I got my dual-band transceiver earlier today (a Yaesu FT-7800R, if you must know) and I just spent several hours tonight playing with it. I made my first contact in short order after listening in on some local repeater bands and getting the hang of how a typical ham radio conversation works. The nice thing about being a ham in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region is that there’s no shortage of people to talk to, even at weird hours of the night. As I type this it’s just before midnight and I’m listening to three people out of Virginia talking about guns and the military (yeah, stereotypical, eh?).
As I listened to a conversation earlier in the evening I heard one guy identify himself as KB3QNY. I immediately had to break in and point out the coincidence, because my callsign is KB3QNZ! How often do you meet one of the two people who’s off your callsign by a single character? And what were the odds of running into said person within my first hour of ham radio? He was talking with a ham veteran trying to get his antenna set up correctly (apparently setting a bacon pan underneath the antenna indoors helped to establish a ground plane). Callsigns are handed out sequentially, so I know he got his license on the same day I did.
Then I called up my friend Greg, who I took the ham radio exam with, and within very short order we were talking to each other on a 2 meter band repeater out of Bluemont, Virginia. We needed the repeater because he only has a handheld radio, so while he might be able to hear me in simplex mode, it’s unlikely I would be able to hear him back. And then, as we were talking, a young woman named Stephanie broke into the conversation. She was transmitting mobile from a car her grandmother was driving. She has a bit more experience than us, so she got us into a simple round robin order after Greg and I accidentally transmitted over one another.
Thus, one of the most important distinctions between ham radio and Internet chat was immediately made clear to me: with ham radio, at least on the UHF/VHF bands, you’re only talking with people in the nearby area. Even if you never end up meeting those people in person, it’s still significant that they’re nearby. You can talk about the same places, the same local events, even that old standby of boring conversations, the weather. You simply don’t get anything like that in global Internet chat rooms (be they text or voice chat). The Internet has brought the entire world together, but at the expense of so many of the meaningful realities of place. I’m told that ham radio has a much similar feel to the local BBSes of yore than to today’s Internet. I believe it. There’s something pretty unique in this hobby that I’m only just discovering. I can see why so many people like it.