Don’t Let Ham Radio Become A One-Trick Pony.

      15 Comments on Don’t Let Ham Radio Become A One-Trick Pony.

Guilt trip.

I came across an interesting discussion on an internet ham radio forum. The author, a ham, had misgivings because after being hounded (his term, not mine) to join an local emergency communications (EMCOMM) group, he finally had enough of the nagging and told them to shove it. Afterward he felt somewhat guilty for his harsh rebuke and wondered out loud if perhaps he was wrong.

Being from the internet and all, the story may be embellished or outright fake. But fake or not, it’s plausible. Normally the comment would not get my attention but my own experiences indicate that EMCOMM stirs up a lot of strong opinions. I think it’s worthwhile to explore why.

When being average is a bad idea. emcomm

He mentioned he had become sour towards EMCOMM because, in his mind, the hams who are into ENCOMM have an almost cult-like (again, his term) devotion to it. Calling it a cult is overdramatic, I think, but it does have a few adherents who are strangely enthusiastic.

He pointed out that emphasis on EMCOMM was not a valid path to attracting new followers into the hobby. Maybe he’s an Off Grid Ham reader because I’ve made the same point on this website before. The average person, kids in particular, believe disasters happen to others. They can be forgiven for thinking the guy with a buttload of radios and solar panels is a little odd.

Those who who read this blog, however, are not average. All of you have at least an elevated awareness of the importance of disaster readiness. Some of you are full blown doomsday preppers…not that there’s anything wrong with that. You are absolutely correct for doubting the guy who believes “being prepared” means having a working flashlight and a $10.00 first aid kit from Walgreens.



Not-so-random thoughts.

Here’s a thought: If a lot of people are into amateur radio only for its EMCOMM value, then they are not necessarily interested in advancing & encouraging the hobby. Radio is just a tool to them. There is no meaningful way to determine what percentage of the ham radio demographic fits into this category. Anecdotally, they seem to have more visibility in proportion to their numbers.

I don’t think EMCOMM diehards are a majority of hams, they just command a majority of the attention. If you don’t believe me, take a casual stroll around the internet. There are thousands of websites, forums, and social media pages dedicated solely to ham radio EMCOMM and disaster/SHTF, or peripherally related. Other aspects of radio? Yeah, they’re out there too, but in much smaller numbers. Media coverage of amateur radio is almost exclusively EMCOMM-related.

Here’s another thought: Suppose EMCOMM is the only reason xx percent of hams are in the hobby. Let’s also suppose they don’t enjoy it or even care about it as a hobby and have no appreciation for ham radio beyond its ENCOMM functions.

So how do we address the problem? Is it even a really a problem?

My response is, so what? There is no rule that every ham should go out and recruit other hams. Everyone is entitled to their own reasons for being a ham, without explanation. My passion is off grid radio. I believe in it so much that I created an entire website around the concept. I do it cheerfully. Trust me…this blog is very labor intensive. I also pay the costs out of my own pocket. No one, and I mean no one, would put up a website and crank out an original article every single month for five years unless they truly loved doing it.

But that’s me. Others may feel differently, and that’s fine. They may even think I’m the one who’s too “into it”.

Do we have a problem with overselling EMCOMM to justify amateur radio? I’m not convinced we do, but I sense things drifting in that direction. The angle of approach I take is that I want to advance amateur radio and encourage growth. SHTF communications is just a subset of that, not a purpose unto itself. To be clear, I am not saying that EMCOMM is not valid or worthwhile. I’m only saying that we can’t let this hobby become a one-trick pony.

There is a better way to do this. emcomm

The ARRL does a pretty good job of promoting amateur radio in a well-rounded way. Their videos and printed materials prominently include the STEM/STEAM aspects of the hobby, which is most attractive to young people. Community service is in there too, and of course EMCOMM. Offering a buffet of options within the large universe that is ham radio is a much more appealing message than shouting the hair-on-fire trope “you’ll need it when the cell towers and internet go dowwwwwwn!”

How you can help is to demonstrate your particular brand of amateur radio to others. Whether your “thing” is DXing, contests, parks on the air (POTA), youth groups, off grid operating, or experimenting, I am personally asking (not demanding) that you spread the word. We do not need animosity between the various ham radio tribes. There’s plenty of room in the spotlight for everyone.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Let Ham Radio Become A One-Trick Pony.

  1. Phil Brzezinski

    Heck, EMCOMMs are noticable at my local ARC!!! EVERY meeting, a good 95% of the attendees are wearing EMCOMM t-shirts, hats, jackets, etc, have a ham radio call sign license plate, and a half dozen antennas on their cars!!! You could spot them a MILE away!!!

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Phil, I’m not against the EMCOMM folks showing off their bling, I just don’t want that to be the only thing the non-ham public sees. Whatever your radio passion is, spread the word about it!

  2. Randall Krippner

    The whole emcomm thing really opens up a whole can of worms, doesn’t it? I still see some nasty arguments popping up on QRZ and other forums. And it’s all just silly, really. If getting involved with some formal emcomm organization like ARES is important to you, good for you. If you just need that license so you can use amateur radio only for personal reasons during an emergency, also good for you. If you want to only do QRP while camping out in the wilderness, that’s fantastic. If you want to do contesting, great. If you want to dig into the science, experiment, push the limits of the technology, excellent. Amateur radio covers a HUGE amount of territory technologically speaking and there is room for just about everyone. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing and it’s legal to do it, I think that’s great and I will encourage you to keep doing it.

    Unfortunately when you get on some of the forums on QRZ and other places it seems that a lot of hams out there get their enjoyment more from being insulting, argumentative and irritating rather than from actual amateur radio. Oh, well…

    sidenote: I found out the hard way that surge protectors need to be replaced on a regular basis. I already knew that, of course, but for some reason never got around to actually doing it. My primary computer got taken out during a thunderstorm when we had multiple power failures, brownouts and surges in just a 20 minute period. I’d already been planning on replacing that computer and had a replacement on the shelf, backups, etc. But dealing with the wiring!!! Dear sweet lord, I’d forgotten what a rat’s nest it was behind that workbench! Antenna switches, connectors, interfaces, USB cables, coax, adaptors. And, of course, none of the cables were labeled. And I didn’t write anything down when all of the interfaces and other gear was first installed. How could I forget all of that? Yeah, well, I did. Sheesh.

    If it were an emergency I could probably get everything back on the air in a few hours, but I need to re-do the whole set up anyway to make it less complicated and easier to work with, move things around, build a proper stand for the amplifier and some other things so it’s probably going to take me a good two weeks before I get my main HF station back on the air.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      You are right, Randall. Some people think they need to put others down in order to pull themselves up. I am hoping most of the animosity I see is just on line bluster. Amateur radio will not survive if we can’t have respect amongst ourselves.

  3. MJ Jordan

    As someone who got into Ham Radio this year, it was primarily for emergency communication when the grid goes down. I have joined two clubs and become a VEC and like getting to know other Ham Radio operators. My priority is still on the preparedness side but I enjoy the other aspects of Ham Radio (not into contesting though). You can strike a balance and not go to an extreme side of the pendulum. This way you can enjoy the hobby, grow in your skills and knowledge, and make great contacts that will be helpful down the road. Great article!

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hello and welcome to ham radio. I’ve been a ham for nearly 40 years and I never grew tired of it. I appreciate your level-headed, balanced approach. It’s new amateurs like you that give me confidence in the future of this hobby.

      1. MJ Jordan

        Thanks Chris for the nice response and a warm welcome. You have more influence than you realize by the years of your experience. Us new hams are looking for Elmer’s to help guide us in this art. The future is your hands as you set the right perspective for us to follow. This is especially true for the newbies who have no technical background like myself. I am fortunate to find a few Elmer’s who spend the time answer my questions and showing me things I never would have discovered. God bless them for taking the time to help!!

        Thanks for your continued love for this art and your dedication to make everyone’s experience better.

  4. Phil Bernacke

    I agree with your writing about this. The folks that are involved with EMCOMM, as I was in the 80’s, are welcome and vital. I just wish more forms of Amateur Radio were as promoted and popularized as EMCOMM is. While there are some great QRP, SOTA, POTA, OFF GRID and other sites out there they are, perhaps, not as noticeable as is EMCOMM. Too bad as these other aspects and forms of this hobby are great.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      It seems EMCOMM steals most of the spotlight. I’m not against that, but I would like the non-ham public to know there are many sides to this hobby. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Eric

    EMCOM is a solution looking for a problem. We should work to push data around not maintain all the hands-on activity. Problem always comes down to antiquated encryption and third party traffic rules, most of which I’m in agreement with.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Eric, I don’t agree that EMCOMM does not have a legitimate application. My point was that it isn’t and shouldn’t be the only justification for ham radio to exist, nor should it be the image of ham radio. I would like to see operators who run data, chase awards, DX, whatever, take the initiative to bring new people into the group, or at least show the non-ham public that we are more than just a bunch of old guys with handheld radios and patched jackets directing traffic after a tornado tears up a town.

  6. scott

    That is so odd, I had not thought of ham radio for those purposes, I only do it for the chicks. Nothing draws them in like a ht or a hf rig set up on a mountain top. Cheers Scott

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