Amateur radio is, above all, a hobby. Plain and simple. That’s what distinguishes commercial broadcasting and related activities from amateur radio!
Historically, ham radio operators have been portrayed as very eccentric, if not strange, characters. They operated from outdoor “shacks,” separating themselves from members of the household. That was then by design. Spark-gap transmitters generated high voltage that created “sparks” used to transmit strange sounds taken from telegraph operators: Morse Code.
These spark gap transmitters may be why movie and television producers in Hollywood often case hams in this “creepy” light. Remember the old show, The Munsters? The main character, Herman, a Frankenstein-like creature, was a ham radio operator! Moreover, in the television series The Outer Limits, a ham character was portrayed as deviant and dangerous.
Later, movies have portrayed amateur radio operators in a more positive light. The movie, Contact, for instance, portrayed the central character, played by the actress Jodie Foster, as a ham. In the movie Frequency, a father and son pair of hams communicated across time (the father had passed away) throughout the movie. But, even in this more recent positive light, it’s assumed that a ham operator in the neighborhood means towers with big antennas and interference on your television set!
All of this today just isn’t accurate, if it ever was. Most amateurs do NOT have towers with large “beam” antennas on top of them. Many hams have antennas made out of wire strung between trees or other objects and are hard to see, even for the ham who sometimes needs to make adjustments to them. There was a time before U.S. television went to cable and more recently to digital transmission that a couple of channels on the lower end (channels 2-6) could get interfered with during transmissions from nearby hams. However, these issues were usually corrected easily by adjustments made both on the non-ham’s TV setup as well as the ham’s. Keep in mind: a ham’s transmission is going to interfere with television in the amateur radio operator’s house first!
A surprise to most, many famous people are or were licensed amateurs. Arthur Godfrey, Walter Conkrite, Stu Cook of the rock group Credence Clearwater Revival, Joe Walsh of the Eagles, Art Bell, the radio talk show host, Ronnie Milsap, the country music artist, King Hussein of Jordan, Priscilla Presley, Marlon Brando, Patty Loveless, Chet Atkins, Barry Goldwater, Donnie Osmond, Katy Segal , and many, many more!
Today, amateur radio operators have the options of buy first-class ready-made equipment much like a nice stereo system. It can be inexpensive or as expensive as the ham can afford. But some hams choose to build equipment for their “shack”. (The “shacks” are now mostly in the main residence, apartment, mobile home, or automobile!). Hams operate both portably—taking some equipment with them on vacations, work trips, and so forth—and mobile in automobiles. In fact, may hams only station resides in the automobile.
To learn more about amateur radio, there are many sources. Yes, there is even a “dummies” book written by a prominent ham and is now in it’s second edition. But here are some suggestions:
1. Come to a CMSARA meeting and listen to what actual hams are doing. They will be very willing to continue contact with you, making helpful suggestions on how to learn more about ham radio.
2. Visit the ARRL.org website. It’s the central place for information on amateur radio today. Watch the brief video from the ARRL below about building things. If you like hunting or fishing and have wondered why those AM radio stations come in so well at night, then you’ll love amateur radio. We “hunt,” “fish,” for various radio signals using different types of equipment, depending on the signal. Plus, we can do it in doors, dodging the rain, cold, or heat! But we also get out in the rain, cold, and heat when we operate portably. We even “tie our own fishing flies” so to speak when we make our own antennas or other equipment.
3. Keep in mind: this hobby does NOT have to be expensive. One can get licensed as a Technician Class and buy a handheld transceiver for as little as $35! By communicating with area repeaters which have Echolink or IRLP, one can use this very inexpensive handheld to talk to hams around the globe.
4. No Morse Code is required! The first two exams are only 35 multiple-choice examinations with the third most advanced one being 50 questions. CMSARA holds training classes from time to time as requests are made.
5. Watch the 8-minute movie below on the magic of radio from CMSARA’s Youtube channel. The opening scenes are presented by a young woman who is a very active ham…when she is not designing her own clothing line!
Not sure about the “radio” but just like to “make stuff”? Just watch this:
Our national lobbying group, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), celebrates it’s centennial this year: