Sunday, 13 October 2019

What kind of a radio amateur am I anyway?

Aircraft scatter showing Doppler on G4RQI's signal on 4m. Curious? Interesting? Not in Ayton it isn't.

"Who do you speak to on that radio of yours anyway?" asked the neighbour.

Er, um.

How do I answer that one?

How do I define myself as a radio amateur?

I suppose they expect me to say "someone in Outer Mongolia". You know, somewhere exotic, where we might exchange cultural greetings and perhaps I could chat in my rusty but effective Outer Mongolian (which I have to confess, comes with an Ulster/Scots accent).

But, I do not really speak to anyone. Hmmm, maybe good old Gouda, with whom I exchange the odd word on 2m FM as our cars converge on the Garden Centre Tea Room. "I'm in the car park" - "I'll be with you in 2 minutes".

This does not seem to justify the eyesore which is my antenna farm, which the neighbour is balefully examining as we speak.

Hold on, I do use the microphone during contests. Yes, Eddie G0EHV, Jon GM4JTJ and David, G4ASR, every Tuesday or Thursday night. What if he then asks what we say to each other which is "You are 59 002 in IO85wu, 73". That hardly counts as a cultural exchange, and anyway these people are all in this great United Kingdom of ours (note: before posting this, check that the UK still exists). IO84 is not exotic.

That won't do for my sceptical neighbour.

Pretty much everything else I do is data.

I do not really talk to anyone. Sometimes the Postie calls with a Jiffy Bag from China with some BNC plugs in it and we compare notes between his guitar amplifier and my linear. All about harmonics, but not really radio chat. Once a year at the Galashiels Rally I meet ... well Gouda again. And maybe somebody else, you never know, like the man who prints out the callsign plates, or the chap selling the old valves (he never has the one I want, and I am never going to use it now anyway, even if he had it, which he doesn't).

The club? Aw, the club.  Half of them got fed up and the other half died.

Seriously, so many amateurs are passing away that we should be protected as an endangered species.

Harrumph. There isn't a simple answer to this. I am not in the business of talking to people on the radio. Sure, I used to be, but then I discovered the mobile phone, Skype, network radio etc. Back in 1974 the idea of talking to people in exotic places did really appeal. Not now.

Then, once I was licensed, I discovered that many of them would just tell you their name was Igor and they lived in Novosibirsk and that was it. You might improve your geography by finding out where Nizny Novgorod actually was, but how significant was that? You might even find the odd YU who would say something more than "rig home brew" like the other Easterners, but so what?

I am glad that these days people in Plovdiv, and Ulan Bator for that matter, have their own mobile phones, and are no more interested in talking to me by amateur radio than I am in talking to them. They have some freedom to talk now, and that is all for the good.

When you couldn't talk to people far away as an everyday event, then it had real interest. Now it just doesn't. We amateurs have to face it, the days when just the ability to talk to people was enough to keep up an interest in this hobby are long gone. Talking isn't the thing it was, and it certainly is not why I still follow this hobby.

Not that I am much of a home brewer either. As the years have gone on, that is an even lesser interest of mine. I admire those who do, and I often have discussions with them about that. Would my neighbour think more of me if I told him that? Probably not. This is the sort of neighbour who devours modern technology but who has no interest in what is inside it. Actually, all the other neighbours are the same.

No, I decide to answer along the lines that I am a curious radio amateur. I have suggested this on this blog before. I'll explain the fascination I have for it all and he will be impressed by that.

It went something like...

"I don't really talk to people on the radio these days, I tend to use computers". He now has a far-away look in his eyes. "For instance I can bounce signals off meteors, or the ionosphere, or even the moon".

He has accepted that I am not talking to actual people by radio - he now thinks I am sending emails to The Man in the Moon.

He takes a moment to absorb this remarkable fact I didn't tell him.

"Well, you have put up a bigger aerial to do it". He says.

I haven't. I think he is getting confused as my antennas now are smaller than they have been for years.

I reply "You probably just saw them side on, which is longer than end on" I am trying to explain the Yagi in this way, but he seems to be losing interest.

"Eh?" is his inspired response. Could this be curiosity in him ? (no Jim, get real)

"They turn you know. I rotate them ..." I can see that his eyes have glazed over again. I tail off trying to explain the concept of a directional antenna.

"Aye, well ... " he says, and then he turns and stomps off to go back to raking up his leaves.

That went well.

I am glad that the community appreciates my particular take on amateur radio.

Curious, that's me.

And the rest of them? They aren't curious, at least not when they find out I do not actually speak to anybody.

The scary thing is that they all have a vote.





  1. Always fun reading a article like this. How to explain your hobby these days to the neighours.....or family. I prefer to say I am doing experiments and therefore I'n not a radioamateur but a radio experimenter. I experiment with radio, signals, computers, antennas. Well, my wife thinks it is stupid it takes a whole weekend to get new antennas in the tower. Tell you what happened to me today: my 9 year old daughter comes up in the shack asking what I'm doing. I tell her I'm contacting people from all over the world...ehhh boring. She asks if I don't have something better to do like playing together with her. So you know what I did...73, Bas

  2. Bas. Yes life and family are more important than radio. Or maybe just others and family think that.
    Your daughter will only be 9 for a short while, but experimenting can go on ... and on ... until something else happens.
    So please keep experimenting, but daughters come first.
    73 Jim