Just in case you’ve never heard about the term “Ham Radio” let me introduce you to the hobby of amateur radio communications.
My name is Jonathan Gonzalez, and my “call sign” is EA1HET. A call sign is a unique identifier for a transmitter station. I obtained mine by passing a government exam and obtaining a radio station license.
The particle “EA” represents my country (Spain) and my license class (”A”). The number (”1”) designates the region where I live in my country of residence. The last 1, 2 or 3 letters are simply a consecutive list that changes to identify different radio stations. Call signs with just 1 final letter are called “vanity calls” and are used mainly by DX stations, or stations that compete in radio championships. Keep reading for more details.
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Since the dawn of radio, amateur operators, “hams” in our own jargon, have transmitted on tenaciously guarded slices of radio spectrum. Electronic engineering has benefited tremendously from our activity, from the level of the individual engineer to the entire field. But the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, with its ability to easily connect billions of people, somehow removed the attention for our discipline.
Well, that’s a fantastic question. As N0SSC (Sterling Mann) argued in his blog article titled “Millennials are killing ham radio”, the “Hobbiest Computer” movement of the 1980s (all of you with a TRS-80) is now the hacker/maker movement, automating life with microcontrollers, tiny computers, and data centers… and, in regard to the amateur (ham) radio, that it’s to The Baby Boomer and Generation X’s youth as IoT (Internet of Things) is to Millennials and Generation Y.
Meanwhile, for old generations, talking to people on the radio (in the absence of Internet, obviously) was an essential, for newer generation interest in “talking to people on the radio” is waning; it’s about talking to machines, and enabling machines to talk to us. That’s why the maker movement is such a hit nowadays, especially with commercial entities also entering the fray with off the shelf, sometimes cheap, IoT devices.
Another ham radio operator, K0NR (Bob Witte) argued on this ideas that for new generations people-to-people communication is trivial, they simply were born on the Internet era and understand this capacity is given for granted, and although some young hams find it really cool to talk to people beyond shouting distance with the raw elements of a radio station, what’s much more interesting and impactful to the new generations is the idea of people-to-machine (and viceversa) communication.
Much like a “hackaton”, which is a computer software competition where multiple individuals work together on solving a given problem, ham radio operators address multiple challenges on technical aspects related to electronics, physics, power/electricity, hardware and software, just to name a few. More precisely, examples could include but are not limited to: