About “Where are the Positive Hams? And How to Tell?”…

Steve, K9ZW wrote an interesting post on his blog: Where are the Positive Hams? And How to Tell? – Part I « With Varying Frequency – Amateur Radio Ponderings. I understand what he’s saying, and while I don’t think it’s wrong per se, I think my own opinions are somewhat at right angles to the ideas he expresses.

It is important to realize that there is no single activity which characterizes “real” ham radio. It’s a whole bunch of diverse activities linked by the need to be licensed to use amateur frequencies. Ham radio is public safety and contesting. Homebrewing and antennas. Repeaters and EME. Digital modes and morse. Voice and SSTV. And so on. No one mode or activity is any more “real” than any others. It’s up to us as individuals to become licensed and explore the areas which interest us. We seek out others with similar interests and perhaps greater expertise to help us enhance our own enjoyment of our hobby.

We should remember: it is a hobby. It’s not an obligation, a calling or a job.

Steve writes:

Seems that some of us in the hobby have become forgetful of the debt we owe our Elmers (Mentors) and our fellow hams who helped us learn more about this hobby.

And here’s the thing: I don’t believe that any such debt exists. The mentoring that we do in ham radio isn’t a burden, it’s just another facet of the diverse hobby. If someone doesn’t wish to be a mentor, there is no reason for them to be one, and that’s okay. If someone is a mentor, it can only be because they gain pleasure from doing it, and therefore no “debt” from student to mentor is “owed”. As a mentor, I gain pleasure from helping others learn, and more often than not, find my own understanding increasing as I explain stuff that I already “know”. I think it makes as much sense to talk about the debt that mentors owe to students, for taking the time to perpetuate the activities that we have found interesting and engaging, and providing a rich, growing community for greater exploration and enjoyment.

I also find this idea of “debt” to be a bit self-serving: the ham radio “elite” tell us that Elmers are important, so important that anyone it seems that anyone who doesn’t apprentice themselves to an Elmer can’t experience the “real” ham radio that they should. It’s nice to think so, because it places the newly licensed in a position where they need Elmers (and by Elmers, we mean “people like us”) and that perpetuates our own sense of importance. But it’s an unnatural distinction: mentors are students, and students can be mentors. There is no magic transition that occurs where the student becomes the master. Once we begin to think of ourselves as masters, it can become easy to think that we’ve arrived, and to stop challenging ourselves to learn and to achieve. Rather than finding mentors, we need to find people who are doing and sharing.

So, I think the question isn’t really finding “positive” hams, it’s finding hams who are doing interesting things, and who are willing to share their experiences with you to inspire you. Whether you can find those in your local area is a bit of a hit and miss prospect: some clubs are engaged, fun, vibrant communities. Others are stodgy, old boy networks that talk a lot but do little. Luckily, even if your local clubs are more the latter, the Internet provides a great resource to find these people. Through YouTube, websites and mailing lists, we can find the people who are both doing, and taking the time to share those experiences with you, even if they don’t know you personally.

I don’t worry about finding “positive hams”. I just ignore the negative ones, life is too short. Do what you like. Look around for people doing the things you like. Share what you like. The rest will work itself out.

We also have to recognize that ham radio (or the parts of ham radio we happen to love) isn’t for everyone. Steve wrote:

Look at the number of amateurs who somehow can’t even interest their own family in the hobby – what sad things is that saying?

This isn’t sad at all. People get to pick the hobbies which make them happy. Get some perspective!

What do you all think?

11 thoughts on “About “Where are the Positive Hams? And How to Tell?”…”

  1. The way I see it is that the ham radio community really just reflects the spectrum of people found in the “real world.” There are people that are leaders, there are followers and teacher. Like the real world some hams are nice folks other are, well, “not as nice.” Although, I like to think that the distribution skews a bit toward the “nice” or positive side of the scale in ham radio compared the to “real world.”


  2. My previous comment looks like I’m agreeing with Matt, but I’m not. I am agreeing with Mark’s blog post.

  3. I also agree with you Mark. Enjoy, learn, share; ignore the rest.

  4. In regards to the comment about those who can’t interest their own family in amateur radio, I find that to be a poor litmus test. I can recall one debate I read between two hams where one guy was brow-beating another who didn’t have any of his family members licensed. The guy bragged how his wife and four or five sons and daughters all had their licenses, thanks to him. You can’t tell me everyone in that family truly had an interest in amateur radio or that most or any of them would really stick with the hobby and contribute to the community. Undoubtedly these kids and XYL will need therapy later in life.

    Where are the positive hams? They’re out there, they just don’t scream it at the top of their lungs and broadcast it to everyone. We know who the negative hams are. Elmers are great, but the concept of “apprenticeship” like you mention can’t really capture or convey what all this great hobby is about. With the Internet mentorship is still there, it’s just more of a community effort and the information and support is there for those who have the initiative and desire to seek it.

  5. Getting other members of the family involved seems to smack of sexism. That the male, head of household, has hobbies and it’s up to him to get others involved. If it’s your hobby, fine…Why does anyone else have to be interested in it? Let your family develop their own interests, they’re not yours to control.

  6. I find the practice of getting people interested in Amateur Radio weird. Tantamount to going door to door and asking people if they have read “The WatchTower” Techies are attracted to the hobby or not. No one should be coercing, pressuring or guilting out friends or family members. Do stamp collectors go out and recruit new members. I don’t think so. The new digi modes are attracting lots of new people to the hobby. Leave the active recruiting to the white shirt black tie guys. These cult types are very good at “Mentoring”.

  7. Indeed Lee. I’ve remarked that if our activity really was as fun and exciting as the more rabid of us might suggest, we really wouldn’t have to spend any time at all trying to recruit new people: we’d have to beat them off with sticks (to be fair, some particularly grumpy hams try to do precisely that). If you enjoy windsurfing, chances are you probably mention windsurfing to a couple of your friends, and maybe you try to get them out to try it, but you wouldn’t waste your time trying to get someone to do it who really wasn’t interested. You’d be too busy doing the thing that you really enjoy.

    I think the ARRL does many great things for ham radio, but I think they must at least bear part of the responsibility for this kind of fanaticism. In an effort to increase the number of hams, they have heavily promoted this idea of “we need to promote ham radio”, and rather less on actually _doing_ ham radio. I understand their rationale: more hams == less chance of losing band privileges, but ham radio would be an easier sell if it actually _were_ more interesting and exciting.

  8. I’m a bit of a loner ham. I pay dues to the local club to pay for the repeater, but have only been to about 2 meetings in 3 years. I’m strictly CW other than 2 meters. Lots of QRP. I like to home brew as well as build kits, including test equipment kits. The picture of my current home brew transmitter is on QRZ.COM. It’s an N3ZI DDS VFO and kitsandparts 5 watt CW amp. It includes a sidetone circuit and a miniboots amp that worked FB until I burned it up with too much power in. I’ve been fascinated with CW since a kid in the 60’s listening to my dad’s shortwave receiver. He wasn’t a ham and neither are any of my immediate family members now. I don’t really care. I’m not on a mission. I get almost as much excitement with a report on the Reverse Beacon Network as getting a reply from a live ham. The mystical magic of long distance CW communication never ceases to fascinate me. The endless project of building and changing things around gives my mind a continuing adventure to ponder. I enjoy being able to do CW, which most people don’t know how to do. Parts are cheap and I have a nice, low budget hobby. As long as there are enough hams out there to make contacts, I’m happy.

  9. Greetings Mark & All. I’m pleased and proud to check in from here in NYC, Disney’s E Coast HQ, and to welcome all hams to DARI — the Disney Amateur Radio Interconnect. Right now, the W2ABC/RPT (Disney/ABC/ESPN in NYC), WD4WDW/RPT (WDW in Orlando) and the WB6AJE/RPT atop mighty Mt Wilson in LA (HQ/ABC/ESPN/DLR) are on the air and linked via proprietary IP so that Disney hams — and all others, too — can talk across the Disney universe with the ease of using a handheld. Each of us sounds like we’re right next door. And it’s been a boon both to ham morale within the Company, and to 2m/70cm regionally as well. Mark, we want to get our Pixar brothers and sisters aboard…so watch for an e-mail from me so we can make it happen! WE1SPN/Bristol CT and W3PVI/Philadelphia (WPVI-TV) are about to join the DARI party — and more Disney installations will be coming along soon. Hope our friends in Emeryville will join us! 73 de KA2QPJ

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