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.