The Amateur Amateur: My Amateur Radio Journey
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Field tests (in my back yard)
Opening a transceiver to install a part
Another failed experiment (don't ask)
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
I became interested in the local Skywarn and RACES groups.
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
The American Radio Relay League was looking for people to write columns
for its ARRL.org 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
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, The-Amateur-Amateur.com.
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
Digital modes led into packet radio, which I still use in a couple of
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
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.