Ham radio and maker culture

In this editorial (PDF), CQ Amateur Radio editor Rich Moseson makes the connection between maker culture and ham radio traditions: "The spirit of figuring out how it works and making it work better (or do something completely different) is so ingrained in our culture that it has even become part of the FCC rules that govern our operation [§97.1(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.]. Experimentation is not only permitted, it is encouraged. Hams are the only FCC licensees who, as a group, are permitted to build and modify their own gear and who are generally exempted from FCC equipment certification requirements." (Thanks, Chris!)

(Image: Collins 706A-2, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from boboroshi's photostream)


  1. Good one, Rich!

    Speaking of innovation, if you’re into WiFi tech, have a look at the Wikipedia article on long-range Wifi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-range_Wi-Fi

    Some helpful tech info there – and a lot of inspiration – if you’re trying to DX, or make a 17-hop chain, village-to-village.

    189 miles on 5.7MHz with two 1m dishes is damn impressive DX.

  2. Amateur radio is a great hacky culture although the emphasis on the sport aspect and the supremacy of CW (Mores code) as the true measure of a man or woman is a bit annoying at times.
    Fortunately the ceiling imposed by CW testing has been removed and it is just another mode available to station operators albeit one of the most powerful and low tech.

    THe new generation entering amateur radio may not have learned CW in the navy but we can build our own antennas, hand solder surface mount tech radios the size of a pack of gum, we use digital modes which actually operate below the noise floor, and we are not bound by the negativity displayed by a few very loud older hams.

    Come join us, if you prepare well for one per-seat testing fee you can go from zero to extra class in one testing period and you don’t even need to perfect your code, you can do that later on air on a quiet band.

    Find a club or a friendly ham and learn where to test and do some operations with the ‘Elmer’ acting as control operator to get the hang. You will junk or mod your FRS and CB radios into amateur gear once you realize what it is like operating with professional amateurs.

  3. This is a truth. Many of the new hams I hang out with are experimenting. I’m working on a series of arduino based APRS packet devices. APRS combines GPS, SMS and radio.

    One friend straps on a ham radio and jumps out of an airplane to operate Parachute Mobile.

    Another friend sends images with their location via GPS over radio. Then has software that will receive the image live and plot it at the location in Google earth.

    We’ve participate in the Maker Faire for years.

    I’ve built electronics test gear, radios and other electronics toys. Some of these kits require surface mount soldering (SMD) skills.

    I participate in more traditional activities such as participating in emergency communications to help when the traditional communication infrastructure does not work well. This includes activities such as parades and bike races. Along with more serious events such as earthquakes, fires and floods.

    There is more to ham radio than just seeing how far your signals carry.

    Even though absolutely no morse code skills are required to earn a ham radio license, many are doing it for fun.

    There is a niche for everyone who wants to earn their license.

    If any of this seems interesting, visit a local club. Also visit a field day site. http://www.arrl.org/field-day . Field day is the biggest, geekiest weekend in ham radio for the year. It is June 26 & 27, 2010.

    Rambling done.

  4. It is worth noting that price should not be a reason to not get certified. Most clubs and individuals have a few radios collecting dust waiting to long term loan to a new operator. If you love to melt solder you can build an HF long range QRP radio transceiver set for under $100US the same money can buy the parts to make a two way handheld satellite setup using a used dual band HT, a homebrew antenna, and duplexer.

  5. Not that I’m saying that ham radio is antiquated. Definitely not! But when I was at Maker Faire last year the exhibit that gave me the most chuckles was the 4 old guys manning the homemade slide ruler exhibit. Not that I’m comparing ham radio guys to them. No way! Mpechner/#3 even mentioned Arduinos and followed it up with a reference to parachuting!

    I’m just sayin. And besides, its late, and what the hell else am I going to comment on at this point.

  6. Amateur radio is also probably the only way a regular mortal person will ever get a chance to talk to an astronaut while they are in orbit.

  7. The flipside of that encouragement is that for every really sweet thing a very bright HAM enthusiast builds, there are a few who cobble things together that look like ThereIFixedIt.com candidates… and countless more who bleed their signal into every unshielded wire in every electronic device nearby when they broadcast (picture the crackly distorted voice of the radio operator deafeningly booming into your ears on a $70 pair of brand-name headphones).

  8. Amateur radio is a misnomer. Amateur radio operators have a “non-commercial radio license.” In many cases these radio operators are professional engineers who are pursuing their interests and passions non-commercially.

    73’s Michael/K1YS

    (first gained a non-commercial FCC radio license in 1958 at the age of 12)

  9. Ah, the good old days of wiring up a 15ma loop for a M15 teletype. . .

    But by the late 80s you could buy a ham radio in the store that you’d plug in, and it’d work first time every time.

    The fun was gone.

    73s though.

    BTW, it’s “slide rule”, not “slide ruler”. Kids these days!

    1. Speaking as someone who still has both a Model 15 TTY and a slide rule, I don’t think you get the point of being a “Maker”: it’s not because you can’t buy something which would work the first time.

      And BB: only the wealthy guys could buy Collins (or Drake) equiptment, and because they could buy the best, they were somewhat unlikely to be Makers, in my experience.

      So, if you *really* want to show the Maker Spirit, display a picture of homebrew equipment, rather than commercial equipment.

  10. AirPillo, nine times out of ten, when a ham radio guy’s signal interferes with someone else’s electronic device, it’s the fault of the device, not the ham. Electronic devices and cables can be shielded to prevent RF interference, and most good quality ones are. But there’s a lot of cheapo electronic junk out there that’s being built without that shielding to save on cost. It’s not really the ham’s fault if he interferes with these poorly designed devices, and there’s not much he can to do not interfere with them, except to not transmit at all.

  11. Great editorial. But Moseson is incorrect when he says that the world of computers no longer offers much scope for the maker. A visit to the world of Linux, and a look at the multitudes of open source software projects that hobbyists are working on, should dispel that fear.

    1. “But Moseson is incorrect when he says that the world of computers no longer offers much scope for the maker. A visit to the world of Linux, and a look at the multitudes of open source software projects that hobbyists are working on, should dispel that fear.”

      There’s a split going on under this question. In software, it’s absolutely true that there is a lot of scope for the maker. But in hardware, it’s a different matter. Hams still design and build radios from the raw parts up, but not too many Linux makers are designing and building motherboards from the parts up.

      For now, this isn’t a huge deal. But going forward, subtle changes can have deep effects. Notice that most laptops no longer come with a line in? They have a mic input, but not a line input. You can write cool audio processing software, but you can only patch on top of the missing hardware. You can’t really take that motherboard design and fork it to build your own with line inputs.

  12. Steve Wozniak used to be interested in ham radios when he was young. I’d say he was a maker ;)

  13. We had fun this year and last year at the Maker Faire. This year I showed a GPS disciplined oscillator and a Rubidium atomic reference, both at 10 MHz, and measured about a 1ppb difference between them with a $25 oscilloscope. It was fun for me because I got great feedback from the time-nuts (online) and evilmadscientist (at the faire), a closet former NIST researcher, and now am working on measuring parts per trillion. Last year I showed how you could use garage door transmitters and GPS modules to make an APRS-like system I called the “Marauder’s Map,” which I hoped would form a bridge between the two cultures — it got on hackaday, so I think it worked.

    After last year, organizer mpechner scored the vanity callsign NE6RD, and this year he one-upped me with an Arduino APRS shield project he got from Scott N1VG. So, we’re all helping each other, and having fun building on each other’s work. In some ways, ham radio reminds me of experimental musicicians, borrowing and resampling and building on each other’s work.

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