You know the expression, “Everything old becomes new again.”
One thing which I have noticed with many free time pursuits is that the serious practitioners always return to the roots of the sport.
Example, I was a very avid ocean kayaker when I first moved to Maine. The really serious in the sport left the latest and greatest fiberglass boats and asymmetrical plastic paddles and returned to native design boats and thin Greenland style wooden paddles. I was skeptical, but after some time I gave up my asymmetrical plastic paddle for a Greenland wooden paddle and never looked back. It was easier to paddle with and far more versatile.
I see this same trend in sailing, the resurgence of the wooden boat over fiberglass. A complete subculture and businesses have grown up around a technology, wooden boat building, which was once considered dead. Wooden boats have become the things of art, dreams and desires, and the commensurate work required for the upkeep just part of the wooden boat experience.
I love technology, but lately that was turned into a love/hate relationship. In my profession I deal computers 8 hours a day. Perhaps that is why I find something deeply refreshing about a computer and email-free weekend. My cell phone, which failed a few weeks back, has yet to be replaced, and in fact I am in no hurry to do so.
I suspect that some of the real draw to the early days of ham radio, vacuum tubes and homebrew gear, has a great deal to do with this very observation. People crave the warm, tangible touch of an objects, the glow of a vacuum tube, the smell of hot dust as the tube warms up, the hum of the transformers, even the squeal of a heterodyne. I believe that people crave those very sensory experiences almost as much as the on-air contacts.
Letís think about it candidly, isnít there something more personal, more real, more honest about speaking to someone on the radio vs. Instant Messaging? Itís a more authentic experience, and with todayís digital world, the last thing people want to do in their free time is sit in front of the computer. They crave authentic human experiences with other real people. The challenge of making a radio, then establishing a contact with a far off person or land, the randomness of it all is so much more authentic then the certainly of email.
The longer I am into radio, the more I turn to the older and earlier days of the amateur service for my reading and operating materials. The 1960s-current hold little interest for this ham, the 1920s-1930s, the golden age of radio, is like a magnet for me.
I may offend some, and if so understand that this monologue is simply my own experience with the amateur service. With that said, here I go – HF today, with its high power riceboxes, DX spotting clusters, computer controlled transceivers, computer aimed and modeled antennas, skeds arranged via email, seems all too cold and impersonal. If a HF contact can be arranged with the ease of a telephone call, why bother? Why not simply use the phone? While I agree that technology can make our lives easier, if all challenge is removed, does that really serve us? Doesnít really cheat us of the very experience we seek?
The magic of radio is what captured each and every one of our attention and drew us into the amateur service. If anything saves amateur radio, it will be that same allure. We can not compete with the internet, cell phones or IM for the younger folkís time. But what we can show them, dare I say sell them, is the magic of radio…the warm glow of vacuum tube filaments, the purple flickering of 866 rectifiers under modulation, and the wonderful gentleman operators and storytellers of our hobby. Those experiences, which can not be duplicated in a modern high tech digital world, will be the touchstone, and quite possibly the salvation of our service.
I remember my first tube receiver, the venerable BC-348P. It was given to me by my cousin Joe. With its black crackle finish and strange glowing vacuum tubes, it looked wonderful on that big wooden desk next to my Radio Shack DX-150B, in fact it looked real. The DX-150 was a plaything compared to the BC-348. I wondered where the 348 had been, where it had traveled. Had it flow to Europe on a B-17 before landing on my desk? Who had spun its pretty knobs, stared at the glow of the dial and strained to copy CW? The 348 never played when I owned it, it just would not work. I now know that it most likely had a bad capacitor, but back then where was a 12 year old in the country to take a 30 year old radio for repairs?
Time went on, my attention turned to girls and cars and my parents put the 348 in the barn when I left for college. Some 15 years later, when the ham radio spark ignited, I sought out that 348, now just a corroded and damage carcass from the leaky barn roof. Then my friend Tom W2KBW offered me a mint 348 which was hiding in storage, and I experienced my first 348 in action, nearly a decade and half later. The melodious notes which flowed from the speaker were made even sweeter by the fellowship gift of amateur radio.
My point is that real, authentic experiences do not leave us quickly. Instead they light a slow burning fuse that lasts our entire life. Remember your first homerun in Little League, or your first touchdown in football. Those moments are indelibly imprinted on our minds for the rest of our life. So it is with radio, and I hope future generations will have the same privilege, experience and joy that I have discovered in the amateur service.
Long live the wireless!
73 Bruce W1UJR