John Langridge KB5NJD / WG2XIQ
I am often asked, “Why do you operate on 630-meters when there are easier ways to communicate?” I would expect a question like this from a non-ham, layman, or I-phone carrying teenager but more and more I find licensed amateurs asking that question. In all cases that I have encountered, the ideology associated with the mindset driving this question is innocent, so rather than being dismissive or confrontational I will do my best to offer a reasonable explanation. You may be surprised to find that it is much bigger than the 630-meter question alone.
There has no doubt been a paradigm shift in the modern ham. Many of the technical aspects of amateur radio have shifted from thinking on a component-level to that of a software and firmware-level. We are a high tech society with a populace that is largely employed in high tech positions driven heavily by code rather than circuit boards. A majority now carries a communication device that allows them to potentially talk to anyone on the planet. So why utilize a system that is anything less than a “sure thing”? Note that I will dispense with the usual arguments about the infrastructure requirements of other technologies. This question is more philosophical.
The first time I was asked this question I was rendered quizzical and did my best to maintain my composure. Having been licensed for longer at that point in my life than I had not meant that I grew up around ham radio. My ham radio worldview was completely different. Ham radio is a way of life, not a just hobby or something put aside on a whim like a child putting away a toy when they don’t want to play with it any longer. In many ways, ham radio is analogous to the study of the martial arts. Many hams go to bed and wake up thinking of radio. We dream about and miss sleep for the practice of the radio arts. We plan our lives, our vacations, and our use of sick days around operating. The practitioners of the martial arts can relate to this discipline, drive and ambition in the successful study of their respective art forms.
My response to the question was simple. I asked the individual, “Do you like to “fish, hunt, camp, ride a bike, <fill in the blank with an activity>…?” Nine times out of ten, the response will be “yes”. Occasionally you will find someone who just likes to argue and will always take the opposite position. That’s ok. Those types are easily identified and dismissed. In this case the response was “yes” so I follow up with the question, “why?”. We live in a society where we can get anything we want at a grocery store, so why hunt or fish? We have luxury hotels and luxury homes so why leave them to sleep outside in potentially uncomfortable temperatures and humidity? We have cars and other means of less physically taxing methods of travel. Of course the correct response to this from a person that is being really honest is that they “enjoy” those activities. Their reasons for enjoying those activities may differ but in the end, we do things that we enjoy doing. My line of questioning is usually followed by a smile. Often you can see a mental “light bulb” illuminate as if to suggest understanding.
Hope is not lost with the new generation of hams. The onus is on the older, more experienced generations to pass on these traditions and technologies. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Ask if you can introduce them to something new, whether its about 630-meters or not. Laziness and inaction breeds laziness and inaction and that does nothing to further the future of this great discipline in which each of us has chosen to participate.