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Roadblocks and Obstacles
By Don Keith N4KC
Copyright 2018 by Don Keith
I write books for a living and have been fortunate enough to have published more than thirty of them so far. I do books on subjects that interest me and hope enough publishers and readers like the same things so that I can continue to do so. That led me to write fiction and non-fiction dealing with college football, NASCAR racing, broadcasting, submarines, biographies, and World War II history. Still, it was a while before it occurred to me to do a book on Amateur Radio even though I was a Ham long before I was a book writer. I had to accidentally stumble upon a theme that I felt had not yet been tackled, one I felt strongly about, and one in which I believed I could actually make some small contribution to the hobby that has been so wonderful for me.
Riding the Shortwaves: Exploring the Magic of Amateur Radio was aimed at newcomers or those just getting interested in the hobby. But it was also for those who may have been licensed for a while but have not ventured beyond the 2-meter HT, weather-spotting, or whatever else might have attracted them. I also wanted to provide some answers to those ever-present questions such as, “Why fool with that radio stuff when I have Facebook, Twitter and a smart phone?”
Based on its success so far, I think the book touched a nerve and met a need. I cannot tell you how fulfilling that is to an author, no matter the subject.
Later, while perusing one of the Ham Radio web sites, I saw a heated discussion about the growth of our hobby, whether it was gaining members, and if newcomers would ever be as active and contribute as much to the hobby as we old-timers. The more I read the posts and opinions, the more I realized that there have always been roadblocks and obstacles to entering the world of Amateur Radio. Getting started in the hobby has always had its barriers just as do other pastimes.
There was a point in the hobby’s history when Hams had to either build from scratch or convert military surplus gear just to get on the air. Since there were far fewer Hams then, there were few mentors—especially in smaller towns and rural areas—so a newly-licensed Amateur operator was pretty much on his own, or had to wait for the monthly copy of QST to hit the mailbox. There was certainly no Internet for quick reference on radios, antennas, or operating practices.
Some maintain that having to learn Morse code was a serious impediment to people who wanted to become Amateurs. I disagree about the “serious” part, though it was certainly a perception among many that the code was difficult to master. That made it an obstacle, whether it really was one or not.
Still, the hobby continued to grow, just as it does today. We have more licensed Amateurs now than ever before and, at least from my perspective, the hobby seems healthy, despite the evolution of technology and all the other distractions out there. But in talking to many people—including readers of my first book and those who see my articles on various web sites, plus my own Ham Radio site, www.n4kc.com—I have come to the conclusion that though the roadblocks may be different nowadays, they are still there. They prevent from joining us many who would enjoy and benefit from the hobby and who would contribute mightily. And just as we did back in the days when Marconi and I were in the same DX pile-ups, we have the obligation to mentor and help those who show a spark of interest, to help them get past those obstructions, be they real or imagined. That will keep our hobby vigorous and dynamic!
I was inspired to do a new pair of Amateur Radio books. They are squarely aimed at folks who have considered becoming a Ham but never followed through. And at others who did all the work to get a license, maybe bought a two-meter HT, but never really went any farther, so far missing out on all our wonderful hobby has to offer. Plus they are targeted at those who wanted to be able to evangelize and needed some guidelines and ideas to employ in the effort.
We need new blood! We need bright young people (and middle-aged and elderly ones, too) to help Ham Radio to evolve and be relevant to each new generation whose needs, perspectives, and potential roadblocks can be different from ours.
OK, I realize that the avocation that we all love so much is not everybody’s cup of tea. But I also believe that many who never develop into active Hams drop by the wayside because of four basic roadblocks…real or perceived. (And I am NOT including trepidation about passing the license exam. We just need to remind folks that plenty of 7- and 8-year-olds have passed the test.)
Those biggest modern-day obstacles are:
1) Trepidation about putting together a station that would offer a complete and satisfying on-air experience.
2) Absolute terror about having to put up an outside antenna of some kind.
3) Knowing what to expect from the various Ham bands and then what to say and do once on the air.
4) The worry that they will be lost amid all the jargon that has developed over the first century of Ham Radio’s existence, and terror that they will be ridiculed for not knowing it all on their first transmission.
In one of the new books, Get on the Air…NOW!, my intent is to give practical, realistic advice on getting past each of these stumbling blocks.
One way I tackled obstacle #4–the one about jargon and gobbledygook–was to include as the second half of the book a complete Amateur Radio dictionary. As I compiled that section, I came up with far more terms than I expected to find–more than 1400 terms, 1600 definitions, and hundreds of web links–so I not only made the dictionary a section in Get on the Air…NOW! but published it as a stand-alone book. It is cleverly titled THE Amateur Radio Dictionary and is, I am confidently claiming, the most complete Ham Radio glossary ever compiled. Even long-licensed Hams tell me they learn new terms every time they thumb through it. I intend to make it a work in progress with regular updates on both the paperback and the e-book editions. I blatantly beg for people to give me input on new terms or on better and more understandable definitions so I can maintain that goal.
At the same time, I ask readers to consider my thoughts on the four specific hurdles I included, but also to offer ideas on others that might keep prospective Hams on the sidelines. I also hope these books and discussion on the subject will cause more Hams to jump in and become a mentor, advising hesitators on overcoming these and other roadblocks and obstacles.
It can only help our wonderful hobby continue to grow, becoming more vibrant and relevant, as we dive head-foremost into its second century.
Don Keith N4KC has been a ham radio operator for more than fifty years. After a long career in broadcasting and advertising, he now writes full time and has published more than thirty books, fiction and non-fiction, on a wide range of subjects including amateur radio. See www.donkeith.com or www.n4kc.com for more info.