The ARRL is the premier amateur radio organization in the United States. It’s two major purposes are to promote interest in amateur radio, and to represent amateurs in legal and legislative matters that affect amateur radio.
Today, they posted a link to their view of amateur radio in the 21st Century:
ARRLWeb: It Seems to Us: Amateur Radio, Version 2008
It’s an odd little bit of fluff, designed mostly to stir people up into a positive direction. As such, it’s not a particularly bad piece, but I’m a blogger, I don’t have to spin things, I get to just comment on things. And some of the comments and claims they made struck me in kind of a funny way.
It begins with:
Many of the people you know probably realize that you enjoy Amateur Radio. You may have shown it to them years ago. But what do they know about the 2008 version of your avocation?
It then goes on to ask a number of rather targeted question, each of which I think has an unintended answer.
Do they know that our stations do not have to be bulky boxes banished to the basement or garage, but that they now come in compact, highly transportable packages?
As radio amateurs, we are allowed to build, test, and use our own gear. It is true that the vast majority of hams do not build their own gear, and instead merely slap down a credit card. It’s true: you can purchase more compact gear now than in previous historic epochs, but while we gain convenience, I think that when carried to extremes, it changes the nature of amateur radio significantly. We become consumers, rather than experimenters. Operators instead of builders.
Do they realize that the digital revolution sweeping through consumer electronics is bringing equally exciting changes to Amateur Radio?
Well, it’s bringing changes, but frankly at rates which are much lower than in other fields. Certainly modes like PSK31 have increased in popularity, but many other HF digital modes have been unable to gain any significant user base. Indeed, to add modes like PSK31 to modern rigs would be relatively trivial, requiring only a small amount of surplus compute power in radios which already have one or more microprocessors in them, but none are even on the horizon. Rigs could have ethernet and USB connectors, but don’t. Rigs could have efficient battery management, but don’t. Rigs could have programmable displays like cell phones, but don’t. Rigs could have well defined protocols to interface them with computers, but don’t. So even if we abandon the idea that we are going to build rigs, we are still not getting the kind of radio that I and many others envision.
Do they know that Amateur Radio interfaces with — but doesn’t rely on — the Internet?
This too, is rather misleading. There simply are no wide area packet networks that operate on amateur radio frequencies, never mind ones with sufficient capacity to make the guides of network applications that we have grown accustomed to (mail, web and voip) practical. Internet linking of repeaters has become rather popular, but, of course, we do rely on the Internet for that. When those networks fail, we have no real backup mechanism, and no reasonable way to provide one.
But I found the following to be the most amusing:
Unless you’re a relatively recent licensee, your friends probably have a 20th Century impression of Amateur Radio.
Did you catch it? The implication is that the more recently licensed you are, the more likely you are to have a modern, expansive view of amateur radio. I’m not sure I disagree. After all, the FCC recently shot down two petitions to try to reinstate Morse code testing, citing the idea that Morse code might be a vital tool in the War Against Terror. After all, we can’t be sure! Morse code saved our bacon when the aliens attacked Earth and destroyed the White House….
I’ve nitpicked a bit here, I’ll admit. Amateur radio isn’t that bad, and it’s not dying. But it isn’t the cheery rose garden that the ARRL likes to promote either. We can all do a lot more to make it exciting and interesting, whether you are newly licensed or have been a ham for 50 years. I hope that some of you have enjoyed the postings I’ve made here on the subject, and they have stimulated you into trying something new. Expect more in the future.