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Ham Radio Still Growing In the iStuff Age 368

Posted by kdawson
from the dah-dah-dit-dit-dit dept.
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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Ham Radio Still Growing In the iStuff Age

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  • FP (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ..de KB0HAW

    • KB0HAW de KJ6BSO k
  • Unique ID (Score:3, Funny)

    by CompressedAir (682597) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:24PM (#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?"

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:24PM (#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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by lemur3 (997863)

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

    • For one thing... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bananatree3 (872975) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:32PM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bananatree3 (872975) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:46PM (#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.

      • 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.

        • by Sperbels (1008585)

          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.

        • 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!

        • by hardaker (32597)
          You need to start by getting a license and afterwards equipment. You're welcome to read my short (ie, not overwhelming) web page on the subject: http://www.ws6z.com/becomeaham.html [ws6z.com]
      • 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...

      • And then there's QRP (Score:5, Informative)

        by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @06:35PM (#31755936) Homepage Journal

        For instance: [wikipedia.org]

        Building a rig that fits into an Altoids tin [al7fs.us]. talking around the world on 5 watts power, for for a real challenge, just one watt.

        This pretty much requires Morse Code, but if you can key out enough to tell people you just picked this up and are learning code on the fly, you will get postcards from all over the world from people who also communicated with you using barely enough power to give you a mild tingle. Morse Code is essential because you can make out chirps and tones from the static, where voice would just be a waste of time. The way the FCC is letting things go, I would not be surprised if they let you use a keyboard [tripod.com] and forget paddling entirely.

        Hey, simple codes were good enough for Pioneer, Mariner, etc. That's geek cred - talking around the world with less power than you would need to read the postcard with...

        I got my First Class for a job fixing CB radios, and got hooked a little bit back when code was required. I hated code. Helped a college FM station stay on the air for a little while. Being able to solder well got me into several circles, and I was building Heathkit rigs for people for a little while, cause they liked the perfect joints and wire ties I learned in the Air Force, when whire ties were waxed cord. I still think they are pretty, and I did a cabling job with about 200 drops once all in flat nylon lace, just to show the guys how nice exposed cabling could look. But that was then. Now there are so many great kits out there, Amazing. I really ought to get back into it. Oh yeah, I let my ticket lapse when I got sidetracked by soccer and girls. Feh.

    • There's a few... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:33PM (#31753570) Homepage
      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.
    • One decent use is internet over ham Radio. Most especially if you're at sea.
    • by Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:34PM (#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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by acrobg (1175095)
      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
    • by zentec (204030) * <zentec&gmail,com> on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:37PM (#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.

      • by hduff (570443) <hoytduff&gmail,com> on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:35PM (#31754442) Homepage Journal

        I always liked modifying radios to do things they were never intended to do, like put a CB radio on 10M FM. Or use a 1500' end-fed longwire antenna on 40M to check into ECARS using 10W PEP and having net control accuse me of using illegal power. And helping a friend set up and use a 5kW surplus government transmitter on MARS. Or help another friend assemble a complete set (DC to daylight) of NSA/CIA/FBI multi-mode receivers that weren't supposed to exist (the FBI bought them back from us). Almost got to use an AM broadcast antenna during its off-air time for 160M. Convert old Motorola State Police radios to 6M FM. Send slow-scan TV and RTTY all over the world. Talk to interesting people. Just fun stuff.
        73,
        KB4OQ

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:39PM (#31753650) Homepage

      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.

    • 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.
    • 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

    • by Dan Ost (415913)

      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.

    • by viridari (1138635) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:56PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bsandersen (835481)
      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 er
      • The resurgence of American amateur radio equipment companies is one of the great untold stories recently. I mean, one still has Japanese industry stalwarts Icom [icomamerica.com] and Kenwood [kenwoodusa.com], who led the Japanese domination of the industry in the 1970s, but even Yaesu [yaesu.com] was bought by Motorola [arrl.org] a few years back. The real news, though, is the new, innovative startups, doing state-of-the-art, truly wonderful designs, with simultaneous high performance, high quality, and reasonable prices. Companies like Elecraft [elecraft.com] and software-de

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      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 ca

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642)

      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 h

    • >>>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 tod

    • 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 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by COMON$ (806135) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:24PM (#31753422) Journal
    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.
    • by Andy Dodd (701)

      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.)

      N2YPH

      Also, the summary makes a comment about removi

  • Ham Radio (Score:2, Redundant)

    Ham radio ftw!

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

    • by Coren22 (1625475)

      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.

      • oh. I stand corrected. Onward toward licensing!

      • by Urza9814 (883915)

        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.

  • 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!

    • by Dan Ost (415913)

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by speedlaw (878924)
        there are no legal CB repeaters. Most folks who want more from CB get an amp and some go for frequencies outside the CB range. Here in NY, below channel 1 is illegal trucker chats, and spanish. Above 40, there are folks using Sideband transmission and shooting skip. It's all really toy compared to even basic ham equipment. Don't get me started on the crappy signals they send out, either.....
  • 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.
    • 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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      So did she say yes when you asked her out?
  • by lemur3 (997863) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:27PM (#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.

  • by kj4gxu (1602865) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:29PM (#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.
  • 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.

  • AX.25 is looking better and better... At least until Sandvine builds AX.25 support into their next product generation...
  • by puto (533470) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:33PM (#31753568) Homepage
    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.
    • by thephydes (727739) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:42PM (#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?
    • by vlm (69642)

      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 digit

    • by Hizonner (38491)

      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

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      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 h

    • by ei4anb (625481) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:09PM (#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.
  • by Paul Rose (771894) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:37PM (#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
  • castration, DRM, the british (hi there!) DEB, net neutrality, smartphone bandwidth redux.... Is HAM radio the new internet?
  • HAM used to be -- (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dwiget001 (1073738) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:44PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • by Itninja (937614)
    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'
  • Coolness factor (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bezking (1274298)
    Let's not forget about how darn cool a ham transceiver on your belt will make you look... Anybody who would rather carry an iPhone instead of one of these [project25.us] obviously does not care about being cool.
  • 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.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @03:56PM (#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!"

  • by Falc0n (618777) <japerry@j[ ]micr ... m ['ade' in gap]> on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:02PM (#31753944) Homepage
    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.
  • > ...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% (Score:2, Informative)

    by TooMad (967091)
    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.
  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:11PM (#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.

    G.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by N7DR (536428)

      What's particularly interesting to me about this is that many people predicted the death of CW (i.e., the use of Morse code) when the requirement to learn it was taken away from the license exams in most countries... and yet in the long-distance amateur radio contests we are finding that the use of Morse Code is quite clearly and consistently rising.

      There are technical reasons why CW is superior to voice transmissions for long-distance communications, but I think a lot of us thought that the relative diffic

  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:17PM (#31754156) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @04:18PM (#31754174)

    Ham radio operators recently stepped in to assist in Lincoln, NE after a failure of Windstream's 911 service [journalstar.com].

  • Handy study apps (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm studying right now for my Technician license. I plan on taking the exam next week. There's a great little app on the android market that has helped a lot called "Ham Radio Study". I'm interested in packet radio and D-STAR [wikipedia.org]. I thought it was interesting that if your view a webpage over ham radio via a D-STAR gateway, it can't have third party ads, since that's a commercial activity. The user needs to be careful what they pull from the internet across d-star. I wonder if this could end up spawning an 'ama

  • Don't fall for the ham scam! [amazon.com]

    BEWARE .... radio is *not* made of Ham, but rather made of plastic.

    This review is from: Galaxy DX2517 10 Meter Base Ham Radio

    I had wanted to get a radio made of ham for an anniversary present, but unfortunately I didn't read the product description properly. This also isn't actually 10 meters big, I was hoping for an approx. 30 foot in circumference radio made of ham. It's much smaller than that and fits on a small desk.

  • by speedlaw (878924) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @07:31PM (#31756384) Homepage
    Ham radio has gotten me into running Rallies. Turns out that International Rally New York needs hams to help stage the event. Fellow Rallyists will understand that Car 0 is a great ride, and ham radio got me there. Talk to a lot of folks who have interesting jobs and lives in the morning on 2 meters (VHF like your local PD and Fire). Without even trying hard, have worked most of Europe and much of South America. This with a modest 100 watt HF radio and a wire in the back yard. No huge amps, no tower, no beam. Makes Wifi real easy....just really, really short waves. Saw someone in Brooklyn today, who had a home made Yagi antenna. Was impressed till I figured out he was just using it to steal bandwidth from a nearby building. Unlike the digital world, ham radio does not have DRM, a DMCA, or any of the other crap that interferes with a hobbyist/hacker. OK, some of the individual hams are funny in a pathetic sort of way, but that's no different than a lot of the guys still stuck in mom's basement. Ham radio gives me the ability to run a scanner in my car, have full communications on VHF with a huge network of repeaters, and an understanding of RF that translates into any other aspect of TV, radio, wifi, etc. I'm sure you all have a dual band, spread spectrum, frequency hopping full duplex radio...er, cell phone.
  • by maxrate (886773) on Tuesday April 06, 2010 @08:01PM (#31756584)
    Im relatively young, and I've had a license for about 10 years now. I've noticed a decline of activity certainly on the repeaters and APRS traffic. Many of the HAM/Amateur resources have declined on the net as well. I understand that HAM is not all about 2m repeaters/FM voice - but that is the basic internet eqv of a "ping". For instance, ATV (amateur TV) should be SO easy to get into, but I have never experienced a downlink from anyone ever broadcasting a signal, and it's ridiculously simply for anyone to receive an ATV broadcast using an old TV set. I mean, sending a TV signal thru the air, how cool would that be? Yes, there are a lot of experimental potential of the bands, but few are doing anything with it.

    I am not trying to be a snarky person - but this is my observation. I'm certain there are the odd folks spread across doing a few cool things, but not enough of them to really notice.

    Other problem is there are a lot of 'uncool' old farts on the air. I don't mean anyone who happens to be well seasoned or older, I mean folks who are downright nasty and don't encourage the young to experiment. They have this elitest attitute which keeps people uninterested in participating - or when people are 'rag chewing' it's always incredibly boring. Nothing of interest, if you start you own conversation you inevitably get someone on the air breaking in, giving you a hard time about whatever they can think of.

    I love the idea of HAM radio, and I really hope the FCC doesn't get any ideas to release airspace for commercial interest, but we need more innovation and more lax attitudes about protocol to keep things social and to keep things growing.

    There are just so many useful, fun and interesting things that can be done with the spectrum, and the amateur community has had years to work on things, but nothing materializes. Reminds me of open source projects that get abondoned. Very sad. Internet definately was a major blow to HAM radio. I remember witnessing (didn't have the license then) accessing HAM BBS's over the airwaves at 9600 baud - was so cool. I eventually got the license and there was only one reachable HAM BBS and it was about 80 kms away - then it went off the air forever.

    By the way, I just purchased an ICOM IC-7000 - awesome radio, just wish a TNC was built into it!

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