Why I’m a Ham: SLSRC 2 Meter Simplex Contest

Too little am I able to express what ham radio is as effectively as I did tonight to a group of friends. Let me tell you what happened:

I live in Saint Louis, which is home to the St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club – the largest radio club in STL. I am a member, and I infrequently attend their meetings, events, gatherings, and usually attend their yearly hamfest – Winterfest.

Tonight they hosted a 2 meter FM simplex contest.

After a day of thrift shopping and hitting up the Scarlett’s Wine Bar with my fiancée, I joined up in the contest at around 8:30pm – an hour after it’s 7pm start.

Getting a run going…

I set up the FT-897 (on loan from WØEEE), with the Slim-jim J-pole I built in the YOTA camp in Austria just a few months ago. I mounted it on a 32′ push-up fiberglass pole I bought from Packtenna at Dayton.

I zip-tied the 10 meter mast to the fence, and e-taped the j-pole to the tip of the fiberglass pole. That’s the City Museum in the background. And my fiancee posing behind the radio 🙂
No contest is a contest without a beer and your significant other suggesting the screen be the color purple.

So back to the start: this rooftop patio is frequented by the tenants of my apartment building, so throughout the evening a few people came up and hung out, smoked, drank a beer or glass of wine with a friend and left after a while. I was in a corner so as to not interfere with anyone else’s enjoyment of the evening.

Having made almost 20 contacts and not having any further luck, I decided to pack up early. As I was doing so one group of three friends came over to ask what I was doing.

Abraham was one guy who was very curious. He was really interested in the tall mast I had set up. His friends were a little less interested (but also probably a bit more drunk) but still hung around Abraham, my fiancee and I fascinated by what I was doing.

I explained that this was a contest to get the most contacts as possible with other ham radio operators in the area; that this wasn’t like broadcasting: I’m talking to other people in the area over two-way radio.

I showed him my log, and pointed out all the zip-codes of every contact I made.

The log.
The log.

I told him about other kinds of contests – ones on HF where instead of zip-codes, I contact other states and countries, and that in fact the CQ WW RTTY contest is going on right now, and earlier Japan and Taiwan were coming in really strongly, which is pretty rare!

Amazement. Bewilderment. Genuine interest! All from a guy who’s never heard of this hobby!

Meanwhile, Jesten explains ham radio’s other sides – ARES and emergency communications, specifically the roles ham radio plays in disasters such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, wildfires, and earthquakes, as well as tornado and severe weather spotting.

On top of that, I was wearing a 100 Acre Wood Rally shirt – an autocross rally where the likes of Ken Block and Travis Pastrana race suped-up 4WD super-cars on gravel roads in the middle of rural Nowhere, MO; an event that could not take place without volunteerism from the ham radio community. That, along with bike races, foot races, parades, and other wide-spread events requiring a lot of communication coordination, is a small part of what hams do.

It may have seemed that we overwhelmed poor Abraham and his friends, but it was not so. The conversation was very two-way. Before I became too crazed about my hobby, Jesten – who isn’t a ham, but has to deal with my day-to-day ham radio life – kept me in check. After we packed up and said our goodbye, she was flabbergasted at how well we sold ham radio. Who knows if Abraham will become a ham – that doesn’t matter, persay. What matters is that he left both with a ton of cool new knowledge, and a smile.

That is awesome.

This is what I do in the hobby; this is why I’m a ham. I’m not really a contester, or a emcommer, or DXer, or ragchewer. I’m a promoter. I’m here because ham radio always needs more people, either more licensees, or just more people aware of it. Knowing I am doing my part in these little accidental ways makes me happy, and that’s really what it’s all about.

Jesten and I enjoying it together.
Jesten and I enjoying it together.

Active Ham Radio Podcasts, Livestreams, and YouTube Channels

I feel like ham radio is experiencing a media Renaissance of sorts – there’s been a lot of new, really great podcasts and it appears social media interaction regarding ham radio is way up. However, it’s really interesting to see this big, long, gradual drop in interest over the last 11 years as measured by Google Trends:

Who knows what’s going on here – it’s a moot point between my observations and fact. Anyway, regardless of trends, I listen to a ton of podcasts, a majority of which are ham radio related. Two have been started within the last year and have been really well produced, listenable, and just good compared to other attempts

Back in the day (between 2011 and 2015) I used to watch Ham Nation, Solder Smoke, and AmateurLogic. Now, I choose not to spend the time sitting and watching an hour-long live-stream or recorded show, and at the same time I’ve been really put off by advertisements. They’re much more intrusive and jarring than they used to be. However, this doesn’t phase the primary demographic of retirees who have all the time in the world.

The chat’s were always fun but never really impactful, except for a few isolated occurrences where I found former WØEEE alumnus, young hams who needed advice on getting into the hobby, and meeting a handful of what I would call “famous” hams. I might make a list of those too.

Podcasting is the way to go. I can listen while I drive (which is at least an hour a day), listen while I work, listen while I clean, browse the internet, work out…anytime and anywhere where my full attention and hearing isn’t needed.

Here’s the big list of active media that has been updated within at least the last month as of September 2016:


I use Overcast on iOS to listen to podcasts. It is the best podcasting app ever made, much improved from the iOS stock podcast app. It’s best feature is “smart speed,” which compresses silences, and when combined with a 1.3x speed-up, it makes an hour podcast less than 45 mins long.

On Android, I recommend Pocketcasts. I’ve used it before and it’s pretty good too!

You can find all of these in your podcast app directory by searching the name. Otherwise, I’ve linked to their website or a link where you can go to listen them below:

  1. Ham Radio 360
  2. 100 Watts and a Wire
  3. ICQ Podcast
  4. Everything Ham Radio Podcast
  5. ARRL The Doctor is In
  6. Foundations of Amateur Radio
  7. The Two Way Radio Show
  8. Amateur Radio Newsline
  9. The Rain Report

Live Shows

All of the live shows listed also have recorded episode distributed through various means. All audio-only shows can be found in podcast apps (which is how I consume them) and video shows may or may not be in podcast directories but the links should take you to where you can find them.

  1. Linux in the Hamshack – audio only, listed on podcast directories
  2. W5KUB Live Stream – recorded shows are on YouTube
  3. Ham Talk Live! – Call in show, audio only, listed on podcast directories
  4. Ham Nation – Live Stream on Twit.tv, audio and video versions listed on podcast directories
  5. Ted Randall’s QSO Show – audio only

YouTube Channels

Work in progress…this is going to be a long list 🙂

  1. W2AEW
  2. HamRadioNow
  3. Dan Vanevenhoven
  4. KD8RTT
  5. theRSGB
  6. TinHatRanch
  7. GoatHiker
  8. K7AGE
  9. Jim W6LG

I’ll (probably) come back later and update the lists and provide links. Too tedious for now.

Last update: September 14, 2016

Cool Link – Battling the “Why not use cellphones/internet?” Relevancy Debate

I have a constant struggle with how to explain ham radio to those who don’t know about it but are interested, and to those who argue that it’s not relevent, so I took to reddit to scrounge for better ideas than finding myself talking someone’s ear off about EME and contesting and WSPR and 1,500 watts and licensing and so on and so on and so on. Check it out below:

Battling the "Why not use cellphones/internet?" Relevancy Debate from amateurradio