The changing ham ra...
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The changing ham radio scene

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Posts: 458
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Recently I noticed that the "American Radio History" website has been uploading copies of Amateur Radio and Ham Radio Today magazines of the 80s and 90s which is round about the time I was first licenced. I had quite a stash if these magazines but a lot of them got water damaged in storage and had to be binned so it is interesting to revisit them.

They do remind me of some of the reasons I drifted away from ham radio at the time; so little of the content is relevant to the then class "B" licencee and there is even some hostility to them (but not as bad as the contemporary Short Wave Magazine). Then there is the increasing emphasis on "Packet Radio" which never interested me for some reason - I feel the same way about digimodes today. Packet these days appears to be virtually dead, possibly killed by the internet.

Almost more interesting than the main content is the adverts; the "big boys" who dominated the scene then have disappeared almost without exception. Some still exist in related fields like PMR, one or two have lineal descendants with different names. I have been looking up the addresses from the adverts and "featured dealer" articles on Streetview to see what they have become. Perhaps surprisingly most of the actual premises still exist, only one or two have been demolished and redeveloped. None that I have found now house anything remotely technology related.

Many advert column inches were devoted to back and forths over the grey import question with the official dealers implying dark things about specification differences and service back up while the grey importers pointed to the remarkable similarity in prices for the same items from the various "official" dealers. Anyone remember the Trio / Kenwood wars and the subsequent inelegant volte face when Kenwood dropped the Trio brand and pulled the rug from under them?

I do think reading these old mags that the ham radio hobby may be smaller these days but it is in a far better place. The internet IMO has a lot to do with it for the availability of circuits and information and "niche" products like Bitx. The other big change was finally getting rid of the morse test and opening access to HF to all - although the RSGB can't quite bear to give it up so there is a sort of token morse test in the Foundation exam. Some of those characters who fulminated in the old letters pages at the prospect must have blown a gasket when the new system was introduced.


Posted : 10/04/2018 6:43 pm
Posts: 11905
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Hi Niall, 

You're not the first person I've heard or read mentioning they grew despondent with the Amateur Radio scene. Its been often stated it became very aloof and cliquey which is a shame as it seems to have driven a lot of folk away.  Having said that, I go to the Annual Bishop Auckland Amateur radio Rally ( great for components etc), the sheer numbers always quite astounding, so the scene looks still fairly active and lots of younglings too.

I had a friend when I lived down south who was highly proficient in Morse code, he won awards (still does) for his lightening deciphering skills, never ceased to amaze.

The American History website has quite an interesting and varied catalogue of magazines to enjoy, I tip my virtual hat to them, a mammoth undertaking. I too often enjoy leafing through the adverts, though mainly in the 'Television' magazines, end up wishing I could place an order for one or two items which are rocking horse poop now.  ? 

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Posted : 10/04/2018 7:07 pm
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My amateur radio licence is still valid but have not used it for 10 years, I got the licence in 1975 or 76 being interested in radio for many years before that. I drifted away from the amateur scene for a while in the middle 80’s, and took another stab with QRP Home brew in the 90’s again to drift away.

The last foray was about 11 years ago, bought some equipment but personal circumstances that session ended and I have just not the interest now. Still have the rig, need to turn it on one day.

I had a friend, sadly deceased, who was excellent at morse, just a natural at it, was a keen contester in the 70’s and 80’s with a 60 foot mast in the garden with various aerials for all HF bands. Interestingly he only ever passed the 12wpm test but ended up teaching morse at a Maritime college, he was that good.

My morse skills got me through the exam but I was never that good, absolutey no chance with it now.

No idea what’s going on with Amateur radio today.


Posted : 10/04/2018 8:00 pm
Posts: 458
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Topic starter

I've nothing against morse or any other mode, one of the attractions of the hobby is that it is a broad church; I mainly build and modify stuff and do relatively little actual operating, dabble a little in the Summits on the Air programme and collect some of the later ex military kit (because it's more affordable and more useable). The problem under the old licensing regime was that the requirement to pass a 12 wpm morse test was seen by some as an essential demonstration of commitment and some sort of badge of superiority rather than what it actually was which was simply an ITU requirement because some of the amateur bands are shared on a secondary basis with commercial services and we needed to be able to understand them telling us to get lost in morse. When commercial morse disappeared with the advent of GMDSS and satcoms the requirement was dropped and the UK ham license eventually followed suit, although I think some countries are still hanging on to it.

The current 3 tier licence system is a great thing (apart from the "morse appreciation" bit of the foundation) as it means that even a foundation pass allows the holder to make worldwide contacts albeit with limited power. The incentive is there to progress to the Intermediate and Advanced levels for more power and the removal of some other limitations. This has definitely IMO made the hobby more accessible and less elitist. 

As an ex class "B" I have the equivalent of an Advanced but have never used more than about 25 watts on HF which is sub Intermediate level.

Another thing about the old magazines; as we head for a sunspot minimum with the implications that has for HF propagation it's nice to look back to earlier minima and be reassured that this has happened before and earlier maxima for a taste of what is to come. It's also fun to find the occasional crystal ball gazing article looking into the future as they are almost entirely wrong.

The equipment reviews are interesting particularly as I now own some of the gear from that era which I couldn't afford at the time. There is the odd quite positive review (all that advertising!) of sets now known to have been lemons. 

I get the impression from rallies and ebay etc. that there is a lot of gear from around the 80s about but not much of the later stuff and I wonder if this is because there is less of it due to the tailing off of the big surge in amateur licences following on from the CB radio boom or if the later kit (thinking mainly of VHF mobiles of the multi coloured LCD display era) just wasn't as robust as the earlier generation. All the synthesised rigs use custom micros which are NLA, again maybe the earlier ones were more reliable.

Posted : 10/04/2018 10:18 pm
Posts: 4619
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There was definitely snobbishness around with the A and B licences, even saw it with advent of the novice licence. Some B licenced amateurs had much more technical ability than some of the A ones who were grumbling. Perhaps some of it was “ I had to do it so why not you attitude “. I don’t know, not something I got involved with.

Communication across the world was something quite rare for the “man in the street “ right through before the 50’s to the 80’s. Now it’s so simple that almost anyone can do it, the problem is the amount of infrastructure in place to allow it.

I had not thought about the sunspot minima but yes it tends to put a damper on HF. I spoke to many older Amateurs and the tales of the maxima around 1957 when the world was available with a few watts and a “piece of string” aerial  on 10m the sunspot count was so high, I don’t think it’s been so high since.

I think the furthest QSO I ever got was on 15m with 50 watt CW to Japan, that would have been in the 70’s.

The new licence structure makes it much easier to get on the first rung, which should help new  enthusiasts, I just don’t have any connections anymore to know how the hobby is progressing. I don’t know anything about the digital modes either.

I have an FT897, I think that is the model, bought in 2007 new, must either use it or sell it, stuck in a cupboard at the moment.





Posted : 10/04/2018 10:56 pm
Posts: 1509
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I tend to build something, try it out , and then move on to the next thing. 

I do still enjoy it, but don't have much time for operating.

Posted : 11/04/2018 9:09 am