The Amateur Amateur: My Amateur Radio Journey

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
May 2021

Tests in back yard
Field tests (in my back yard)
Alinco opened for TNC installation
Opening a transceiver to install a part
Trying to use foil as a ground plane
Another failed experiment (don't ask)
shack from years ago
My shack before it got REALLY messy

While I was contemplating what to write this month I came up with the idea of describing my journey through Amateur Radio Land and where that has led me. That, however, has basically been what this column has always been about, so I figured perhaps a quick synopsis would be in order. But if there is one thing most everyone knows about me, it's that I am totally incapable of giving a quick synopsis of anything. I have to start at the very beginning and give all of the background information, with numerous relevant and many irrelevant sidetracks. Nevertheless, here is the list that I started to build for just such a synopsis:

  • I was a police scanner enthusiast first, which led me into Amateur Radio.

  • I became interested in the local Skywarn and RACES groups.

  • Initially, I only used Amateur Radio to chat car-to-car with my wife, who had also gotten her ham ticket.

  • I got into CW briefly, but only so that I could upgrade my license.

  • I started writing The Amateur Amateur for the local police scanner newsletter, mainly to stir up interest in the hobby.

  • My column was picked up by a Canadian Amateur Radio magazine called On the Air, which unfortunately only published for one short year.

  • The American Radio Relay League was looking for people to write columns for its website. The news editor liked my submission and The Amateur Amateur was published there for several years.

  • My wife got into kit-building for a short while, but gave it up after a few failures.

  • The news editor position at the ARRL changed hands a few times, and the third one didn't like The Amateur Amateur (nor most of the other columns, either). We all got dropped. That's when I started this website,

  • My focus started drifting more and more toward emergency communications. About that time the ARRL came up with its first three online courses: EC-001, EC-002, and EC-003 (three levels dedicated to emergency communications). I took all three courses and was now irrevocably set on that path.

  • I was on a Volunteer Examiner team for a while, two in fact (ARRL and W5YI). I may still be for all I know.

  • One of the emergency communications courses said to send a message to my state's ARRL Section Manager. I didn't know how to do that except via HF radio, so I bought one.

  • Having a HF transceiver in my shack led into playing around with digital modes.

  • Digital modes led into packet radio, which I still use in a couple of different forms.

  • The lack of activity and organizational structure within the local RACES team led me to try the local ARES team. It folded almost immediately (it wasn't my fault, I swear!) but it soon came back in the form of the current team.

  • ARES led me into net control, then net management, leadership roles, planning and writing documents, training, publicity and public relations, field operations, learning massive amounts about website design and maintenance, exercise development and execution, working with served agencies, and endless other skills. I'd say the most important one was learning when to keep my mouth shut.

  • Due to my various functions, if you called me on Field Day, I think I might have been worth five points.

There is more, naturally. That was just my starter list. I've already written in depth about some of these topics (and will probably do so again), and I may expand on some of the others.

Please, however, do not get the idea that this is a bragging list. Far from it. Just about everything here involved painful mistakes, bruised egos, and several restarts. In particular, you should know that -

  • I once incorrectly connected my favorite voltmeter to a power source and it started to smoke. Somehow it survived, but later that day I dropped it and it broke.

  • I have become an expert at mounting antennas that don't work on the roof of my house.

  • I got confused while connecting radios to their proper antennas and accidentally connected two transceivers to each other. I kept transmitting on both, and couldn't figure out why I never got any responses. It's amazing that neither radio burned up.

  • While trying to get APRS working at the St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center, I misconfigured the Terminal Node Controller and blew out the USB ports on the computer. Fortunately, it was ours, not the County's.

  • By not following proper wiring procedures, I managed to set my car on fire.

  • By not putting guy wires on a 28 foot tall heavy mast, I managed to tear a hole in my roof and scare the heck out of my neighbor, whose yard it all landed in.

Therefore, even though I have had a lot of fun over the years and have learned a great deal, I still maintain that I am truly an amateur Amateur Radio operator.

Stay tuned for more (mis)adventures.

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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