The Amateur Amateur: Discovering the Junkosphere

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
March 25, 2004

I was in my basement recently, contemplating the sad state of my ham shack. Radio-related odds and ends lay everywhere, including on the floor. My wife Nancy and I had made serious attempts to get it all under control, but to no avail. I kept installing shelves and benches, but they kept disappearing into the debris. I hauled a boxed workbench downstairs, assembled it, and placed it in my shack with the idea that I'd finally have a place to do things. I admired its pristine condition, its clean surface and vowed to keep it that way. A week later it was gone, and in its place was a heap.

Bench full of junk

What was this assortment of strange devices, and what did they do?

It was almost as if mysterious tidal forces had taken away my work spaces and had washed up piles of debris in their place. What was all this stuff? Had I really pulled handfuls of wiring out of something? What did all those odd pieces of plastic do? Why were there dozens of pill bottles, each containing a single, uniquely-threaded screw? Why did I have connectors that didn't plug into anything I owned?

What was that assortment of strange devices from MFJ, and what did they do? Why did I still have the owner's manual for a clock radio that had been thrown away 40 years ago? And why on Earth did I have so many tiny electronic components when I can't read the color code? This stuff couldn't really be mine, could it?

While I'd been adding more surfaces to clutter up, Nancy had tried a different approach. She went out and got a bunch of large plastic containers. That seemed like a good idea., and for a while it looked like it was really going to work. But the objects we put inside the containers appeared to grow and grow until they no longer fit. We tried larger containers, but the objects kept expanding. Eventually the containers disappeared, gobbled up by their contents.

The problem appeared to be totally out of control. But what was even more perplexing was that the detritus kept growing even though I wasn't buying anything. That led me to wonder if there was some heretofore unknown law of physics involved. Did obtaining an Amateur Radio license imbue the operator with some strange invisible field that attracted junk? Was it similar to electromagnetism? Were there positive and negative junk-particles out there?

Junk in container

A large container in the process of being consumed.

But before I went too far down that flight of fantasy I started remembering how I'd accumulated some of the stuff in my shack. People had given a lot of it to me.

One of my co-workers has a pretty unbelievable collection of "stuff" in his own basement. (He has claimed that if NASA ever wants to restart the Saturn rocket program, they're going to have to come to him first.) Although he is not an Amateur Radio operator, he has shown a lot of interest in the hobby. On occasion, he's cornered me in the garage at work and said, "Got something for you." Then he'd open the trunk of his car and haul out what could only be described as a bona fide "boat anchor"--something from the Paleozoic Era of electronics. He was definitely responsible for the bulkier objects in my shack.

Junk left on my porch

These items mysteriously appeared on my front porch.

My brother Chris, K1KC (a-k-a "The Junkman") also was a big-time contributor to my shack heap. He'd given me the bizarre antenna sitting in the corner. It looked like an origami experiment gone mad. I was pretty sure that his fingerprints were on a number of other items piled here and there as well. And while I was on a roll, additional names came to mind of people who had turned their own clutter problems into my clutter problem. And sometimes they even did it anonymously. Honestly. On a couple of occasions I've discovered "gifts" left surreptitiously on my porch--an old AM/FM radio, a busted antenna rotator control box and, most recently, a handful of vacuum tubes.

But wait! Now that I think about it, I was just as guilty as everyone else. I had given away radio magazines at club meetings. I had passed out coils of coax. I had even added to "The Junkman's" stock of junk. I wasn't just a clutteree, I was also a clutterer.

Do old radio parts ever get thrown away? Or do they just go from one shack to the next? Is a hamfest really what it seems, or is it in actuality a secret ritual for the resurrection of dead electronic equipment?

Okay, I understand my motivation for passing on unwanted items. I just hate to see waste. Why make more garbage if the stuff could still be used? Maybe my friends feel the same way. Perhaps Amateur Radio operators are the ultimate recyclers. It's even possible that we're just a generous bunch of people.

Still, if I ever find out who left that junk on my front porch . . .

Bonus Cartoon Feature: "Glitches in the System"

Glitches cartoon

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2004 American Radio Relay League

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