Glad to see so many favorable comments on the article. I recently read that there are now 700,000 hams in the U.S. - an all-time high. I did not even get to discuss the operating side of ham radio in the article. After all, ham radio was the original "social network". Maybe I'll cover some of that in my blog. 73, Doug K1DG
RF design is only one aspect of ham radio. Ham radio is electrical & electronics engineering with a living face, a lifestyle of perpetually interesting & useful applications, and a fraternity of some of the most talented & most qualified & friendliest people in all of the related disciplines. Ham radio embraces every aspect of wireless, not just RF – antenna to mic & speaker, keyboard & display, power plug & ground cable, and beyond. It includes systems engineering & integration, human factors & ergonomics, usage & practical application, and operator training & skill – all the technical & human disciplines connected to wireless technologies one way or another, regardless of the age of the technology or the person. Yes, it’s an avocation for old guys who can't leave vacuum tubes alone (real radios glow in the dark!), and folks who have an abiding love for a strange old language that burns thru noise with the simplest gear, Morse code. It's also a place where the future is tangible – kids talk to astronauts & learn what radio can do firsthand, college students loft balloon experiments & satellites, commuters talk to friends on the local repeater & to other friends on other repeaters multiple time-zones away – without a cell phone; it’s talking over multiple time-zones with no network in between; it’s participating at the EOC to work thru flood/ fire/ tornado/ earthquake impacts. Ham radio is about friends, new & old, and doing what's fun, and doing what one loves to do, at home in some spare time as well professionally. Yes, it's a hobby, so it takes a back seat when life's obligations intrude; it shares one's life along with other interests. It's *not* a sour lament about how no one's interested in hiring RF designers, because RF design touches a much wider domain than just ginning up a new wireless gizmo for sale. And it's far from dead. ... Doug, thanks for a great article, and a chance to poke the world a little about the hobby! Best regards, Rob / W3RUM
The appliance operator comments and the SDR comments basically theorizing that RF skills will be left in the dust is not entirely true, and it doesn't have to, engineering and ham radio are about learning and modifying your skills to fit new technologies.
Since I'm an RF power amp designer I doubt that SDR radios will ever make my power amp designs go by the wayside but certainly the dedicated receiver designers will need to upgrade their skills.
It all depends on what you want to do with ham radio and like the author says finding the time to do your projects is a big show stopper at times.
I just put together a 900 MHz to 10 meter FM repeater/remote base and since I wanted something more than a vertical antenna I went overboard and built a small yagi antenna.
Now I need to find a way to turn the yagi antenna via the 900 Mhz side, here comes the programming part of this boondoggle of mine.
I am now refreshing my C skills to make a rotator controller that works via DTMF commands.
In one week I have worked every continent on HF FM, built a repeater with a HF remote base, a controller to send the remote ID an antenna to reach further, re-built 2 power supplies and am now at the C programming end of things to steer my antenna.
I'll probably elect the help of one of our new codeless tech hams at work for the guidance on the C part of things.
In the process this young engineer will learn a lot of RF while I'll get some code refresher skills and as I'm sure you all know, these projects are constantly evolving so this is just the biginning.
Lets see maybe the next project will be an FPGA remote base, we have another codeless tech ham at work who is an FPGA guru and he needs to get back into ham radio.
Catch you on 10 FM some day if I can get the antenna rotator controller working.
Well, let's see. About the comment of RF designers. The article mentions software defined radio, as well as numerous digital modes. Sounds like a lot of digital and software design, not necessarily all RF. In fact, the hobby can encompass just about any electronic or computer related engineering. Even mechanical, if you build your own enclosures.
As for the niche, yes, it is a niche hobby, always has been. But that niche serves a purpose, and that is emergency communication. You may pooh pooh that idea with cell phones and the internet, but my fiber to the curb connection went down went the power went off in the April tornados. The cell phone also became virtually unusable, as the cells remaining after the tornados went through were quickly overloaded. Guess what "hobby" was helping with the emergency communication?
While it is true that fewer of the younger generation is joining the ranks of the amateur radio community, that path has certainly not been killed. Those in positions of leadership and regulation have had to implement changes (good and bad) in order to keep our great hobby alive. To us it is much more than a hobby. Many discoveries, inventions and patents were founded by experimentation thru ham radio, including the proven viability of the VHF/UHF spectrum. I am confident that amateur radio will continue to spark interest in young and old alike, as long as we show them the way.
David Pollard, N5IT, USN Retired
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