When the topic of ham radio comes up with normal people (that is, non-hams), I usually get asked the question “Who Do You Talk To?” I always come up with some vague and lame answer like “people all over the world” that gets me by.
I finally figured out what the problem is: amateur radio is not for talking to people. At least not for me. If you just want to talk to someone, there are much better ways to do it, such as the telephone…or Skype. There was a time long, long ago when one of the hooks for ham radio was “you can talk to a family member” when telephone service was not available or too expensive. Those days are gone. Back in the 1970′s and 1980′s, the hook was often “make mobile phone calls via the repeater autopatch.” That was cool stuff that mere mortals could not do. With everyone and their dog now having a mobile phone, those days are gone, too.
So where does that leave us? Back where we started: the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio is to have fun messing around with radios. Of course, this takes many different forms: public service, emergency communications, chasing DX, chasing counties, competing in contests, building kits, running QRP…to name just a few.
Now you will hear actual conversations on the ham bands but if you listen closely they usually have a radio underpinning to them. Hams are always talking about their equipment, signal strength, why their antenna is so great, why their antenna fell down, etc. It is kind of like making a telephone call where you talk about the quality of the phone line, the type of telephone being used and potential improvements to your home phone system.
Why am I writing about this? When helping new radio amateurs get started, I often see them struggling to find their way. Sometimes they’ll say something like “I can’t find anyone to talk to” because their local repeaters and simplex frequencies are just too quiet. My suggestion is to recognize that “amateur radio is not for talking” and find a purpose that works for you. Focus on that radio activity you have passion for and start doing it. Talk to hams in your area to find out about what they are doing. Attend a radio club meeting to learn about radio fun in your area. Check the ARRL web site (http://www.arrl.org) for ideas. Contact your local ARES (http://www.arrl.org/ares) or RACES group for public service opportunities in your area. There are so many different ways to enjoy ham radio, so just latch onto one that works for you.
The next thing you know, you’ll be talking to plenty of radio amateurs.
73, Bob KØNR