On Ham Radio…

In one of my previous posts, reader Jim suggested that:

The use of digital modes in amateur radio really puzzles me. The beauty of radio is its technological simplicity. If I want to communicate digitally, there are wonderfully complicated and beautiful ways to do it on the Internet. But give me a few transistors and some wire, and I can communicate around the world, at least in principle.

I can understand his point, but I don’t agree.

First of all, it is simply a fact that while in principle one can build a transciever out of a couple of transistors, a crystal and some wire, that’s simply not what the vast majority of hams are doing.  To draw an analogy, if building your own transciever and running two watts into a chunk of wire is analogous to backpacking, the vast majority of hams are either picnicking (using 2m ht and mobile rigs via repeaters) or are driving enormous RVs around.   To be fair, backpacking, picknicking and driving an RV are all pretty fun things to do, and it would be a mistake to pretend that they aren’t, but they are also somewhat different.

I have a general philosophy that tells me that the only way to really understand something is to do it.  Build stuff.  Figure out why it does or doesn’t work.  Do it again.   Hence, the QRP/homebrew world of ham radio has considerable appeal.   But to me, QRP has an almost unnatural obsession with CW operation.   There is dogma in the world of radio amateur world that says that “CW gets through when nothing else will”.  It was a reasonable thing to say back when your alternatives were AM and SSB.   But it’s wrong.   Other alternatives do exist, and they really aren’t very complicated at all.   A $4 dsPic can <em>replace</em> lots of complexity in traditional transceiver design, and enable communications in situations where CW would just fall to the ground.  Yes, it converts an analog hardware problem to a digital software problem.  I don’t view that as a bad thing.

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