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“Important Stuff”

BY RICH MOSESON,* W2VU

*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

It’s only a hobby.” We occasionally find ourselves saying this to people (ourselves included) who start getting too hung up on minutiae — such as the finer points of contest rules or scoring results — or insisting that amateur radio be portrayed solely as a service, with any suggestion of fun buried under a stack of emergency or public service activities. But in truth, neither description is completely accurate. Amateur radio is a hobby, and it’s supposed to be fun; but it isn’t only a hobby.r

Unlike many other hobbies, in addition to having fun with our radio stations, we also do really important stuff (and may not even realize it). On occasion, it’s good to take a look at those aspects of what we do as hams that sets apart our hobby from most others. Several articles in this month’s issue of CQ give us an opportunity to do just that.

Citizen Science This is a topic of growing interest throughout society — ways in which average people can help contribute to the growth of scientific knowledge and understanding of the world around us. This spans a wide range of activities, from backyard bird counts to propagation reports on the Reverse Beacon Network. We hams have a long history of contributing to “the advancement of the radio art,” as the FCC puts it in Part 97; and we continue to have that opportunity, as you can read in our report from the recent HamSci workshop (“A Virtuous Cycle,” on page 32), which focused on building cooperation between hams and space scientists. CQ’s involvement in these activities goes back to 1949, just four years after its founding. The emphasis at this conference was on data collected during last summer’s total solar eclipse and looking forward to developing “personal space weather stations” to collect propagation data that hams can share with scientists studying the ionosphere and its interactions with the sun.

“Language” Preservation “Language,” according to the dictionary on my desk, is defined as “any means of expressing or communicating, (including) a special set of symbols, letters, numerals, rules, etc., used for the transmission of information…” The question of whether Morse code qualifies as a language is subject to debate, but it certainly is “a special set of symbols … used for the transmission of information.” Most importantly from a historical perspective, it was the original means of transmitting information electronically, starting with wireline telegraphers and moving into wireless. It was the first digital code and remains the only one that can be copied by ear. Nonetheless, as voice, image and data modes were developed over the past century, services that once relied exclusively on Morse code abandoned it … leaving us hams as the primary “caretakers” of this unique means of communication. It has become our responsibility to preserve and nurture it for future generations, and it seems to us that we’re doing a pretty good job of it. Despite the elimination of a code test as a licensing requirement, interest and activity in CW communications appears to be healthy and growing. This is borne out not only by the continued growth of interest in QRP (low-power) operating, for which Morse is the most efficient communication mode, but also in the results of our own CW contests. The CQWW CW results are in this issue (p. 16), and once again we see a record number of logs submitted — 8,451 for 2017, a 37% increase from 2010! What is the long-term value here? Computer-based digital communication systems are subject to failure, whether by natural or man-made causes. Satellites may fail or be disabled. In a worst-case scenario, simple CW transceivers may be the most effective (or only) way to communicate. The availability of trained operators who know the code and know how to get these radios on the air can be of vital importance in such a situation.

Honing Skills Contesting also tests and sharpens amateurs’ technical and operating skills, and in the case of multi-op stations or operations from temporary locations, practice in quickly assembling, operating, and disassembling an entire station. Hours spent listening and trying to pull a callsign or zone number out of the noise help improve copying skills in marginal conditions, all of which can be vital for public service or emergency communication.

EmComm The continuing importance of ham radio in responding to emergencies and disasters, with skills being developed and practiced through public service events, cannot be overemphasized, and we report on this aspect of amateur radio every month. This month, Emergency Communications Editor W4ALT looks (p. 44) at whether the recent influx of low-cost handhelds from China is good or bad for ham radio in general and EmComm in particular. His conclusion, in a word: Yes.

Radio Ambassadors We’ve made this point in the past, but it’s worth repeating. In a time of growing mistrust of “others,” we hams help bring names and faces to individuals from groups and countries with which our country’s government may not get along; and vice-versa. When governments try to demonize entire groups of people, or entire countries, we can say, “Wait; I know people from that group/country. They’re not like that at all.” Ham radio is a great way to bring together people from disparate cultures, both on the air and in person. When we make DX contacts (and especially when we conduct ourselves well and don’t do anything embarrassing), we make a positive impression on others of ourselves and our culture, and hopefully get the same from them. Working DX is an act of personal diplomacy.

Conclusion In case you didn’t notice, we’ve basically covered all five of the FCC’s reasons for allowing amateur radio to exist and giving us the use of a wide range of frequencies across the radio spectrum. Specifically (from §97.1 of the FCC rules):

  1. Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
  2. Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
  3. Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
  4. Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
  5. Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

And we do it all while having fun on the radio! Of course, the biggest international ham radio “mixing bowl” of the year is this month, in Xenia, Ohio, where some 20,000 hams from all over the world will gather in person for this year’s Dayton Hamvention®. We look forward to seeing many of our friends there. Have fun. It’s important! – 73, W2VU


Please submit hamfest and special event announcements at least three months in advance by e-mail to <hamfest@cq-amateur-radio.com> or <specialevent@cq-amateur-radio.com>, or by postal mail to: CQ Magazine, Attn: Hamfests (or Special Events), 17 West John St.., Hicksville, NY 11801.


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