Amateur Radio News

5 Myths About Ham Radio

Whenever somebody finds out that I’m a ham radio operator, I’m peppered with a lot of questions. These are the same questions lots of other hams get, and they often fall into one of two camps: “What’s ham radio?” or “Do people still do that?” These statements are borne out of curiosity and simply not knowing. In some cases, these misconceptions can lead those on the fence of trying ham radio away from our ranks. We can educate them.

For those who have been in ham radio awhile, it’s a good exercise to look back at the obstacles of getting into the hobby when we first got started. Here are five myths about ham radio in 2022:

Ham Radio is Dying

It’s not so much dying as it is evolving. In terms of sheer numbers, ARRL says there are about 780,000 ham radio licenses issued in the U.S., which reflects a very small, but steady, positive trend. While a large number of those hams engage in what could be called “traditional” aspects of the hobby–HF DXing, contesting, Morse code operating, etc.–many hams have embraced newer technologies such as digital communication modes and hybrid projects involving both radio and PCs, microcontrollers or robotics. And many of these newer experiments are being done by entry-level Technician-class licensees, where experimentation on the VHF/UHF/SHF frontier reflects current worldwide interest in that portion of the radio spectrum.

Ham Radio is Too Expensive

Like with almost every other hobby, ham radio can be as expensive as you want to make it. A good place to start evaluating how much ham radio is going to cost you is defining what you want to do with the hobby. For example, if your primary interest is to be involved with public service communications in your local area, you may be able to enjoy ham radio with little more than an HT, which can run well under $100. If you want to pursue HF communications, some of the newer microprocessor radios can cost as little as a few hundred dollars; DIYers with some electronics skills may be able to purchase kits for less than that. And there’s always the possibility of buying used gear that’s a few years old. It may not have all the latest bells and whistles, but the ham radio marketplace is awash with solid used gear for much less than buying new.

Ham Radio Requires a Lot of Space at Home

Just like the “too expensive” myth above, how much space you need depends on what you want to do with the hobby. There are plenty of options available to get on the air without needing a big tower and giant Yagi. If you’re planning on keeping your activity local, a VHF/UHF vertical can be easily mounted on a push-up mast or roof and take up very little space. VHF/UHF Yagis can be as small as two or three feet long and provide good gain over a vertical. Even a 10 meter Moxon antenna is about 12 feet wide at most, which can fit nicely on a push-up mast alongside your house.

If you want to get on the lower HF frequencies, wire antennas can be electrically shortened to fit in smaller spaces, but they may have decreased performance as a result. There are plenty of designs to purchase or experiment with.

If you have absolutely no space for an external antenna, look into magnetic loops for HF that could be set up outdoors temporarily, or even indoors. Many hams have antennas inside. And if all else fails, you can take your gear outside and participate in one of many portable operating programs like Parks on the Air, Summits on the Air, and U.S. Islands, or activate grid squares via satellite or counties for county hunters.  Yes, a big Yagi on a tower will perform very well indeed, but wire antennas or shortened Yagis perform better than no antenna. Don’t let your living situation keep you off the air; there’s ALWAYS a way to operate.

Ham Radio is Only for a Limited Demographic

It’s hard to argue against the fact that ham radio in the U.S. has been mostly comprised of older males for a long time. However, there’s evidence that the demographics are shifting. More 30- and 40-year-olds are getting into the hobby now and introducing their families to ham radio, too. And as more women get involved with engineering and electronics education and careers, they are finding ham radio an enjoyable hobby as well. I’m confident the hobby, much like the rest of society, will continue to become more inclusive.

Ham Radio is Not Relevant Anymore

What does “relevant” mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a: having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
b: affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion, as in “relevant testimony”
c: having social relevance 

So, the question then becomes: relevant to what?

If “the matter at hand” is emergency communications, then it could be argued that ham radio’s role has taken a hit in recent years. After Hurricane Katrina, government agencies spent billions of dollars to improve their internet infrastructure to help ensure such a disaster wouldn’t take a large populated area offline. This is on top of technological advancements that occurred in the IT world over the last fifteen years. However, even now, ham radio has a role in emergencies. There may be a highly localized event, such as a gas leak, a search-and-rescue operation, a telephone outage, or other event that requires point-to-point wireless communications during a localized outage, or in an area where there’s no cell service.

If “the matter at hand” is education, then ham radio is exceptionally relevant today. While there are several ways DIYers can pursue electronics or coding, there is no other hobby that engages an interested participant in learning about how radio waves function and how they can be incorporated into a DIY project. Ham radio teaches us about electronics, physics, propagation, weather, geography, and a host of other disciplines; it all depends on what you want to do with the hobby. In the area of STEM subjects, few other hobbies offer such a solid understanding in the principles of RF as ham radio, offering a significant advantage in some areas of engineering.

Of course, to a segment of the population, ham radio is just fun, much like some in the Maker movement who simply enjoy tinkering, experimenting, and building stuff.

Myths are often born with a shred of truth to them. But the whole truth is often much deeper than first impressions. If you’re considering getting into ham radio, I encourage you to dig deeper into the health of the hobby; reach out to clubs in your area or online communities. Ask questions and get involved. Discover for yourself how healthy ham radio is. Hint: It’s healthier than you think.

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