Communication?


Since my initiation as a ham operator, now nearly 50 years in the past, I’ve thought it ironic that so many of us spend thousands of dollars on fancy communications equipment, and in investigating new technical modes of conveying information, yet, if you monitor the bands, you hear vanishingly small amounts of what, to me, qualifies as real communication. You hear chatter about equipment, weather, DX, etc, but I personally have yet to hear on SSB anyone discuss good books, music, or even movies. Occasionally I’ve encountered CW exchanges on such subject matter, but not often.

I have a couple theories about why this is the case. One is simply that ham radio operation is similar to talking to a dark room full of strangers. We don’t know who’s listening and what they might think if we expose our taste in literature, films, music or even that such subject matter interests us.  Oddly enough, the one personal subject I’ve heard discussed on the air is health, which, in a sense, isn’t actually personal, because we’re all subject to health problems. Hence, my heart attack or your cancer doesn’t say much truly personal about either of us.

Given that we hardly communicate anything of substance via radio, unless it happens we’re involved in emergency communication, what motivates us to put so much energy into the avocation (I dislike the word “hobby”)? For me, part of the attraction is to the primordial mystery of the medium; with what I’ve sometimes termed, “divining the ether.” From age fourteen, the quavering CW note of an early morning transatlantic signal, dipping in and out of the background noise generated by zillions of thermally excited ionospheric molecules evoked a visceral excitement that I’ve compared to some people's passionate attraction to for trout fishing. Instead of the secret allure of dark waters, I'm drawn to the gleam of a twilit sky and the responsive sea of ionized particles above us, invisibly charged by the sun, kaleidoscopically reflecting faint signals from far away places.

As with fishing, the radio addict hangs his antenna in space in hopes of snagging that lurking lunker, the occasional exception to the routine exchange of signal and weather reports. Now and then my enthusiasm is renewed by the occasional flashback to my twelve-year-old self, still lurking in the wings, excited by the mysteries of a universe not yet rationalized into "explainable" phenomena.

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