Oct 14, 2013

A few radio thoughts

Now that I've had a few hours sleep (seriously - I got up at 4pm on Friday, worked overnight, took my test at 9am, and wasn't in bed until almost noon Saturday, then up again at 5pm for work stuff...), a few more thoughts.

The tests weren't hard at all. The test material is publicly available, so it's entirely possible to cram and regurgitate. That's roughly what I did, and I'm OK with that. The learning process sent me on a few wiki-wanders as I tried to figure out things like NVIS and Beverage antennas, a bit of electrical engineering, MOSFET, and so forth. There are a lot of folks that won't bother those wiki-wanders, and that's OK too.

The Extra exam definitely got into the hard-science side of radio - antenna radiation patterns, much more complex circuit diagrams, etc. Way over my head for the moment, but I'll pick it up. I'm hoping to have Extra nailed by the end of the year.

Back to the testing... it was at a public library about an hour from the house. The test team was four guys well into retirement. I think one other guy took the Tech exam, and there may have been a few others - I think the exam coordinator said there were four scheduled. I was out of it and didn't look around.

The examiners were a chatty bunch, which was moderately distracting. I found myself reading and re-reading questions a few times as key words in their conversation infiltrated my bubble.

I finished my exams, got my scores and CSCE ("you dun passed" paper), and an attaboy from the examiner. He noted that it's, "Much easier now, since they don't have the code test anymore. Back when I tested, Extra had a 20-wpm [Morse code] test, but I was a CW operator for the Navy so that was nothing." That was the first real-world taste of Ham Snobbery I've gotten.

Tonight in some down time I've done some reading on the demographics of hams. It's mostly anecdotal, but the popular wisdom is that many operators don't pick up a license until they're in their 40s and beyond. I'd believe it. Ham is not necessarily a cheap hobby to get into. Sure, a 2m set can be had for under $200, and with IRLP that'll reach most anywhere - but a good 10m (or longer wavelength) HF rig will easily run over a thousand dollars. Plus space for an antenna, etc... can it be done in an apartment? Sure. Many do. But having the space and financial wherewithal to do Serious Ham means it tends to be a Real Adult thing... or even more common, a Retired Adult thing.

... And then I managed to find this article discussing the fairly static numbers (per-capita-wise) of operators. And lo, the FIRST comment on the page:

I think (opinion, not statistics) that about a third of [new Tech licenses] would be the EmComm Whackers that get tech licenses so they can use ham radio in their jobs. They don't progress to an HF license because all they care about is Saving The World with minimal investment in the hobby.  
Another third are the CBers who get their Techs so they can use their modded CBs on 10 & 12 meters but don't want to invest anything else in the hobby. They're just sitting around and waiting for the sunspots to come back so they can shoot skip on their "extree channels" and in the meantime are still on CB Hamsexy.com.  
The rest are just the usual ones who once they get their license have no interste in ever getting on the air. Those will all go away in about 7 to 10 years. In the meantime they spend their days on Hamsexy or EHam under anonymous logins.
Ouch. The next comment sums up my opinion nicely:
Sometimes I am surprised there is any growth at all in amateur radio. 
With attitudes like the preceding, it should surprise you. Grumbling about the no-code testing, bashing people who get a license because it's a job requirement, or who want to use radios differently from you... This attitude is the Fudd of radio. ("Those Cowboy shooters just want to play dress-up and pretend." "Those Modern Warfare kids don't know what a real rifle is." "Who needs more than a pump gun for anything?" "I'll never carry a plastic pistol.")

(I should note that the comments on that article are long and troll-filled, and come down on both sides of the fence.)

Here's my short piece of advice to long-time hams out there:
If you want to grow ham as a hobby, talking down to the new operators is not likely to help your cause. Belittling the new operator for buying a cheap Chinese portable without all the bells and whistles is not going to encourage him... It's going to get him to throw up his hands in frustration and stick the radio on a closet shelf and forget about it. Teaching him how to get the most from that portable until he can afford something nicer will take the hobby a long ways down the "growth" path, instead of slow death by attrition.

Indeed, I followed the herd in some regards and ordered a Baofeng UV-5R handi-talkie from Amazon. It's a $35 2m/70cm portable, with a fairly small memory bank and slow scan speed... but it's cheap, functional, and did I mention cheap? I added a programming cable for eight bucks, and now have all the local repeaters available in a radio the size of two decks of cards. More on that at a later date...


Laura said...

you need to tag your ham stuff. i have the books and just need to get through them, and you talking about it is going to kick me in the pants to get it done.

ZerCool said...

Laura: consider it done. I'll *try* to remember tagging future posts as well.

Old NFO said...

Yep, things don't change just because you change communities... Just sayin...

ZerCool said...

So true, NFO. Just a dash of cold reality on my idealistic hopes. :-)

Laura said...

much appreciated, sir. :)