There’s a buzz about radio, and it’s not on the radio.
The amateur radio social media pages and web forums are suddenly buzzing with activity. Mostly it’s from people who are not hams but want to become one. This anecdotal evidence is supported by a notable increase in web traffic to offgridham.com in the last three weeks or so. The search terms suggest that most of these visitors are directly looking for information about off grid communications. Surprise! That’s what we do here, exclusively. So if you’re interested in off grid amateur radio you’ve landed on the best web page on this or any globe. covid-19
Saying the quiet part out loud. covid-19
Let’s not be coy. This interest in off grid amateur radio is being driven by the Covid-19 virus calamity consuming the world. While most people are not outright giving it as a reason why they are interested in off grid radio, they are dropping enough hints that it isn’t hard to figure it out. c
The funny thing is, the corona virus is not a calamity in the traditional sense. The grid is still solid. The electricity is on, the plumbing works, and the internet is up. The roads are free for travel and the stores are (mostly) open and (somewhat) well stocked. No one is being burned or flooded out of their homes. Society is still functioning, albeit with a six foot space cushion between every living human. covid-19covid-19
So why do so many people suddenly want to jump into radio? There’s not too many ways it can aid in Covid-19 response efforts, so it’s not about “emergency communications”. Or is it? I think the real motive is not about a disease. Rather, the disease is giving a lot of people a reality check about being prepared. Maybe they’re thinking about what might happen if all the people who make the grid work suddenly fall sick themselves. Maybe they’re thinking ahead to what else can happen where amateur radio really will be a valuable resource.
I’m just speculating and have no firm proof of any of this, but it’s hard not to see an association between current events and the sharp upturn of interest in amateur radio.
If you weren’t prepared before Covid-19 upended the world, you’re not going to make up for it now. I have some shocking news for all the hoarders filling their basements with toilet paper: You’e panicking and reacting, not preparing. The truly prepared already had a stock of toilet paper before Covid-19 came to town. The good news is that it’s not too late to prepare for the next calamity…and you know there will be another one, someday, somewhere.
Passing a simple test and buying a $35.00 handheld radio off Amazon to stash in a cabinet “just in case” is not going to make you prepared either. Amateur radio has a low barrier to entry but the learning curve is fairly steep once you’re in the door. If you do make the step into ham radio, it’s going to require some effort and practice. It’s not a “set it and forget it” avocation, at least not if you want to be any good at it. Many if not most of the people who become amateurs solely for emergency preparedness purposes will not touch a radio until an emergency actually happens. Then, and only then, will they realize that being prepared is not about collecting stuff.
Skills vs. stuff. Covid-19
There is good news: Learning about ham radio is fun. Amateur radio is after all a hobby that just happens to have a practical secondary application as an emergency communications service. Don’t let the latter overshadow the former. Being prepared is about having skills and having a plan. Regular readers of this website know I beat the hell out of the importance of having a plan. They also know the operator with a lot of skill but very little equipment is better off than a wannabe with a roomful of the latest & best gear. Making the most of what you have and using skills as a force multiplier is the heart & soul of what Off Grid Ham is all about.
If you recently found this website as a curious outsider, welcome. I hope you’ll stick around for the long haul and enrich yourself with amateur radio. If you’re a long time amateur or a regular reader, I hope you’ll refer newcomers to offgridham.com and help them find a reason to take amateur radio seriously.
We are in the midst of a disaster. It’s too late to plan for what’s already happened. If you weren’t prepared, learn from experience. The next disaster is 100% going to happen so ready yourself now. Only a fool waits for the the house to start burning before they go shopping for a fire extinguisher. I believe the strength and spirit of America will pull us through but hope has never solved any problem. As a famous radio host once quipped, hope is just disappointment delayed. Start learning skills and come up with a plan right now.
You’re right all the way around, Chris. If you don’t think about being prepared until an emergency actually hits, you’re already too late. Still, hopefully people (and governments) will learn from this experience. Although I doubt it. SARS, MERS, H1N1 and other near pandemics taught us a lot of lessons, almost all of which were completely ignored because proper preparation was considered to be too disruptive and not economically justifiable.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting into amateur radio, but for those who are only interested in communications between family members or their neighbors, they might be better off with a FRS radio or even a CB.
I’ve had my extra for nearly 30 years now. The changes to amateur radio are astounding. For example, I’ve worked on HF, VHF, UHF, used repeaters and things like that. Even did a little packet but that has become a feature built into radios now. But the one that blew my mind was DMR. I had my little handheld on one night and I heard a station in the Netherlands. On a handheld radio. That is sort of convinced me DMR is the way to go.
oh yeah and i get tagged as a SHTF’er.
DMR?? Why?? Who wants to listen to and sound like donald duck?
Take a look at ASL – AllStar Link. Use your old HT or base station if you have a nearby repeater equipped with ASL.
Or buy or build your own node that you control. Hamvoip.org answers most of the questions or check out allstarlink.com to see maps and node locations. I have my own 10W UHF simplex node that covers the town. KT0TT
Thanks for the great information for us.