HAM Radio 101

Five Mistakes New Hams Make (Part 5): Not Immersing Yourself in the Culture

I have been very blessed to do medical mission work throughout Central America since I was 13 years old. After the first week of my first trip, I was having real trouble reaching out to the local community. I felt I was there to help them, so they should just open up and share with me. That’s when a veteran of this kind of work pulled me aside and shared this with me. 

He said if you truly want to help and be accepted, immerse yourself in the culture. He told me to “lose the attitude that I had it better off,” listen, and talk with them, not to them. That has been some of the best life advice I have ever received, and it is applicable to the ham radio community as well.

The learning curve is much steeper if you just show up to the party thinking you already know the lay of the land and how to navigate it. This hobby comes with a lot of nuances and traditions that are revered as unwritten laws. Many are those who dub themselves “defenders of the faith.” Remember, most times they are doing so with good intentions and simply trying to preserve our hobby.

I’m very thankful that my early on-air experiences were with men and women who wanted to preserve the hobby through education and mentorship and not through condemnation and rebuke. We will draw and retain more new hams through creating a nurturing environment and not a police state. I so appreciate my early Elmers who allowed me to make a mistake or three.

The first step I recommend is to observe. Take a few days and listen to the local operators. Take notes on how they operate. Pay close attention to the protocols and techniques. Everyone will have their own nuances, but the methodology should be the same.

The next step, and I have said it in just about every article, is to FIND A LOCAL CLUB. Working directly with hams in your area who are most likely operating off of the same repeaters can be a huge benefit. The club can add a ton of local specific information that can help you have a great on-air experience.

Many times, club members have done a lot of experimenting and have determined what antennas work best in your terrain and repeater conditions. They know the major sources of noise or interference in your area. They have been there and done that in your neighborhood. Why not save yourself the headache of trying to figure it out on your own?

Take a breath. Before you rush in, observe hams in your area. See what they are saying and doing. You do not have to parrot them, but take their language, customs and courtesies and make them your own. Then find a local club. If you have more than one in your area, visit them all before you decide. You may find that more than one club has something you are looking for. There is nothing that says you can only be a member of one club. 

Another place to immerse yourself in the culture is at local hamfests. These events are typically only one day and provide an arena for gathering hams, both local and beyond. You can see equipment and services being displayed for sale or trade. Just as valuable as the great deals is the ability to converse with fellow hams of all experience levels. Many fests also offer some type of educational program that you may find of benefit.

Back when I was a teenager on missions in Central America, the reason the locals eventually accepted me was because I was willing to first learn from them. I learned their language and customs so I knew how to talk to them and what I should and should not say. Our hobby is the same way. If you humble yourself and learn from your ham radio community, then the path to acceptance will be a smoother one.

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out some of Troy’s other articles including, QRP Operation: How Low Can You Go” and Lightening Your Go Kit.” Enter “Five Mistakes” to read earlier parts of this series.

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