Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial
"What Do Hams DO?"
BY RICH MOSESON,* W2VU
"What do hams do?" Seems like such a simple question. And it's tempting to try to answer a simple question with a simple answer … but in our case, it usually doesn't stay that way for long:
"What do hams do?"… "We talk to people all over the world" … "and on the International Space Station" … "and we provide emergency communications when the normal channels fail, which they do, surprisingly often." …
"What do hams do?" … "A lot of us build our own gear" … "and take it on hikes into the woods where we communicate 'off the grid' using battery power and a wire thrown into a tree" … "and some of us design, build, and operate through our own fleet of communication satellites" … "while others bounce radio signals off meteors, the aurora, and the moon."
"What do hams do?" … The list goes on and on. And that's one of the (many) things that make ham radio such a unique hobby.
I thought about this in looking over the broad spectrum of topics we've covered in recent issues of CQ. In September, we had a couple of project articles for those of us interested in vintage radios, along with contest results, an antenna project, a "how-to" on safely powering your station from the sun, tactical Wi-Fi networks, a look at some online resources for contesters and DXers, and three separate columns dealing with test equipment.
October was our annual Emergency Communications Special, in which we highlighted amateur radio involvement in public health and medical emergency response, but we also looked at some DXing history and operating low-power from national parks, as well as beginning a multipart series on using microcontrollers in ham radio projects.
This month, we take you "Hamming on the High Seas," bring you more contest results and continue our microcontroller series. We report on renewed efforts to allow ham radio in North Korea, check out a new digital mode ("FSQ"), look at NVIS propagation (more on this below) and cover the U.S. national championships in amateur radio direction finding, also known as ARDF or foxhunting (our cover story).
The variety of different things we do under the broad umbrella known as amateur radio is truly amazing. And I've only scratched the surface here, and only looked at three issues of CQ for my examples. One of the things we need to do is guard against misperceptions of ham radio as only this thing, or only that thing. And we especially need to guard against spreading those misperceptions to new hams and the public. The bottom line is that there is no one ham radio hobby.
We have the "talking to people far away" hobby; the "talking to as many people as you can in one weekend" hobby; the building your own gear hobby; the restoring vintage gear hobby; the building, launching, and operating through satellites hobby; the operating from lighthouses, parks, islands, castles, and the back of Pizza Hut hobby; the special event hobby, the tracking down hidden transmitters hobby, the talking with your friends on the way to work hobby, and of course, the "when all else fails" hobby.
What makes this even more fascinating, as Publisher Dick Ross, K2MGA, pointed out as we were discussing this topic, is that even though many of these ham radio activities are separate pursuits within the hobby, they very frequently intertwine. A perfect example is this month's Emergency Communications column, in which WA3UVV talks about using near-vertical incidence skywave, or NVIS, propagation in emergencies and disasters. Cory not only explains how NVIS works but also discusses antennas and operating techniques to take advantage of it. The subject would have been equally comfortable in our propagation column, our antennas column, or in our Take it to the Field special (how to get a signal out of a valley when you're hiking). No matter what your operating interest, it's important to understand the basics of propagation and antennas, getting power to your gear, or using basic test equipment (the subject of an ongoing series in our "Learning Curve" column). And techniques developed in one area of the hobby can be applied in others.
For example, in this month's cover activity of foxhunting, or amateur radio direction finding, you need to not only understand signal propagation in two very different parts of the RF spectrum (international rules ARDF is done on both 80 and 2 meters), but antennas, how to attenuate a signal when you get close, and in this case, how to use a map and compass. Skills learned doing ARDF can be useful to the emergency and public service communicator in helping to track down the source of interfering signals, either on an amateur repeater or sometimes a public safety repeater.
That is one of the great values of a magazine like CQ … by covering all of these divergent interests within the broad ham radio hobby, we encourage the exchange of information and ideas from one interest area to others. Hopefully, we also encourage our readers to broaden their own horizons and try some new part of ham radio and become a "newbie" once again.
A couple of notes regarding our contests and contest reporting …
First, and in line with the discussion above, there was a fair amount of controversy a few years back when the CQWW Contest Committee decided to make all logs public. There were fears that being able to view other stations' logs would expose the "secret