In the digital/internet age, lots of folks have forgotten about the electronics era that gave us vacuum tubes, transceivers, shortwave radio, and amateur (ham) radio. It was projected that amateur radio would suffer a rather massive decline once computers became mainstream, and those thoughts were amplified when the internet became widely accessible. Who would want to mess with all those wires and the hit/miss of shortwave propagation when you could connect with certainty via the internet.
Plenty of people would, it turns out because amateur radio didn’t fade away.
The digital/internet revolution was seen by amateur radio operators all over the world as a chance to revitalize one of the great technical hobbies of all time, and so the amateurs started decades ago to develop the ultimate communications combination: computers and radio (this particular amateur among them). Amateurs made their own computers, compiled their own code, produced their own interfaces, and generally stepped up their technical game to a very high level, pioneering new communications techniques and systems in the process.
Today, amateur radio is stronger than ever and amateurs continue to advance the art (and it is an art) of radio communications at the highest level. Amateurs have their own repeater networks (similar to cell phone communications), their own satellites, their own internet links and networks. Amateur radio operators even make contact with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. It is now possible to use a computer to find an “opening” on the bands, connect using a computer controlled digital transceiver with another station, exchange information, put the contact information (date, time, frequency, amateur radio call, name of other operator, etc.) into a digital log and then use the computer, again, to find another station to contact. The lower frequency amateur bands still remain susceptible to good and bad propagation, but the higher frequencies–VHF, UHF, and above–which no business group wanted (i.e. television, commercial radio services, etc.) when the American FCC allocated that part of the spectrum to amateurs for experimental uses and which amateurs developed and used, are now among the most valuable spectrums of frequencies existent, sought by everyone from cell phone companies (who need the bandwidth to grown and offer more services) to internet companies and router manufacturers. The technical site Ars Technica recently published a very good piece on amateur radio, which you are encouraged to read and enjoy. It will give you a greater appreciation of one our most technical pastimes, and, perhaps, get you interested in giving it a try yourself.
If you would like to learn more about amateur radio, how to get a license (there is no requirement to learn Morse code now), and find local amateur groups in your area, visit the main organization for amateurs in the United States, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). The League has complete information on how to get an amateur license and even study guides and question pools to assist you through the testing process. Check it out.
As the amateurs say, “73” and see you on the bands.
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