Is Ham Radio the only way into ‘tech’?


I basically grew up as a ‘ham’. I ‘hacked’ at a lot of electronics from vacuum tube shortwave radios to theatre lighting and sound and eventually professional two-way radio, what resulted in and many know today as “wireless” car and portable phones.  I ‘ace’d’ high school industrial arts and especially electronics class.  I did graduate high school.  At that point I had modified more surplus commercial radios to 2-meter FM use for the locals than anyone else in the state.  I was a charter member of two local repeater groups and a tower climber at 14.  Built my first 2m FM repeater with autopatch from raw radio guts and perf-board components at 16.  We’re not talking ‘yesterday’ – with DigiKey, Mouser, Frys, etc. on the web – but hard-core raw part scrounging.

As seems popular folklore, I am a dropout of one of THE premiere engineering schools – the Wisconsin School of Electronics – a whole $120/month my parents paid – but 6-months into the classes I realized I was already working full-time on equipment and systems far advanced from what WSE could have taught my by graduation.  I knew relay, TTL and microprocessor logic before most could afford HP-35 calculators.

Yes, shortwave and ham radio provided a huge view of the world, and amazing opportunities, but I also learned that there IS more to technology than 146.94.  What I knew, what others realized I could do lead next to working in medical instrumentation.  At 20 I was the youngest field tech servicing blood analyzers in hospitals and clinics.  My peers were military vets who had gone to the best tech schools – Navy ‘A’ school.  They came to me for help in service training classes.  Somehow I knew logic and ‘grocked’ computers before most understood binary.  At 22 I wrote the service manual for a new piece of medical equipment before engineering finished the prototype.

I moved on to mass spectrometers used for everything from forensics to defense explosives work.  Signals, data collection, data processing, presentation, delivering things that were important to life, seemed a pattern.  At 26 I became a volunteer firefighter if only to help my local community with radio communications.  Making technology work became immediately life-critical for myself and my friends.  You are “not allowed” to screw up life-safety communications. Period.  Ham radio is fun – making sure what you know about radios AND fire science when you run into burning buildings is ‘important.’

All this I position amid various different discussions of ham radio, ARES, RACES, NGOs, police, fire, EMS, as well as various commercial applications of technology – be they the E/R our ambulances took people to, or the clinics that treat cancer patients.  It’s really hard to take any position of what’s more important when you’ve dealt with technology at many/all levels of birth to war/defense to end-of-life.  Reality may or may not become logical/binary for some, more complex/analog for the rest of us.

That’s a core background/perspective.  From that I obviously (?) get to see and touch upon others’ exposure to technology, and myriad perspectives – real or assumed, borrowed, projected.  OK, so…

… at this particular junction/trail split I encounter all sorts of ‘importance’ of my core/basis/foundation/HOBBY exposure to technology – amateur/ham radio – and after 45 years of public service/safety volunteer work – believe I have a unique and want to think ‘important’ perspective on how/what the ‘ham’ community thinks about themselves and their place in the world… and their desire/demand/insistence they are ‘essential’… yes, and no.

Here goes…

1. Ham radio is not the only way people can or may become familiar with technology (any more that ‘devices’ or Maker things.)

2. Ham radio is not the only beneficial goal/aspect of getting involved with technology.

3. Ham radio does not always result in engaging technology per se at a deeper level (the social elements/benefits can be as significant as the potential technical acquisition/practice benefits.)

4. Not everyone who can/may/could/’should’ be involved in technology will know about or migrate to ham radio.

5. Ham radio operators are 0.2 % of the US population – NOT statistically significant. I’m going to venture that the ACTIVE ham population is 0.1% and the TECHNICAL ham population is 0.05%. Given these #s and the number of hams who make it into technology at a career level… the overall audience is much larger and th hoped for result of public engagement in technology is MUCH larger than ham radio alone can satisfy.

6. Indeed there are MANY opportunities, reasons and MUSTS for more hams to MUCH BETTER know science/technology vs some of the “tribal knowledge”, myth, legend, conjecture, assumption out there.

7. Ever since “Mike Rowe” and my own career, employer and customer exposure to technology, indeed, YES!!! any and all people we can expose technical opportunities to are indeed the future core life-blood, backbone of any/all things that touch all of our lives. Just as bridges and buildings will be challenged, ‘devices’ and ‘apps’ will be USELESS without a continuing supply of technical people in the foreground and background.

Yes, it IS important to be excited, passionate, supportive, encouraging, and offer many and various ways to attract and retain interest in ham radio, at least for the hobby itself, but as above, we’re a SMALL part of much larger audience result.

Still – Ohm’s Law, et al ARE ubiquitous, global, universal, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, gender/race/creed… agnostic. RF works pretty much the same way for AM broadcast as it does for ‘wireless’, WiFi, unlimited data, public safety and ham radio fun.

It’s THE SCIENCE of all this that provides for and allows all of this to work, not a 0.2% avocation or abbreviated coding languages or cheap CPUs.

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