Kill amateur radio. Put it out of its misery once and for all.

As a lot of you out there know, I’m a ham radio operator. It’s a passing fancy of mine that goes very well with the general modus operandi of “tinkerer”: it’s allegedly a hobby about building and experimenting with radio technologies.

A whole lot of people (most of whom have nothing to do with the hobby of amateur radio as defined by regulatory bodies) have discovered that the Raspberry Pi can do a great job of generating a FM signal suitable for basically making a “pirate radio throwie“: a disposable device that generates a modest signal that can be heard on FM radios within a short radius.

“Huzzah!” I say to these experimenters and their toys. I salute any effort to promote the radio arts.. and I would love to take every one under my wing and show them how with a few simple extra parts (a low-pass filter and a transistor or two) they can make their signal slightly stronger.. and a whole lot cleaner for everyone on the radio dial.

So I recently get the crazy idea that, since this is in essence a 100% “software defined radio” it should be trivial to rework the “pifm” software into doing some bidding for me as an APRS device. If a wideband FM stereo signal can be generated, it’s just a matter of tweaking the bandwidth down to “narrowband” FM. I would as a matter of course add aforementioned “filtering” before I ever put this thing in amateur radio usage… but fundamentally it seems to me to be a logical conclusion, a fun weekend project, and even more importantly something to dust off the old brain cells and improve my skills as a radio geek.

God help me for the responses I’ve been getting on Reddit for *gasp* even considering it and vocalizing my intentions (and also wondering if I was reinventing the wheel).

Out came the Old Men of Henry Radio types, blasting me for even suggesting it. “Go buy a $20 transmitter that pretends it’s a real radio,” one response said.

So with that tone and attitude I simply have come to the conclusion that I can no longer support amateur radio as a hobby, and further, it needs to be killed. “Ham radio operators” are killing inventive ideas actively, and discouraging experimentation? What crazy wacko world do I live in where the very place we’re supposed to be innovative and cutting edge is the place I’m discouraged from even thinking about something that is expanding our knowledge of how to put a signal on the air.

So, since that’s the attitude of most hams nowadays, I can no longer support this hobby in any shape or form. And to that end, I’m even going to encourage its destruction. The next time there’s a Notice regarding the ham spectrum, my response to the FCC is going to be:

[ham] radio no longer serves the general good and has become nothing more than a waste of spectrum: mostly because the denizens of the spectrum today no longer encourage active experimentation and expanding of the radio art and instead discourage experiments and are hostile to young minds wanting to explore.

It’s time for these old men to turn off their old radios, hang up their antique microphones, and get out of the way of progress.

Ham radio…

There was a story on Slashdot about selling off a chunk of radio spectrum that amateur radio uses as “secondary users”. The usual arguments back and forth were had, including somebody trotting out the old standby of ham radio will save us when all else fails!~!.

Aside from the fact that even I, somebody who’s a staunch advocate of amateur radio as a technical playground and resilient backup communications plan, don’t 100% agree with that perspective, it ignores the simple fact that ham radio as a hobby is dying with the generation of men and women who took up the hobby in the Baby Boomer generation.

My comment:

Increasingly, there aren’t enough ham radio operators in some areas to really depend upon when the fit hits the shan.

I’ve seen it in my own community here in Oregon. The RACES/ARES group that helps out at our Renaissance Faire with emergency comms now does not have enough healthy bodies to man a station 24 hours a day for three days. And you can’t get enough young people interested: it’s worth noting that between myself and a handful of other young folk, there are more hams on the staff of this Faire than the emergency comms group has in its active membership (side note: I’d be a volunteer for this emergency comms group, but I live 80 miles away). But we’re too busy actually doing Faire things to have our hands on radios… we can barely keep up with our “day jobs” on site and the radio traffic relevant to our immediate Faire Guild.

The past few disasters locally have largely been worked by a handful of dedicated hams, many of them working to exhaustion. As these men (many of whom are in their 60s or older) age, their ability to man a radio for 16 hours a day is rapidly declining. Soon, there may not be enough active, well trained hams with ready-to-go equipment to respond.

If you are a tech geek and don’t have a license, get one. If you have a license and don’t have at least a “scram kit” with at least an HT and some basic tools for building antennas, making electroncis repairs, and a couple of good maps (plus all the “usual” recommended disaster supplies) you are part of the problem.

So, to that, I’d like to issue a challenge to the geek friends of mine who are out there. If you do not have a ham radio license but would like to get one, talk to me and I’ll help you anyway I can. If you are an inactive ham who doesn’t have a “scram kit” built, or you feel you lack the skills or know-how to use it, seek me out and we’ll put one together for you and teach you basic emergency techniques. If you are an active ham with an assembled “scram kit” but have never had the opportunity to use it, let’s talk about a sked, where we both take our field kits out somewhere and try to work each other.

These skills are valuable not only to each other, but to our greater community. The more we demonstrate our value by keeping our skills current the more likely we can keep the hobby relevant and interesting to the next generation of geeks, not to mention society at large. If we lose our relevance, no amount of donations to the ARRL Spectrum Defense Fund can help us.