Written By: KH2D
Ham radio is brain dead. How did that happen ? Well, it's a long story, but I'll see if I can explain it to you. Amateur radio operators today can be basically subdivided into two groups - Clueless Newbies and Brain Dead Old Farts. Well three groups really, there's the Died In The Wool Pee In A Bucket Under The Desk Contest Fraternity, but we'll save them for another discussion, because thankfully they only show up on major contest weekends. So let's take a look at our two basic groups.
Clueless Newbies. Ham radio has always had Clueless Newbies, but they weren't as prevalent and as obvious as they have become in the last few years. And we also don't deal with Clueless Newbies in the same manor that we used deal with them. Before The War, they were still considered hams. We'd take them under our wing, teach them what we knew, help them set up their first station or erect their first antenna, and coach them as they entered the ranks of amateur radio. But now The War is over and we don't do that anymore. Now we ridicule them, and try to maintain the division that was created by The War.
How did these Clueless Newbies get into ham radio, and why are they here ? That's a very difficult question to answer. How they got in is easy - they took the test and passed, so they became licensed. Why they got in is the hard part - why would somebody who knows nothing about electronics, nothing about radio, nothing about communications, and has no intention of purchasing a radio want a ham license ? I dunno. It seems like a majority of the Clueless Newbies do indeed fall into that category. There are a few, I would imagine, that are like the Clueless Newbies of yesteryear - they are really interested, and they'll either learn things on their own or be lucky enuff to find a Brain Dead Old Fart who is willing to help them out. Most of them, I fear, will continue to do what they are doing now - wallow around the Internet, between one 'discussion forum' and another, arguing with the Brain Dead Old Farts they can find to argue with, and checking into the "Ham Radio Traders Net" on ILink with a six dollar plastic microphone connected to a computer sound card, pretending they are playing ham radio. So why'd these Clueless Newbies get in ? I can only guess that the basic reason they got in is because it's become so EASY to get in. I've heard a few other reasons, one I can elaborate on, but basically because it's EASY would be my guess.
In Saipan, KH0 land, if you bang around the Internet a bit, you'll find a 'ham club' with 50 or 60 members. But you probably won't recognize any of the call signs, and if you go looking around in the DX cluster, you'll find that none of them have ever been spotted on HF even though the majority of them have Extra class licenses, and HF privileges. I KNOW why they are hams - somebody started a rumor that when the FCC comes banging at your door, they won't take away that linear amplifier that you've been using on 11 meters IF you have a ham ticket. So they all went and got one. It was EASY. REAL easy. Three of their buddies just formed a VE group......
The fact that some Clueless Newbies will remain Clueless Newbies isn't really all their fault. It's amateur radio's fault as a whole, but after The War, that's just the ways things have to be. When it comes to amateur radio, most Clueless Newbies are brain dead. Ask one sometime to explain what a dipole is, or how to construct one and you'll see what I mean. Most Clueless Newbies in ham radio today are SO clueless that they have to ask fifty five question on six different YAHOO! groups to figure out how to hook up that six dollar plastic sound card microphone so they can talk to somebody on 'ham radio'. Clueless Newbies are Brain Dead. So we move on to our next group....
Brain Dead Old Farts. Boy are there a bunch of those kind of hams around still. How do you identify a Brain Dead Old Fart? Does he talk about DX all the time? Does he complain about sending Green Stamps to La La Land and not getting a post card back fast enuff? Is he constantly searching for addresses to send his post cards to? Can he tell you off the top of his head how many confirmed kills he has on each of nine HF bands and rattle off a list of what he still needs to be on the Honor Roll? Does he spit violently at any Clueless Newbie who comes within range of his saliva? If the answer to those questions is a resounding YES, then you've found one. A Brain Dead Old Fart.
Brain Dead Old Farts could also be classified as Post Card Collectors. Amateur radio is nothing to them but merely a quest to fill old shoe boxes with post cards. Sadly, since Brain Dead Old Farts are about the only ones you'll find on HF anymore, that's what the HF amateur bands have become, and what amateur radio on HF is all about - post cards. Brain Dead Old Farts embrace technology - as long as it helps them get new post cards.
Gone are the days when you'd find intelligent conversations (about subjects other than QSL info) on the amateur HF bands. Sure, you'll still find Fred, and Charlie, and Bill, on the same frequency they've been on every Thursday morning for the last 22 years, checking in to see who's hemorrhoids got bigger last nite. But tune around and see how many hams you find having a CONVERSATION with another ham. A conversation about pets, a conversation about fishing, a conversation about travel, a conversation about fruit trees, a conversation about ANYTHING but Post Cards or "How's My Audio Sound Tonite". Not many. Probably none. HF is brain dead. Why? My guess is that all the NORMAL people - not the Brain Dead Old Farts and the occasional Clueless Newbie you'll find on HF - gave up and found something better to do than ham radio.
So how do we fix this mess? I'm afraid we don't. At least I haven't got any quick easy fixes. And I'm afraid I'd have to say at this point that I really feel that ham radio is done - stick a fork in it.
Oh yeah. The War. I almost forgot to tell you about The War. If you've been a ham for a few years, or a CB'er for a few years, you know about The War. The war to rid the world of the Evil Morse Code. The war was fought fiercely by two different groups - the 'No Coders' and the 'Coders'. The 'No Coders' said that Morse code was a violation of their civil rights, and they beat the doors down at the FCC writing petitions and making speeches. The 'Coders' said that removing the Morse code was a terrible idea, because it lowered our 'standards' and allowed those slimy CB'ers into our ranks. But the 'Coders' didn't do such a good job of beating the doors down at the FCC and making speeches, because most of them were too busy chasing post cards. So the 'No Coders' won. They had better leadership, like Ready To Make A Buck Freddy, W5YI. The only leadership the 'Coders' had was the ARRL - a radio club in Newington, Connecticut that used to have political influence with the FCC but doesn't any more. The 'Coders' made the mistake of thinking the ARRL was taking care of business, but in reality they were busy hoping back and forth across the fence trying to keep magazine subscribers (and their jobs).
So who really won the war? The 'NoCoders' did. And who lost the war? Amateur radio did. Amateur radio was so deeply divided by the war that it will never again be the same. Brain Dead Old Farts will continue to collect post cards and continue to spit on Clueless Newbies whenever one gets close enuff to spit on until the day arrives when all the Brain Dead Old Farts have become Silent Keys. Clueless Newbies will continue to pester people on YAHOO! groups until they learn about six dollar plastic microphones and sound cards, but they will never gain the knowledge about amateur radio thru the one on one "Elmering" system that so many of us were fortunate enuff to have available back in the days when we were Clueless Newbies. Amateur radio is DIVIDED. Deeply divided. And it was badly scarred by the war. And those scars will never heal completely.
Today's Clueless Newbies don't want anything to do with Brain Dead Old Farts. And vice versa. So to sum it up:
United we stand. Divided we fell.
Will there still be amateur radio 50 years from now? Maybe. But I doubt you'd recognize it. They'll be no more tests for licenses, just fill out a form on the Internet to get one. They'll be a few VHF or UHF frequencies still available for the slim number of 'hams' that chose buy a radio and to use it, but most of the frequencies will be gone - taken by wireless commercial networks for this and that. You'll check into the ham chat room on the Internet - no radio required. It will have gotten so hard to find a place where you can live that you can put up and HF antenna that finally ham radio will just give up on HF too. PRB-1. Right. Pretty Real Baloney.
Will I be sad to see it go? No, not really. First of all, I won't be here in 50 years :-) And it's already gone as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to talk to Clueless Newbies in chat rooms on the Internet - even if we do ID every 10 minutes, that's not really ham radio to me. I don't want to give signal reports to post card chasers on HF only to have them become upset when they find out I'm not in Guam, I'm in Florida. There hasn't been any 'new technology' in ham radio for as long as I can remember. So I guess I'm happy to say good-bye.
Clueless Newbies are brain dead - they're so busy being happy about winning The War that they'll never realize what they won and take advantage of it.
Brain Dead Old Farts are brain dead - they're so busy collecting post cards and spitting on Clueless Newbies that they don't realize the hobby they love so dearly is going to die with them.
Good-bye, Ham Radio. Been nice knowing you.
73, Jim KH2D