Amateur Radio: Challenges and Advantages

Readers tell MOTHER EARTH NEWS about the difficulties ham radio operators can encounter, as well as some of the advantages they enjoy.

| January/February 1974

As a former amateur radio ticket holder, I'd like to comment on Copthorne Macdonald's article about using ham radio to keep in touch with like-minded people. And my comment will have to be, "Forget it." Cop, I think, glosses over the difficulties and inadequacies of this means of communication.

First, all the bands on which hams are allowed to operate are heavily overcrowded (were so already in the late 1950's when I was active). You may be involved in an interesting discussion, and all of a sudden — ZAP! — another amateur with a more powerful rig tunes in on your frequency and knocks out your transmission or prevents your copying the signal from the person you were talking to. This happens frequently. The more crowding, the more difficult it is for everyone to carry on a conversation, so you find yourself wanting bigger and bigger transmitters to outpower the next guy. (A never ending race for power ... sound familiar?)

"An advantage for country folks," says Cop, "is that they can operate during weekday daytimes when lots of people are working and crowding of the bands is minimized." What homesteader has time to sit inside and gab on the radio during the day?

All your problems, of course, don't come from other operators. Cop mentions being able to talk to the States (from New Zealand) with a walkie-talkie due to his signal's bouncing off the ionosphere. Great, but that helpful "skip" can suddenly disappear right in the middle of your nice conversation.

If you're just getting started with ham radio, you should also remember that you can't talk at all — with or without interruptions — for the first year or two. You're restricted to Morse code, which is a pain and takes time, patience and plenty of practice to learn.

One hassle Cop doesn't bring up is that your activities on the air may interfere with your neighbors' television reception. This is generally due to poor design and construction of their receivers, and is cured by installing a filter on the TV set. (Many hams build and fit these devices for the families around them, just for the sake of good will.) Even so, relations with the fellow next door can be rough when you try to convince him that it's his set and not your transmitter that's causing the problem.

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