, the summary makes a comment about removing the morse code requirement - for VHF and above, it's been gone since at least the early to mid 1990s. I've had a Technician class license since middle school. Morse for HF was removed MUCH more recently, but equipment-wise it's a lot easier to get started on VHF, especially nowadays, handheld radios have dropped a LOT in price. You can now get decent Chinese imports (such as Puxing PX-777) for less than $90.

Survival tactic (-1, Flamebait)

miggyb (1537903) | about 4 years ago | (#31753434)

This, of course, is clearly because of all the fat unathletic people that are hoping to survive the upcoming 2012 apocalypse by being the "engineer" guy that actually knows how to use a radio. I'm sure the number of people enrolled in community college car repair classes have shot up too, but they'll die down after 2012 again.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753436)

Is that like when you shove a diode into it, then wire it to the kitchen sink, then shove your middle finger into the uncooked pork while holding a 9V battery on your tongue?

Ham Radio (1, Redundant)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | about 4 years ago | (#31753442)

Ham radio ftw!

I'm considering getting my ham operators license, though first I would like to purchase the equipment.

Re:Ham Radio (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | about 4 years ago | (#31753824)

I believe by law that would be the other way around... buying the radio requires the license. Though I understand having the Ham license allows you to get a previously locked radio unlocked.

Re:Ham Radio (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about 4 years ago | (#31754016)

Nope. You don't need the license to purchase the equipment - you just need one to transmit on it. If you want to just buy one and listen you're free to do that.

Don't forget about CB radios (1)

Pojut (1027544) | about 4 years ago | (#31753452)

There is still a rather active market for CB radios as well. I went to eBay to put my Uniden PC78LTW up for sale [ebay.com], and I couldn't believe how many CB radios there were available on there. I know truckers still use them, but I was certainly not expecting the industry to still have THAT many buyers out there...not anymore, but when I first put that auction up, there were thirty two active auctions for that one model alone!

Re:Don't forget about CB radios (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753538)

Many truck drivers also have Technician class licenses and use VHF-UHF Amateur radio.

Re:Don't forget about CB radios (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | about 4 years ago | (#31753850)

CB radio is a cheap way to have "fleet" communications without requiring specific licenses. The power is limited since it's unlicensed, but it's far cheaper than most other options available to commercial operations (who can't, by definition, use HAM radio bands).

I believe there are even repeaters available for CBs that can be secured by access code if you need more than the 3 mile range typically available to mobile CB units.

I just go into Ham (2, Interesting)

digital_bacon (1390977) | about 4 years ago | (#31753458)

I thought at 23 I'd be the youngest guy in my local radio club.. Turned out that the youngest was a 17 year old Girl.

Re:I just go into Ham (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | about 4 years ago | (#31753746)

I thought at 23 I'd be the youngest guy in my local radio club.. Turned out that the youngest was a 17 year old Girl.

We've got a 10 year old girl in our local club!

Re:I just go into Ham (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753838)

So did she say yes when you asked her out?

Re:I just go into Ham (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753874)


I heard an NPR interview (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753464)

during the haiti earthquake via a satellite phone and the guy's voice sounded like one of the prawnies in District 9. My father-in-law's ham voice is at least recognizable, even with the static, because it's analog.

CB Radio and HAM coming back. (3, Interesting)

lemur3 (997863) | about 4 years ago | (#31753476)

Friends of mine in Finland and the region talk about a resurgence in CB usage as of late. Apparently it is becoming a big thing to have a ham license as well....

If only the same interest came back to America! A little over 15 years ago my CB was constantly amusing, filled with plenty of discussions. Now I rarely get anything, even after hours of listening/scanning.

Become a ham because it's fun, not just for emcom (5, Insightful)

kj4gxu (1602865) | about 4 years ago | (#31753508)

I'm not sure you're actually correct that thousands of hams provided the only communications out of Haiti after the earthquake and all fo the tactical coms. While there were a few messages coming out of Haiti over amateur radio there wasn't much. Cell phones were brought back up pretty quickly and a friend of mine who was in Haiti doing relief work after the quake (Specifically as a comms officer for a relief org) said that he had very little use for HF as satellite connections were brought up pretty quickly. He did say there was some use of VHF to establish local communications between relief orgs and various med stations etc but that other communications came up quickly enough that amateur radio didn't play as big of a role as many would like us to believe. If you want a great technical hobby where there's a lot to learn and an opportunity to make friends all over the world become a ham. You might get an opportunity to help out in a disaster, but if your main goal is to help out in emergencies, get trained in CPR, Search and Rescue and other such, but don't count on being a ham to put you in the "Most needed" category. There is a place for amateur radio in disaster relief, but it's as a backup, not a primary communications method. The fact is the pros can do a better job than we can.

Re:Become a ham because it's fun, not just for emc (2, Insightful)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 4 years ago | (#31753792)

Still, when the shit hits the fan, it IS important to have a backup.

Prepared for the real disaster (1)

rbrander (73222) | about 4 years ago | (#31753528)

Never mind Haiti, kids these days are getting out to more movies that older people, and they know they have to be prepared for the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

With the way Comcast and friends are going... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 years ago | (#31753562)

AX.25 is looking better and better... At least until Sandvine builds AX.25 support into their next product generation...

Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (5, Interesting)

puto (533470) | about 4 years ago | (#31753568)

I remember when I got my license when I was about 14-15 and was damn proud to get it. I had learned morse code in the Boy Scouts so that test was fairly easy. I remember going to "Ham Fests" where you could buy any sort of electronic gizmo, whether for your ham radio, a box of floppies, home grown software, etc. I even bought a fairly powerful FM transmitter. Taking the morse code out of it takes away the learning and the challenge, and also the feeling of accomplishment.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753684)

Exactly. Shame on who decided to remove the Morse code test

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (4, Interesting)

thephydes (727739) | about 4 years ago | (#31753690)

Not sure that I agree with all you say about code - probably because I was too lazy to learn it myself. However it is still the single most effective non-computer-driven mode that can punch through heavy RF noise and be heard thousands of km away. Here in oz, we have found that now that morse is not a requirement, there has been a surge of interest in it....... odd isn't it?

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753764)

It's a shame they took away the Unix system admin requirement to use the Internet as well, it's been all downhill since then.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (3, Insightful)

viridari (1138635) | about 4 years ago | (#31753920)

I resent that the FCC (I'm an American) required people to learn CW to operate a radio. Now that it's no longer a requirement, I'm interested. People often resent being told what to do, even if it's for their own good.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (1)

pongo000 (97357) | about 4 years ago | (#31754144)

I resent that the FCC (I'm an American) required people to learn CW to operate a radio. Now that it's no longer a requirement, I'm interested. People often resent being told what to do, even if it's for their own good.

The code requirement was an ITU requirement [wikipedia.org], and the FCC gradually eliminated CW testing requirements over a couple of years. So your resentment should probably be focused, at least on part, towards the ITU.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (1)

vlm (69642) | about 4 years ago | (#31753906)

Morse was useful when it was the only, or one of about two, communications modes.

When it was just morse or AM voice, it made sense to test morse, since all radio ops, including maritime distress, used morse. Since no one other than hams uses morse anymore, theres no interoperability, and its no longer the main mode of ham radio.

You want learning, challenge, accomplishment, build an AM NTSC TV transmitter and properly tune it, build a semi-cutting edge microwave transverter, use some exotic sound card digital mode to communicate at -20 dB SNR, try ALE, enter some contests, I've done all that.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (1)

Hizonner (38491) | about 4 years ago | (#31753918)

I'm not sure that learning Morse is meaningful "learning" or a useful "challenge". It's just an artificial barrier, like being willing to grind in an MMORPG... and it gives you just about as much generally useful skill. CW isn't even the best way to get through with a weak signal on a noisy channel any more. It's a relic.

If you want a challenge, why not make people demonstrate some real knowledge of electronics (not just soldering together kits), antennas, propagation, coding theory, or whatever? There's important and generally useful knowledge involved in radio, but Morse code isn't it. I've never had a ham license, but the sample tests I've seen have been very light on actual radio engineering. The lower classes have essentially none, and the higher classes have less than they might have. And they're all multiple choice. Let's license people who really understand how their equipment works, can create new designs, can solve real problems. That's a more meaningful barrier... and a lot more fulfilling thing to learn than decoding beeps.

Re:Morse Code Should be a Recquirement Still (2, Insightful)

PowerVegetable (725053) | about 4 years ago | (#31753990)

Certainly people are still free to learn Morse. I would support an additional certification along the lines of "I'm also Morse code proficient."

But requiring people to learn Morse in order to get into ham radio just provides an unnecessary barrier-to-entry. The quickest way to kill newcomer interest in any hobby is to make it clear that the insiders don't care about or even resent newcomers. If a kid gets the impression that ham is just a bunch of old-timers reliving their glory days and bitching about how they just let anyone in here these days, they'll move right on by.

And that'd be a shame. Ham, is just about the only infrastructure-less communications tech we have. And whether it's earthquakes or dictators, you can't always rely on infrastructure.

Re:Morse Code once saved my life (4, Interesting)

ei4anb (625481) | about 4 years ago | (#31754028)

I was asleep (off watch) at night on a small sailing yacht crossing the North Sea. The guy on watch woke me and asked what it means when a ship flashes a light three times. After asking him a few sleepy questions I figured out that the ship was flashing dot-dot-dash with a signaling lamp, the Morse letter "U" which, at sea, means "you are proceeding into danger". After going on deck and confirming that, I helped him tack the yacht and avoid passing between the ship and the oil drilling platform that it was towing. Morse is still used on HF and with Aldis lamps as a backup when more modern modes fail.

it's impossible for the 'net to goo DOWn......? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753584)

so, why would anybody need any other possible means of communication? or broadcast tv? or neighbors?

you call this weather?

never a better time to reconnect with your spirit @creators.oxygen.eternity.infinity.cosmos.stillhere/alive/manual

Radio Knights (1)

abbynormal brain (1637419) | about 4 years ago | (#31753612)

I know several Ham operators and most of them are First Responders of one sort or another, helping out here - helping out there. One went to assist after Katrina. I love the mentality too - when something wrong - they are looking to run towards the problem (and address it) rather than follow the crowd running away from it. Sure - you can call it a "nerdy" hobby but so is D&D. The difference is that a Ham is more useful than *20-sided dice in times of communication failures. So - if you know a Ham - tell them you appreciate what they represent ... event Radio Knights need the thanks while they sit and wait to help.

* D&D Warning: I don't know if they really use 20-sided dice and before you think of responding and correcting me - think about it - think about how stupid that move would be. If you still can't see it - go for it.

Re:Radio Knights (1)

oracleofbargth (16602) | about 4 years ago | (#31754164)

* D&D Warning: I don't know if they really use 20-sided dice and before you think of responding and correcting me - think about it - think about how stupid that move would be. If you still can't see it - go for it.

Yes, we do use 20-sided dice, in addition to many other sizes of polyhedral dice. Though you are correct, the Ham radio is much more useful. You could, for instance, use it to play a long distance D&D game....

Back in after 20 year break (5, Informative)

Paul Rose (771894) | about 4 years ago | (#31753640)

Why ham radio?
I'm back into Ham Radio after a 20 year lapse.
I got my license back when you had to travel to an FCC office for the test and pass a 5, 13, or 20 word per minute listening test for morse-code.
It is a great nerd hobby, especially if you get into the do-it-yourself aspect, digital modes, or especially software defined radio.
I can buy a SoftRock kit (google it) for less than $15 that does the initial downconversion and lets me use my soundcard+computer to visualize a large chunk of a single band, decode CW (morse), various digital modes and SSB voice.
WSPR mode allows you to put your computer to work sending and decoding ultra low power (milliwatts) + ultra low bandwidth (seconds per bit) to communicate around the world on battery power.
Ham Radio definitely took a hit from the internet and cellphones providing cheap and easy worldwide communications. Removing the morse code proficiency requirement and volunteer examimations has helped bring it back somewhat (I never minded the morse part, but it was a stumbling block for some who where in all other respects a perfect fit for the hobby).
If I was just interested in communicationI probably would not have come back to the hobby, but the nerd part is just too fun.
I'm currently using a cheap Direct Digital Synthesis chip (google DDS) interfaced with an Atmel microcontroller (google Arduino) as the basis of a do-it-yourself low power transceiver for digital modes.
Nerd heaven...
73 - Paul - K0EET

In these times of Internet (1)

Colourspace (563895) | about 4 years ago | (#31753686)

castration, DRM, the british (hi there!) DEB, net neutrality, smartphone bandwidth redux.... Is HAM radio the new internet?

HAM used to be -- (3, Interesting)

dwiget001 (1073738) | about 4 years ago | (#31753708)

-- what geeks of old were into, as far as building radio equipment, upgrading it, etc. before computers came to the fore.

It's popularity, IMHO, can be explained by it being sort of unique in today's computer age. Additionally, long time radio talk show host, Art Bell, is and has been a long time avid fan and operator. Many of the people that listened to his show "Coast to Coast AM" (he is mostly retired now) were and are HAMs as well. His show lives on with others hosting, George Noory (most of the time) plus Ian Punnett and George Knapp. Art occasionally still hosts a Sunday show, when there is a fifth Sunday in a month. And, from recent listenting, Art is still active as a HAM.

The show, I believe, is the most popular late night radio show of all time, currently with over 500 U.S. affiliates.

SDR is the future of the hobby (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753714)

What helped me personally to get back into this hobby after a long break is the proliferation of SDR (Software Defined Radio). You can buy a $60 kit, assemble a decent RF front-end and attach it to your laptop (and a good antenna, which is the hard part). Or buy a nice SDR receiver from RFSystems or FlexRadio for around $500. Free (both closed and open source) software is available.
Google for Softrock40 of SDR-IQ or WebSDR for a start.
Now you can monitor shortwave communications with capabilities that just a few years ago were only available to professionals in three-letter agencies. I know this is not ham radio (strictly speaking), but isn't this geek's heaven?

Meh (1)

Itninja (937614) | about 4 years ago | (#31753752)

Once the Morse code requirement was dumped, the sex appeal of being a HAM operator greatly diminished IMO. Kind of like the new rules for Scrabble. Anymore it seems like 'introducing to a new generation' = 'dumbing it down'

non-traditional communcations medium (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 4 years ago | (#31753854)

Sure its monitored just like all the other stuff, but its a way to communicate around the traditional government-controlled channels.

personally, I wouldn't go out and get a big fancy certificate, why not just tell the government 'please track me?'

hot tubes... (1)

mirix (1649853) | about 4 years ago | (#31753858)

Nothing like a rig full of tubes cookin' away. Not to mention the stuff will still work post apocalypse.

Man I need to get an old mechanical TTY while I'm at it.

Not to mention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31753870)

[...] you'll be one of the thousands of ham volunteers who provided the only communications in/out of Haiti for weeks following the quake, not to mention all of the tactical comms the country had for nearly a month.

You forgot to mention the exciting possibility of getting shot at while you attempt to do it!

The Internet and Cell Phones probably help Ham (2, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 4 years ago | (#31753884)

Both got people into communication more, in more places, and with folks who they didn't know. People became more interested in new (or old!) technologies that they could fiddle around with.

Ham radio? No carrier contract? No monthly flat rate? Can choose whatever equipment you want, not whatever cell phone model that your carrier shoves in your face?

Where's the catch?

I'll bet that the Telcom Titans really feel like Ham has stuck a weed up their asses. "Curses, those damn meddling kids! Communicating through the airwaves, without us being able to charge them for it!"

Ham Radio + GPS = Fun! (4, Interesting)

Falc0n (618777) | about 4 years ago | (#31753944)

My 4x4 group (hot4x4.ca) uses VHF almost exclusively due to its reach above and beyond CB. Cell phones usually don't work where we travel either. Depending on the terrain, we can reach over 75kms from each other on just the 2m band w/o a repeater. This only requires a technician (basic) license as well.
Add in the APRS + Garmin GPS, and your rig turns into a mobile GPS transmitter. We then can track each other, which makes it really easy to find each other. APRS also allows us to send text messages via a p2p network of Ham Radios. Example: we had guys in Reno who we needed to contact because we broke a part on the Rubicon. Couldn't reach them via radio, but with APRS, our txt msgs could be relayed.
None of this requires anything but the first class license. Its an awesome hobby and there is a lot you can do with it, in addition to Geek cred and ecomm or search/rescue.

What also seems entirely forgotten... (1)

carlhaagen (1021273) | about 4 years ago | (#31753966)

...by the author of the article is that LF/MF/HF radio is used on boats. There isn't a yacht, small or large, on the planet, not equipped with at least a VHF radio - and LF/HF as well for those going far out on the sea. That's right, radio communication is the primary means on the seas.

Blogs can be wrong??? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 4 years ago | (#31754006)

> ...blogs listed ham radio alongside 35 mm film and VHS tape as technologies
> slated to disappear.

But blogs have never been wrong about anything else!

> Getting rid of the Morse Code requirement... ...was a mistake.

Not Quite 60% (2, Informative)

TooMad (967091) | about 4 years ago | (#31754040)

In 1981 the population in the US was 229,465,714. In 2009 it was 305,529,237. With 437,500 Ham Operators in 1981 that meant 0.191% of the population were licensed operators. In 2009 700,000 meant 0.229% of the population were licensed. It would be more accurate to say that the gain is closer to 20% than 60%. But in the iStuff age for something that been around 100+ years a gain of 20% isn't bad at all.

You need a different mind-set now (4, Insightful)

Gavin Scott (15916) | about 4 years ago | (#31754062)

Up until the 80s, ham radio was about doing something that there was no other way to do. Talk to people around the world "for free", without depending on any one else (like the phone company) to make it possible. It really was a magical thing.

But then the internet came along and ham radio started to die because the internet completely replaced a major part of what made ham radio cool. And so for the last 20 years or so ham radio has been in a sort of limbo and decline due to the rise of computers and the internet.

But now we're entering a new era, one where "well, duh, of course I could just twitter to people around the world, but communicating via radio is actually more fun". It's now interesting because it's sort of an antique rather than in spite of it.

There's a progression where things go from "valuable" to "junk" to "collectible". The trick is to avoid throwing them away during the "junk" phase, because eventually they get old enough that they become interesting again.


Computers aren't interesting anymore. (2, Interesting)

IGnatius T Foobar (4328) | about 4 years ago | (#31754156)

There are a lot of tech hobbies that disappeared when personal computers arrived on the scene. That's a problem that's been around for some 20 years now.

But we're now at the point where computers are so ubiquitous, so commoditized, so commonplace ... that for many people they have become downright boring.

So it's no surprise that there could be a resurgence of interest in other tech hobbies. Ham radio, building simple electronic devices from discrete components, etc.

And most of them probably have licenses only... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31754166)

And most of them probably have licenses only to run high power wifi.
Ham radio is an archaic, outmoded analog waste of space that needs to die by the fastest possible means.
The fact that important civil defense projects have to play second fiddle to a bunch of overweight retired Republicans with overgrown CBs is intolerable.
Ham radio needs to die and die yesterday.

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