After 6 years away from the radio what is different? Everything and nothing. Still the same camaraderie and immense kindness in the hobby. That has not changed. The difference is there seems to be a growing reluctance to actually talk to each other on the air.
What has become apparent is the reliance of the internet. I saw a message on the net recently from a VHF op who said he had spent a long time calling CQ with no response. The reply was that he needed a ‘spot’ on the ON4KST site and then people would know he was there. I assume from that nobody turns on the radio and tunes around anymore.
Then there is ‘the HF bands are dead’ mantra usually followed by it’s not worth turning on the radio as there is nothing much on the DX cluster. Again, it looks as if ops are sitting in front of their computers waiting for to see something happen instead of using their radios.
And the automated digital QSOs, jt8? And digital propagation checking where you don’t even need to contact another human being to know how far you signal has travelled.
Is that what it is all about now? Only operate when there is DX around? Never call CQ because nobody is listening? But what gets me most is never ‘talk’ (voice or CW) to another human being? Have radio amateurs lost the ability/desire to speak to each other?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using the latest technology and moving with the times but if we insist on removing the human element or reducing it to the shortest possible exchange for the points or to bag another country then we lose the very basis of the hobby. There must still be a place to rag chew on 160m or 80m or 2m, I want to talk to another human being and not a computer.
After being away from the hobby for around 5 years I am surprised by the uptake of digital modes. I wonder what this means and where it is going.
It is not that I have not used them in the past, in the early 1970s I had a Creed 7B teleprinter connected to a home brew terminal unit taking audio from a modified Pye base station on 2m. It was part of a local net and was left on standby a lot of the time. I would come home from work and find a few feet of paper on the floor. RTTY using the computer is not the same. No smell of 3in1 oil or the noise of the motors and clatter of the mechanics.
I also found WSPR to be useful to test antennas and tried a few other data modes but frankly I found them to be boring. Yes, they can establish a 2 way connection where other modes cannot but so what? It is machines talking to machines. There is no experience of making contact with a human being, no suppleties of voice or ‘fist’ in CW. Nothing to personalise the contact and gain some idea of who you are connected to.
For me radio is about connecting, communicating with another person using voice or Morse. It is about recognising that there is a human being operating the equipment, making the connection, the contact. And I mean ‘contact’ in both the human communication sense as well as the technical sense.
I fear that digital modes are being pushed hard as a way of interesting younger people in the hobby. I must ask why? Why do something in a more expensive and complicated way that can be and is done by Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram etc?
A few years back when Internet linked repeaters started I remember having a conversation with a newcomer who was excited about ‘working’ a VK via the local repeater. In fact, he worked the repeater a couple from miles from his house but was under the impression he could get DXCC and other awards easily. That is the problem, the quick and easy fix appealed but took him nowhere.
I still believe that if you show a real contact on a radio with someone in a far-off place it will be more exciting and more attractive than dangling the instant hook of digital communication. Kids do that on their phones every day, why would they bother doing it via radio?