Why Ham Radio?

by Ken on June 6, 2010

Some folks ask why would anyone have an interest in Amateur Radio. Our world is so different today with Facebook, Twitter, Email, Websites, Skype, etc., etc.,etc. The world grows smaller each day as we download our Itunes, text message our friends on the Iphone and carry the internet, essentially, in our pockets.

In the early days, ham radio was a unique and almost the only way to contact folks in other countries, or in the car, or on the boat and with the expense of long distant calls it was a relatively good way to get a communication across large distances. While in Greece I found it the only way, in the early 70’s, to call home (in the US) to let my mom know I was still alive.

Yet today, with the explosion of these technologies, the amateur radio world remains. It is actually, by statistic, growing. Folks are getting into the hobby.


Because it is different than the others. I use each of the above mentioned technologies avidly. I appreciate all of them. But not one can give you the same thrill and enjoyment as a ham radio contact (called QSO’s). Twitter is a 140 character snapshot. A phone contact occurs when you dial the number of one that you know. Facebook is a collection of performances by people to be seen and commented upon. Email is a one way flow for which one hopes to get an answer. Each important – but different than ham.

Last night I was killing a bit of time. Kimberly is gone for a few days and the house was just a bit quiet. So I fired up the ham radio. I first spoke (briefly) to a guy in Buenos Aires, another in Mexico City and one in Italy. Okay – cool. But these were just quick contacts to make sure the rig was putting out. Then I decided to find an open frequency and announce that I was there and ready to talk. We do this, in Ham land, by saying “CQ” over and over again (repeating) and then our call sign. The interesting thing is that there are 1000’s and 1000’s of ham operators out there just looking for someone to talk to. So they scan the dials – and they stumble upon your announcement. They call you back.

Now this is unique to any other medium. How many other media exist where there are folks out there who just want to talk. These are folks with at least one common interest (ham radio) but likely are amazingly diverse and talented individuals in other fields as well. I find this to be the rule.

Last night the first guy who answered me was a fellow in Redding California. We chatted for a while about his cabin in Yosemite and a bit about what I do. After that a guy, just south of the first, near Sacremento, chimed in for a QSO. He turned out to be a guy who just retired as a college president (two weeks ago) and was adjusting to his new life. We spoke about his spearheading the moving of this college to a new 160 acre campus which they purchased, setting up and growing the number of students. We spoke of the ins and out of retirement and his plans and dreams. As we closed up a guy from Fargo, North Dakota chimed in. He is a farmer who also happens to be a pilot. We spoke about his crops and whether he can make money as a small farmer. We spoke of several flights he took in sub zero conditions – some real adventures and setting up a temporary ham station at Mount Rushmore. Then a guy from St. Paul calls me – after the Fargo guy and I are done. This guy is an engineer, like me, and and also built a rubber-band powered airplane that flew 3 miles. We speak of some engineering topics (computer simulations of structural problems), of our antennas and rigs (our radios) and speak about flying, and life, in general. Afterwards, I am ready to pull the plug, a fellow chimes in from Texas. “Hey, I am a retired Airline Pilot – never smart enough to be an engineer”. So that started us on a long discussion of flying 737’s, catching marlin, whether flying small stuff like I fly is fun or not – my son’s venture into airline flying and his views of the industry – his stories about the kids coming up to him in his uniform at the airports and his enjoyment of that. He also contacted me after to send me data on a little business that he has.

I have only hit the highlights – but each QSO was a gem to itself. These were, and are, amazingly interesting people who are skilled in many areas of life – including, of course, ham radio. I know of no better way to sit in your home and meet new and festinating folks. One guy told me of a contact he made to a fellow at the South Pole. They talked for some time – the fellow was down there on a mission. You might snag a person on a mountain top, or in the jungle in a tent, or on a trail.

Many enjoy ham radio just to make contacts and get that rare station into their logbooks. That is not my interest. I, frankly, do not have the equipment nor the time to search for those types of contacts – or to do the countless contests that are out there. For me, is is just the nice QSO’s where we “rag chew”.

As a pilot I look forward to our club meetings to get together with the folks of common interest. That is about once per month. In ham, one can do it whenever he or she wishes.

So that is “why ham radio/’ – at least for me. It is the best “chat room” out there as far as I am concerned.

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