The Revenge of Radio: Why Radio Still Matters

When throwing trash away one week, I noticed a cast-away turntable and stereo in the trash room, heaped atop broken office chairs, unwanted furniture, and someone’s torn bathroom door. I had an innate urge to make this trash my treasure, with zero consideration of whether or not it’s broken, or if it was accidentally thrown away (lol) or for the very fact that I own zero vinyl records. Why the heck would I need a turntable?!

Why did I take this?

So it’s been sitting on that table for about 2 months now, and I haven’t done a thing with it. Until today, when I took a photo of it.

I wouldn’t have taken this photo and written this blog post if it wasn’t for listening to the Art of Manliness podcast titled “#289: The Revenge of Analog.” It was an interview with David Sax, author of the book The Revenge of Analog.

David writes about how people in the age where it’s weird if you don’t own a smartphone, really fast data and wifi is cheap and available, and everyone thinks that books, writing notes, listening to music on physical media, and face-to-face contact will disappear.

It hasn’t. In fact vinyl records is becoming a billion dollar industry. Moleskine and Field Notes notebooks and fountain pen companies are realizing a huge boom after the idea of bullet journaling took off. People scoff at hipsters writing on typewriters, but actually it’s really catching on. Everyone’s scratching their heads, wondering why Surface tablets, kindles, Spotify, Evernote and Siri hasn’t completely taken over the archaic, menial tasks of writing, reading, and listening to music.

It’s actually surprising why they haven’t – the digital life is complicated. To take a note with Microsoft Onenote, you have to

  1. Have Onenote installed (that takes money)
  2. Open Onenote
  3. Learn how OneNote saves notes, where they’re stored, what tabs and pages are, where the drawing tools are….etc
  4. Take a note.

To take a note on paper, you have to…

  1. Get paper
  2. Get pen
  3. Write note

It’s simpler. Plus, writing improves your memory retention on whatever you write about. With books and music it’s a little different though. Media could not be easier to consume nowadays. Ask Alexa to play Come on Eileen, and she will. Read any book on your screen, anywhere. No fumbling with a CD and it skipping, no scratching of records, and most of all, no junk cluttering every bit of your living space.

Actually those inconveniences and annoyances are making a comeback. People naturally steer towards real books, records, and notes – they’re a real object. You can give a book to someone as a gift, and that reminds the giftee about the gifter…an Amazon giftcard doesn’t have the same affect. It’s also a physical “billboard” of the personality of it’s owner; a bookshelf full of electrical engineering texts, along with a bunch of books on Van Gogh, or a box of records containing everything from Elvis to The Chipmunks Christmas Special….these things tell you about a person that have been leaving peoples’ homes. Plus, it’s really awkward to ask someone on the bus “what are you reading?” when they’re on their phone; if they’re reading a physical book, it’s much easier to start a conversation and share a common interest without having to probe.

So it’s not because of nostalgia and hipsterdom…it’s because of necessity. I now realize why I got the turntable from the trash room. Because vinyl brings the fun back in music that Spotify took away.

What’s this got to do with ham radio?

It’s got everything to do with ham radio. Nearly every person has a cell phone; and that cell phone came from a long history of advancements in radio technology.

What I really heard when listening to the podcast was that the same group of people buying vinyl might be interested in de-technologizing their cell phone too.

For example, right now there are eleven chat apps on my iPhone. iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Groupme, Telegram, IRCCloud, Zello, Skype, Whatsapp, Slack, Hangouts, and Snapchat. Yesterday I deleted Signal and Allo since I never used them, but overall I’m really annoyed at keeping up with all of these, but I have to to maintain contact with everyone close to me.

This lead me to a random thought – I have 2 good friends who have their ham radio license in my building…what if we all just had ham radio’s on in each of our apartments? Sure, it’s more annoying to deal with a radio – frequencies, antennas, battery, power, CTCSS, interference, etc. – but it’s the most fundamental and efficient method of talking to each other at a distance.

Does this mean CB radio will start to creep back in lieu of Google Maps and Waze? Will ham radio experience a boon of licensee’s who are in the hobby just to practice practical communications? Will FRS/GMRS/MURS also become more popular?  I really think so, and it’s something our leadership (ARRL) needs to look at and address in the next few years.

I for one think vinyl is pretty awesome. Radio too.


Youth in Ham Radio Presentation at SLSRC Winterfest


The livestream broke halfway through but I recovered the audio of the end and set it to the slide show. Enjoy!

Slides: Amateur Radio’s Next Generation by N0SSC.pdf

Audio only Enhanced Podcast version (hosted by The Phasing Line Podcast):

Continue reading “Youth in Ham Radio Presentation at SLSRC Winterfest”

Celebrating the 95th Anniversary of the First Transatlantic Ham Radio Contact

Bear with me, this is a slightly opinionated, philosophical post.

95 years ago today, Minton Cronkhite, 1BCG, and Paul Godley, 2ZE, shared the first recorded transatlantic communication between Connecticut and Scotland. It was a historical technological achievement that ham radio brought to the table that lead to today’s communication infrastructure.

It’s 2016, and we’re working all the national parks….so that’s pretty cool.

But what technological advancement have we made in the last decade? Is radio a solved problem? Maybe it is…

On /r/amateurradio a young twentysomething shared his views on hams who cling onto old, antiquated systems and methodologies in lieu of the lack modern software adaptations. It got over 350 comments from both sides – other twentysomethings like myself agreeing with a lot of it, and oldersomethings asking OP to take a breath and get over himself. The polarization was very interesting but it sort of worried me that a lot of people aren’t getting the message: the lack of modern in ham radio.

I took a quick stock of my friends in ham radio. I have very few friends in the older generation; only a handful of what I call classic hams – those who enjoy DXing, ragchewing, listening to the bands, contesting, hanging out on repeater nets and the like. My friends are much younger, and they’re doing way less of that stuff. Contesting still remains, but there aren’t as many actually talking on radios.

When was the last time I talked on a radio when I wasn’t contesting? Probably when I was working on a mesh antenna installation with SLSRC. Aside from driving, before then I can’t recall a time I just hopped on the radio to chat. I mainly get on the radio to contest.

Soooo…what are we millennials and younger doing?

We’re being hackers, engineers, leaders, developers, creators, and designers. We’re doing things like FaradayRF, HamSCI, Collegiate Amateur Radio and other STEM Initiatives, YOTA, Phasing Line Podcast, High Altitude Ballooning and education, we’re updating APRS and modernizing ham radio networks and modernizing contesting. These are all new and novel things to help usher in a new generation of radio amateurs.

We’ve been using ham radio ideas and methodologies for remote control, for tracking planes on ADS-B, for receiving weather satellite data, and for homebrew RADAR.

We’re not Bell Labs but we’re still doing some pretty cool stuff.

We’re also listening and watching WAAAAY more media. Ham Radio 360 + WorkBench, 100 Watts and A Wire, Ham Nation, Solder Smoke, and tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Can’t forget Last Man Standing.

And we’re also complaining on the internet, being entitled, whiny millennials. lol.

The main brunt of ham radio (1.0) is still, and for a long time will be repeaters, ragchewing, special events, and emcomm, and these things will always have their place.

But what are we doing to help move ham radio, and radio communications in general forward? What are we collective doing to make ourselves modern? What are we doing to continue the legacy of amateur radio?

So maybe radio is a solved problem, and there’s not much more we hams can do to advance the art and science of radio. I mean our next venue of research is in quantum communications, and I don’t see a whole lot of hams building quantum teleporters in their garage…

But that doesn’t spell the doom of ham radio, by any means.

Ham radio is still an incredible tool for teaching electronics, geography, engineering, and design. It’s a playground for development in other areas, like modern mesh networking, datalinks, remote control and the like. That’s in part what our spectrum is for: wireless experimentation. And that philosophy must be embraced by all radio amateurs. We cannot forget our history or else we shall have no future.

I propose a call to action to promote the technological advancement of the hobby and wireless communication.

I urge software developers to be more open to open source to develop a community of programmers. Ego and pride is hurting and slowing development. One can still sell a product for a profit and be open source. Closed source and proprietary information has no place in ham radio. There is the obvious exception with commercial entities – ICOM, Kenwood, Yaesu, etc – but if you’re building a balloon tracker, a ham radio logger, or an APRS widget, what in the world are you doing keeping it closed source? If you want to make a profit, sell complete units and kits, sell .EXEs and support, and sell ads, but try to keep your source code, schematics, and documentation open source so as to let growing developers and engineers contribute. There isn’t enough opportunity in ham radio as it is, and this is something we should be leading the electronics hobby by example. Join the /r/hamdevs community on reddit and help out!

We also need to standardize some platforms, like github, and try to fight at fragmentation. Some people will post their source on Git, others will post it on their grandmas self-hosted home server, and others all over the place. So again, check out /r/hamdevs.

I urge ARRL, IARU, and your local radio club to continue and grow whatever it is you respectively do in promoting the technological art of the hobby and continue to grow your support for youth and schools, whether it be donations of money or equipment, grants, or volunteering your time. I really want to see the higher-level organizations like IARU and the ARRL renew focus on fostering the next generation. ARRL is pushing ahead with Collegiate Amateur Radio Initiative (which at this time isn’t clear on what their action is other than saying stuff, which in itself has caused a surge in collegiate activity on the facebook page and Groupme chat), the ARRL Foundation, and continuing support of Education and Technology. They’re leading by example of what your local club should do too. Support your local college, school, hackerspace, even library – coordinate a high altitude balloon launch, a foxhunt, an ISS contact, a license class or go do something entirely different.