Below is some text sent in from Geoff Watts, who is a Radio Amateur, what’s commonly referred to as a Ham. He wrote this back in 1999 and it is a bit technical in places, but well worth reading.
Geoff sent this to me after a request we put out for people to talk about their hobbies. Along with an interest to record the hobbies we pursue now, we would like to capture memories of hobbies from yesteryear (things like the Home Tape club, or popular electronics).
Geoff very kindly agreed for us to reproduce his article below.
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things”. “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. … “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
From ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll (1872)
A Personal View of Amateur Radio
As a young boy I was introduced to the ‘magic of wireless’ when an older friend showed me a crystal set he had built – a toilet roll former with some cotton covered wire wound around it attached to a pair of ex government headphones! With a length of wire stretched from his bedroom window down the garden to the top of a clothes line post and the headphones clamped firmly on my head I could hear the BBC West of England Home Service. To me, it was MAGIC and nearly 50 years later it still is Magic!
After my experience with my friend’s crystal set and discovering that it did in fact use a crystal and a condenser as well as a toilet roll former I was well and truly hooked on Wireless. With help from my father and later magazines such as PW and Radio Constructor I was able to build my own sets and was listening to stations from all over Europe and eventually the World. I joined the School Science Club and later having heard some local Radio Amateurs talking on 160m on a wireless that covered the ‘Trawler Band’ discovered Amateur Radio. I also joined the National Society for Radio Amateurs, the RSGB and became a Short Wave Listener. The Society’s magazine was my window on the world and I had a great sense of belonging to a world wide brotherhood of radio enthusiasts. Over 40 years later RadCom as it is now known is still a ‘good read’ and worth every penny of my subscription to RSGB.
In the 1960’s I joined the South Dorset Radio Society. Over 30 years ago most members were middle aged or over and for a while it seemed I was the only person under 40. These days, far from what some suggest there are many young people in the hobby and the activity on the bands is at least as high as it was 30 years ago. Morse Code is still in daily use by thousands of Radio Amateurs all over the world and the greatest problem for most HF operators is QRM caused by the high level of activity! Although I held a ‘B’ licence for almost 20 years (I was finally licensed in 1967 as G8BCH) I had learned Morse Code in my teens. I can’t imagine Amateur Radio without Morse Code. Even before I obtained the full ‘A’ license the ability to read the code was essential for the identification of beacons and later repeaters as well as weak signal working for which no other mode is it’s equal.
Some things have changed of course, that’s the nature of Science and Human nature as well. However, I have a copy of the RSGB Handbook published during WWII and much of it, probably MOST of it has not changed. I suspect that the same holds true for Human behaviour! There is a general trend at the moment for people not to join clubs any more but this applies to all hobbys and interests and is certainly not unique to Amateur Radio. Nowadays a Radio Amateur can talk to friends every day with ease. We can chat on the local repeater while walking the dog, on the way to and from work, and even, in some cases while working. Yes, this is when we chat about the Internet and e-mail etc. and anything else in which we share a common interest including, of course, Wireless! This is a change. When I joined the local radio club it was the only place where like minded people could converse about the hobby that fascinated them. The few that were licensed could use wireless of course but for the most part that meant being at home in the shack. It was also much more difficult and expensive to obtain a licence and set up a station than it is now.
The privileges that we as Radio Amateurs enjoy did not come easily. They were won for us over the years by the hard work and dedication of an army of volunteers organised together under the auspices of our national society. I believe that it is my duty to support the National Society that represents us all so that it can be seen by the authorities as having a mandate to negotiate on our behalf. If there is a problem in our hobby it is that without that mandate the RSGB will find it increasingly difficult to argue our case with the authorities. That is the real threat as I see it.
Wireless as we know it is less than 100 years old. It came after the telephone and was not replaced by it. I use the Internet, e-mail, and the telephone and even watch TV occasionally! My HOBBY is Amateur Radio and using Wireless I can communicate with others all over the world. I operate on all bands from 160m to 70cm and use many different modes. I enjoy using the latest technology, much of it, like Packet Radio developed by Radio Amateurs and now used by the professionals. However, I could (if I had to) manage with just a few watts on HF and the 150 year old Morse Code and do without the local repeater, the PC and the land-line.
There has always been a wire down the garden at my QTH and I hope there always will be. Amateur Radio is a wonderful hobby. It’s easy and it’s fun and above all it’s Magic!
Geoff Watts, G0EVW -Weymouth, September 1999