Thursday, February 03, 2011

So who is better off?

In the "Golden Age" of Ham Radio, things were harder.  The testing procedure was different.  In most cases, if you wanted to take an Amateur Radio test, you had to travel to an FCC Field Office to take the exam under the watchful eye of a hard core professional test giver. 

After you passed your test, you had no place like HRO or Amateur Electronic Supply where you could dial up an 800 number, whip out your credit card and have a new rig delivered to you in a matter of days.  You had to "roll your own" as it were; or save up your hard earned cash for whatever was available "du jour".  It was not uncommon to scavenge parts from discarded radios, cars and whatever to homebrew a rig that put out just a few Watts in order to communicate with the world.  Not that it couldn't be done; but it wasn't as "easy" or elegant as it is today.

On the other hand, today we have it made ..... right?  There are ample opportunities to take an Amateur Radio exam just about anytime and any place that you want.  We have computers to aid us in studying Morse Code and the exams themselves.  There are places on the Web where you can take practice exams as many times as you want, until your confidence level is at 1000000%.

Today we have rigs that will practically let you contest or operate almost without you having to be there.  The bells and whistles have developed to the point where Hams from years ago couldn't have even envisioned them.  The latest IcoYaesWood radio will almost walk your dog for you, if you ask it politely.

On the other hand ...... we have enough RFI pollution where sometimes it is impossible to find a quiet band on which to operate.  There are enough wireless gadgets, plasma TVs, thermostats, furnaces, CFLs, etc, that make so much hash that you just want to scream about the 40 over 9 QRN that is covering up that DXpedition that you so much wanted to put in the log. Today, there are enough HOAs, covenants and other difficulties in place that make even thinking about putting up an outdoor antenna a traumatic event.  Years ago, no one really gave you a second look when you ran a wire from your trees to your house.  Unless you screwed up their TV reception, no one cared what you did in your house, on your property.

So who has it better?  The Hams of old who had more "primitive" equipment; but had seemingly more freedom, quieter bands and plentifully populated bands to operate on?  Or the Hams of today, who have more opportunity, better equipment, better resources - but who have to suffer with more inherent QRN, and when the bands are quiet for a change - can call CQ for an hour because there's no one on?

This post isn't meant to stir up a hornet's nest or start a big debate - just to let you know about some things I've been thinking about on the ride to and home from work. So, did "they" have it better; or do "we" have it better?  When it comes right down to it, it's probably a wash.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. Larry you and I are about the same age, so not sure if we can truly be called "old timers" but personally I would love to dial it was more "magical" to me, I liked it better back in the day!

    no agenda....just my 2 cents

    Jim WA2OQJ

  2. Define better. Seriously.

    Today we certainly have it easier. And that is probably better in most people's book. But I look back nostalgically to the days of my childhood when short wave was a window on the world that seemed so big Australia may as well have been the moon and being able to talk to people on your own radio was a really big deal. Today I often find myself wondering what is the point of ham radio, and concluding that it is just a reason to tinker with stuff, because anything I can actually do on the radio I can do better (that word again) using the internet.

    I'll bet, too, that many will say that today's licensing system is better, in part through no longer having the obstacle of "the code." But I'll bet that in those days you didn't have amateurs dimmer than a box of blown bulbs who don't know that you can't work international DX using an FM mobile rig or that the APRS/Echolink HT they just bought won't "just work" like their cellphone because it depends on being near a repeater.

    If I had a time machine I think I'd go back to about 1964, when the world seemed full of possibilities.

  3. Hi Larry,
    We had in earlier times stagecoaches and carrier pigeons, but times are changing, isn’t it. Would you go back in time? I like the progression with new techniques. I like the way it is now. ;-) 73 Paul

  4. Well, it turns out that it just doesn't matter. We are here now, not back in The Alleged Good Old Days. So unless you have a time travel machine, I recommend that we enjoy the present and stop worrying about the past. Moving forward, baby!

    73, Bob K0NR

    P.S. If you DO happen to have a time travel machine, please give me a call as I have some ideas about how to win in the stock market.

  5. Anonymous3:37 PM

    Hams today have it much better. From rigs and equipment to knowledge, its much easier to get on the air and operate. And we even have new modes to play with, be it digital data modes or digital voice. There is a wealth of cheap gear for hams, and even a wealth of commercial gear for hams (just picked up a Motorola GTX mobile to get on 900MHz). And to top it all off, you can get on the internet and answer most questions quickly, or just tool around and learn. I think you can cram a lot more ham radio enjoyment, whatever your preference, in the time you allocate to ham radio. As far as noise, do what I do and go out and operate in the country portable, or move to a quieter spot if possible.

    Of course, one interesting point is the knowledge of the ionosphere and the sun. We know quite a bit about them from research in our time, but would it be more fun to go back and get to experiment and draw your own conclusions? Personally, this is the only draw of the past that appeals to me.

    Jason - N6WBL