The Amateur Amateur: A Wealth of Possibilities
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
I know what Amateur Radio is. I just can't think of a simple way
to explain it.
May 25, 2004
What do you say when someone asks, "What is Amateur Radio?"
My guess is that
you give some brief overall description and then start describing
what interests you the most. Or maybe you skip the general stuff and
jump right into your favorite part.
. . .
talking to people
all over the world."
looking for hidden
getting together for Field Day."
earning my Worked All States award or DXCC."
When someone asks
that question, I never seem to know what to say. A million
answers flood my brain, and I just stand there looking like they've
asked me to solve a complicated physics problem. Oh, I know what
Amateur Radio is
; I just can't think of a simple
explain it to someone.
My station running in PSK31 mode; Let's call it a work in progress.
I have not yet
settled into some comfortable niche and stuck with it. I'm still
fascinated by many aspects of the hobby--too
many of them, in
fact. Almost every time I read an article in QST
, I find
myself saying, "I'd like to try that!"
half-finished (and half-started) projects all over my house. If we
begin the tour in my garage, you'll see that my car and my wife
Nancy's car have dualband Amateur Radio transceivers in them. At first
glance, you'd think that these were completed projects, but, face it,
is any mobile setup ever really
finished? They work. They do
what I want them to do. But there is always this nagging feeling that
there should be more.
Also standing in
the garage is a ladder. We will use it to climb up to the roof where
we will see my antennas. Nancy and I have spent a lot of time up
here. Our neighbors have seen us erect and remove many
strange-looking objects. We are moderately happy with what's there
now. (I'm happy, because the current antennas work. Nancy is happy,
because she hasn't had to help me put up any more new ones recently.)
Still, there is an itch. Could we put up something better?
already know Nancy's answer.)
from the roof and going down to the basement (remembering to put away
the ladder first), we'll make our way to my shack. There are two
transceivers there. One is my primary station transceiver. The other
is a 10-meter mobile rig. The 10-meter radio is part of a
now-abandoned project to extend our mobile-to-mobile range. I figured
out how to do that
with our existing 2 meter transceivers. But
I still feel that I should do something
with that 10-meter
A bunch of kits waiting for the warm touch of a soldering iron.
I love my HF
transceiver and have done all manner of things with it. Some of my
happiest moments were when I made overseas contacts. But I have yet
to really get into
DXing. I've never participated in a
contest. I haven't sought any awards. I've never marked off grids on
a map. And I've yet to receive a single QSL card (of course, I've
sent out only two.)
I don't want to
go overboard with HF, but I don't feel I'm quite where I want to be either.
There is a
computer sitting in my shack. I bought it for the specific purpose of
doing digital modes on the amateur bands. This was another case of,
"Gee! That looks interesting!" I had heard about PSK31, and
after seeing a station use it last year at Field Day, I decided to
give it a try. With only a minor hiccough or two I managed to connect
the computer to my HF transceiver and make several PSK31 contacts
(including one of my two DX contacts). It has been fun, but it has
not become an all-consuming passion. Let's consider this one a work
Now let's move on
to a case where my interests and Nancy's overlap. I really, really
want to understand electronics better. I want to be able to take
something apart, look at its guts and know precisely how it works.
(Actually, I'd settle for knowing "more or less" how it
works.) Nancy would simply like to build a working radio. Although
she hasn't said it in so many words, I'm pretty sure she'd like to
know what makes it tick as well.
The beginnings of an emergency power project.
us to the field of kit building. Theoretically, that should satisfy
both our needs. Sadly, though, our initial attempts were very
unsatisfying. Although we've both vowed not to quit, the urge to try
again has never been strong enough to overcome inertia. Several
unbuilt kits remain in the basement--more
Ah, and then
there is ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service). I belong to the
local group, and I am active. But even here there are so many
potential paths to take that it makes my head spin. I've made a start
at setting up my station for emergency power, but I haven't finished
that one yet. I've started to put together a jump bag, but it has a
long way to go before it could be considered useful. I've taken some
training (the three Amateur
Radio Emergency Communications courses), but there is
so much more to learn that I hardly know where to begin. And in what
field should I specialize? Traffic handling? Net control? Field work?
There are other
aspects of Amateur Radio that also have caught my
attention--including Morse code (CW), Automatic Packet Reporting
System (APRS), Amateur Television (ATV), packet radio and more What
should I do? Decisions! Decisions!
By now you've
probably become convinced that I have some form of attention deficit
disorder. I could counter by saying that I'm a "radio
renaissance man." But the truth is that I'm just a kid who has
wandered into the Amateur Radio candy store and is bedazzled by the
that what makes Amateur Radio hard to pin down in words
that it represents such a vast world of possibilities, and I've yet
to explore nearly enough of them.
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