Ham radio and the Internet, Part 1

-October 23, 2013

When I meet people and the subject turns to hobbies and interests, I often get puzzled looks when I mention that I do ham radio. “Do people still do that? I thought the Internet pretty much killed it off.”

After we get past the latest statistics that demonstrate that there are more ham radio licenses now than ever before (over 700,000 in the US, and growing), I tell people some of the ways that ham radio and the Internet are quite complementary.

Ham radio has been described as the original social network … at least the first electronic one.  Early wireless operators, with their anonymous “handles” (and later callsigns) exchanged news and commentary in much the same way that people now use Facebook, Twitter, etc. As it is with the Internet, radio is a great equalizer with everyone from school kids to heads of state and everything in between all sharing the same medium and status. To paraphrase a modern saying, “On the radio, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

A lot of hams have discovered that the Internet is almost like another frequency band. I personally find that a large percentage of my email correspondence is with other radio hams. Many of my bookmarks are ham radio-related sites. And one of the longest-standing traditions in ham radio, the exchange of cards to verify contacts to qualify for awards or just for personal satisfaction, has now gone electronic with several services offering electronic confirmation via the Web.

Other Web-based resources have emerged to augment the on-the-air experience. They include networks to track rare stations on the air, alerting anyone interested when a “new one” makes an appearance. Some of these programs can also interface to the station equipment, turning the antenna to the right heading, switching the radio to the right frequency, and turning on the amplifier. The operator merely needs to click a button to send the callsign and signal report, then log the contact and send a confirmation.

Even for more routine contacts, online resources make the experience a bit more personalized. Many hams have customized their entries at the QRZ.COM web site, adding a few photos of themselves and their stations. During a contact, it is not unusual for a ham to comment on what he sees there.
In the next couple of posts, I’ll write about two very innovative  (and controversial) systems that integrate ham radio and the Internet.

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