The New Directions Radio column shares the latest on radio activities, including using the ham radio as a tool for homesteaders.
Copthorne Macdonald is an amateur radio enthusiast, inventor of slow scan television, and founder of New Directions Radio. New Directions Radio article MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 52, July/August 1978.
Ham Radio as a Tool for Homesteaders
Remember that old saying: "Time flies when you're having
fun"? Maybe it's that . . . or maybe it's the time speedup
phenomenon that accompanies getting older. In any case, it
recently struck me that New Directions Radio began five
whole years ago . . . 30 MOTHER's into the past!
Those of you who were reading MOTHER back then may recall
the two factors that gave birth to this column. The first
was a profound disenchantment — on my part, and on the part
of many other hams — with "mainstream ham radio", and the
typical hello-goodbye, trivia-filled on-the-air "contact"
or "QSO" that goes (or used to go) with it. The second
factor was my (and other folks') realization that ham radio
could be an exceedingly powerful tool for
back-to-the-landers. Amateur radio can (among other things)
help relieve "cabin fever", provide fast two-way
communication in times of emergency, and act as a
day-to-day conduit for the exchange of useful information.
So thanks, in part, to the contacts we've been able to make
through MOTHER, a number of us who shared this particular
understanding of ham radio's usefulness got together on the
air, and gradually — over a period of years — a "new directions"
network took shape and grew. During this same period, of
course, the rest of the world hasn't exactly stood still
either: In fact, mainstream society's attitudes and
outlooks have begun to change dramatically . . . in our
Last year, for instance, MOTHER reported the results of a
Harris survey which showed that for a majority of
Americans, increased material gains were no longer a top
priority in life. The Stanford Research Institute recently
reported to businessmen on a growing trend toward
"voluntary simplicity" in daily living. Even politicians
are beginning to see and admit the energy realities that
only a few ecologists, whole system analysts, and MOTHER
types saw five years ago. The point I'm leading up to is
that mainstream amateur radio is a more "aware" place to
hang out now than it used to be . . . and if you go about
it the right way, it's possible to have some very
meaningful, very interesting conversations these days with
hams who may not be familiar with MOTHER — or New Directions
Radio — at all.
Trivia is still "in", of course, as a topic of conversation
. . . and breaking through such "time of day" exchanges
still requires some extra effort. George Land has pointed
out that before two individuals can explore their
differences in a constructive way, they must first explore
together some of the things they have in common. Thus, the
usual ham practice of discussing equipment and the weather
can be looked at as a natural and perhaps necessary
"introductory ritual". The technical side of ham radio is
something that all hams have in common, and each of us can
relate to the other person's weather . . . these subjects
are obviously safe conversation openers.
All too often, however, the conversation closes immediately
after the opener. The other fellow heads off to chase
another "contact". Fortunately, though, there are ways to
get around this problem: Joe Reed, WB9JXU (Rt. 1, Box 24,
Mountain, Wisconsin 54149) — for instance — has discovered the
secret of how to go beyond the introductory ritual and turn
a QSO into a real conversation.
"The key," says Joe, "is to ask questions. Ask the guy who
he is. What he does. Where his head is at. People love to
talk about themselves . . . and will do so at length when
you ask the right questions. And whenever you hit on an
interesting topic, follow up on it. Be active in your
questions, and — when you can — add to the conversation. I'm
not saying that you're going to enjoy talking to everybody
. . . you probably won't. But as soon as you hook up with a
person who seems to be into something interesting, you have
to follow up."
Joe is a QRP (low power) operator, which (for him) makes
the pursuit of "real" conversations all the more
challenging. Reed, however, has learned to make the best of
the situation: "As soon as the other person learns that you
are QRP," explains Joe, "his curiosity about this strange
mode that you're using is usually pretty intense . . . so
even the shy operator has an initial opening to start a
"While my question asking technique applies to both code
and voice, I generally prefer code because interference is
less of a factor with this mode and you spend less time
repeating yourself." Joe adds: "We radio operators are sure
a diverse group. I'm a graduate student in geography,
although I work in finance. I've had fantastic
conversations with farmers, professors, engineers,
housewives, you name it. The crucial factor in getting
beyond the "trivia" stage in each case — I've found — is
wanting to talk to people rather than wanting to be heard
along way away."
In summary, there are many kindred souls and a lot of
interesting conversations to be discovered these days in
mainstream ham radio . . . because the times — and people's
heads — are changing. By using Joe Reed's simple technique of
asking questions, we can often transcend the "safe" but
sterile ritual of talking about the weather . . . and enjoy a
genuine, honest-for-real conversation.
New Directions Radio Newsletter Update
Several months back, Bo Bogardus (W6HSE) put out a call
asking for someone to come forward and act as East Coast
Editor of the NDR Newsletter. Larry Kahaner (WB2NEL/1) — a science writer by trade — has graciously volunteered to take on that duty. "I write all day anyway," Larry says . . . which is probably a good reason for us to be extra grateful for Kahaner's offer. (I don't see how we're making his job
So from now on, those of you in the East or Midwest who
have items for the Newsletter, please send them directly to
Larry Kahaner, 4 Commonwealth Court, Brighton,
Massachusetts 02135. Those in the West should still send
their news to Randy Brink, whose (new) address is given at
the bottom of this page.
Cop Macdonald (VE1 BFL)
99 Fitzroy St. Charlottetown
Prince Edward Island
Canada C1A 1R6
New Directions Radio is an international network of radio
amateurs concerned with ways of using ham radio (and
related modes of communicating) that promote our growth as
individuals, and which we perceive as helping to create a
more aware, more caring, more responsible human society. We
encourage all who share s these interests to work with us.
A schedule of on-the-air activities is included in each
bimonthly issue of New Directions Roundtable Newsletter
published by Randy Brink (WA7BKR/0) and 80 Bogardus
(W6HSE) as a service to the rest of us. Send one 13¢ stamp
for each issue desired to: Randy Brink, Star Route 2280,
Space No. 54, Woodland Park, Colorado 80863.