My first night of amateur radio

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.

6 Responses to “My first night of amateur radio”

  1. Jimmy Carter - (not him) Says:

    “three people out of Virginia talking about guns and the military (yeah, stereotypical, eh?).”

    You got something against guns and the military?

    – JC

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    When those same people talking about guns and the military are also advocating nuking Mecca and the Middle East as a “solution” to the “Muslim problem”, then yeah, I do have a problem with it.

    I’ve met lots of decent people so far on ham radio. Also some batshit insane loonies. One was even claiming that all human rights (as expressed in the Bill of Rights) are directly descended from God. Really? Where does the Bible say anything about guns?! What a terrible perversion of the brilliantly secular government that we enjoy (which is incidentally one of the main things that makes us better than the Islamic countries these guys so detest).

  3. Kelly Martin Says:

    You’re not guaranteed of talking to people locally in VHF or even UHF. With VHF you can get tropospheric ducting, and even more rarely meteor bounce. With both VHF and UHF you can get earth-moon-earth. And of course there are frequencies in both VHF and UHF used for the amateur satellite service. Plus there are repeater links, either by HF or by the Internet, that can defeat expectations of locality. Don’t be too terribly surprised if you hear a G or U call on your local VHF repeater one day, and it’s not just an alien amateur operating in the United States under CEPT reciprocity. :)

  4. Lowell Says:

    There are plenty of loonies out there and some non-loonies may not express themselves well, but you may want to go back and read some of the founding documents, like the Declaration of Independence.

    The Bible doesn’t say anything about guns, of course, but the 2nd Amendment is a narrow manifestation of broader rights that the Founders saw as God-given: “among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What the “loony” you mention was probably referring to was this aspect. If you don’t take such rights as God-given, then from where do they derive? In short, it is the right of self-protection and the right of freedom from tyranny that leads to the 2nd Amendment.

    Also, keep in mind that the Bill of Rights was late in coming not because it was an afterthought, but because the original authors of the Constitution thought (as revealed in writings) that they were so obvious as to not require explicit statement. After all, what was the entire purpose in forming the new country and fighting for independence if not to secure and establish these rights?

    Ask yourself this: What places any person above any other such that they would be able to grant or take away that person’s rights? Justice is commonly based on forfeiture of rights (such as freedom) by actions in violation of other’s inherent or negotiated rights. In the absence of God, what gives you your right to life or liberty without giving someone else on the street the right to take it away?

    Now that you’re out of College Park, try learning something on your own about the country you live in and the principles that have allowed its creation and survival for 230 years.

  5. Cyde Weys Says:

    Sorry, but rights cannot derive from a non-existent entity. That’s silly. Rights are a concept we humans have invented because they make society function more smoothly. There are no fundamental human rights — each culture across the ages has thought of them differently. Something as basic as the “right to not be enslaved” didn’t exist in this country a century and a half ago, during which time a larger percentage of Americans were Christians than today. If freedom from slavery is such a God-given right, then how come many societies throughout history who believed in God didn’t have it? If rights are God-given, then what exactly are they, and how can you prove it, given the complete lack of any evidence? And how do you explain how across different cultures and eras any number of various rights have been called God-given?

    Innately, we don’t have any rights that can’t be taken away. Look at this administration: warrantless wiretapping, invasion of people’s homes without warrants thanks to the Patriot Act, denial of right to trial and habeas corpus to American citizens justified merely by accusing them of terrorism, etc. Habeas corpus has been around since the 1200s, by the way, and now it’s yet another right that’s being trampled. Our rights are constantly being violated. The only way to protect them is to fight back, not say that they’re God-given and thus can’t be taken away, because they sure as hell can. Just ask all the countless slaves throughout history, or the women in modern Islamist countries.

    And just to answer your red herring question about what gives me the right to life or liberty without someone else taking it away, it’s because society functions a lot better when murdering isn’t allowed. Rights can be derived perfectly well from ethics and philosophy, no bearded man in the sky required. Laws and rights were around long before any of the modern religions and they will be around long after as well, because that’s how society functions. Even animal societies have basic forms of social norms that allow them to live in groups.

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