Please forgive me, but I just have to send this.....

I started ham radio at age thirteen, the time when young people are seeking simultaneously two opposing goals—adult independence versus group belonging and bonding. Ironically for a medium devoted to communication, ham radio blends these two goals uniquely. Ham radio fulfills my need to belong while definitely keeping my desired isolation: radios have an on and off knob and, during contacts, the flavor is, at once, both intimate and distant, friendly like a brotherhood and yet mostly transitory and ephemeral. It perfectly fits my personality. Ham radio, for me, has outlived my parents, my first marriage, my youth and my middle age. It is a constant in a turbulent world. And, yet, like me, it is nearing the end of its life. It appears that there is just no way to pass on to today’s teenagers the wonder of radio, the adventure, the shared fraternity of instant friends, the code of honor, or the simple delights of “getting on the air.” Everything changes and acceptance of that lets one live happier, but I still want to record a little part of this amazing phenomenon, ham radio, while it is still vibrant. The wonder and adventure part of ham radio is like that arising from looking at maps that still had “unknown territories” marked on them. Now, GPS will tell you to the square meter about any place on earth. But, turning on a ham radio transports the operator back to that sense of unpredictable adventure, blending “wanting to know” with anticipation and appreciation of what may come by chance and skill. There are times, when I am deep into the “zone,” totally concentrating on hearing and tuning, that “the band” becomes, for me, an actual place that is alive, a location, a space inhabited, from one turn of the knob to the next, by living signals from somewhere beyond me. The “not knowing what will happen next” is so much a part of the adventure of ham radio. Remember that time when the rare DX actually called you? The shared fraternity of friends likely had its origins with early radio when the sparks shack kept ship passengers alive and when the operators were sworn to secrecy. Do we remember the old dictate that ham radio operators never divulge the content of messages heard? That code of honor to both keep secrets and to be a very real lifeline bonded radio operators to each other. That, and shared difficulties—learning the code and electronics, making and keeping a station, helping each other. The bonding comes as the older ham patiently taps out CW for your struggling brain. Brotherhood comes, too, from holding the end of a rope that secures a yagi at one-hundred feet, knowing that if you slip, your ham buddy above will suffer. And, doing it all purely for the love of the activity; that is, truly being an amateur in the fullest sense of the word. Ham radio is leaving Florida and arriving half way around the world in the airport in Nepal and having a smiling face there holding a placard with K4VUD on it. Or, again in the Delhi airport with three hams to greet me, drive me to a Pizza Hut, and then to my hotel. Or, there and in Thailand, have local hams deliver the impossible-to-get operator license for me, and in three days! Ham radio is, at a Field Day, worrying as the operator spills an 807 down onto a 6146 in a Johnson Ranger—and delighting that I know what all that means! And then there is the joy of knowing you can actually help people. Ham radio is, as a teen, being saluted by a uniformed soldier because you—young you—just gave him a ham radio message noting his buddy was ok coming out of flood waters. Or the mother who, because of you and your radio, now knows her son survived the tornado. Or the world knows conditions following a massive tsunami. And, then, there are the rag chews. The simple joy of indulging in ordinary—or is it extraordinary?—talk. The surprise when the other guy also shares your exact health symptoms—gives helpful coping hints. Or, the detailed description of an operator’s sheep ranch in New Zealand when you yourself have just ventured to the next State. Or the man who recounts his having actually talked with both Barry Goldwater and the King of Jordan. Or the operator proclaiming himself in “radio free Lithuania” following the fall of the Soviet Union and then telling all about his feelings. The combined intimacy and isolation imparts the phenomena of “a stranger on a train” which brings out the delightful personality and memorable stories from the ham in all of us. And at those times when we open up and talk, we know our little confidences will be kept even while the whole world could be listening. And what about ham radio’s instant friends? That phrase seems improbable but, remember the eye balls—“I finally meet the guy I have talked to for years” “I have never heard of you before, but sit down and let me get you a coffee and tell you about the Texas shack that has twelve towers.” “You need a new 3-500Z? One is in the mail to you!” Ham radio is all of this and, as we on the inside know, it is much, much more. What a fine ride it has been—and, defiantly, still is!


Charles Harpole, HS0ZCW
[EMAIL PROTECTED]

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