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End of “Amateur” Radio?

As a hamradio operator and builder of hamradio stuff I would like to bring to you attention the article below taken from the Hot Iron 103 magazine.

SSB, AM and the end of “Amateur” Radio?

The advent of commercially available amateur SSB transmitters and transceivers in the 1960’s and 1970’s saw off the then common “phone” mode of AM; the marketing being particularly aggressive and pricing was - to say the least - keen, ensuring SSB dominated the “phone” mode after a few years. Quite rightly, for “phone” Dx the wider bandwidth of AM and lower efficiency did cause problems in the congested amateur bands then available. No WARC bands in those days meant the bands were (and still are) somewhat overloaded. This led to many amateurs, who would happily tackle building an AM transmitter but not an SSB transmitter, buying ready made technology in the form of a “black box”. Thus the vast majority of Radio “Amateurs” of today, following this “easy” answer are largely “Equipment Users” , with no real desire or motivation to build home-made gear. This is not to admonish such Equipment Users: not every amateur can build their own equipment for any number of reasons; but this is the road to eventual destruction of Amateur Radio as we know it. Sure, it won’t happen for years; sure it won’t affect those with commercial gear. But Radio Amateurs, to comply with their licenses, are meant to be constructors; otherwise how (apart from antenna and propagation studies) can any “experimental” or “self teaching” role be fulfilled?

Hot Iron is the journal of the Constructor’s Club, that solid core of Radio Amateurs who appreciate building home made RF equipment is a fascinating and rewarding process that is not too expensive or impractical. Home construction of RF equipment teaches the constructor the techniques that Equipment Users pay stacks of moolah for: the design, alignment, trimming, and... the manufacturer’s profit expectations. For those with limited resources, kits are available: superb technology at very low prices compared to a “plug-n-play” Black Box. You get excellent technology for minimal outlay, and the pleasure of setting up and operating equipment you’ve built yourself: this is the self-teaching aspect of our licenses at it’s best.

Our brothers-in-arms, the GQRP club, and the QRP movement in general throughout the World, have a growing membership devoted to low power RF techniques, deriving great pleasure from simple equipment designed and built at home in most instances. It’s fair to say most GQRP constructors probably have commercial RF equipment alongside their home made gear, and this I think represents the best combination - the commercial balanced by the home made amateur gear. Best of both Worlds! But - if you want to transmit more than 5 watts, QRP isn’t perhaps the best for you: certainly 5 watts will get you a long way if the conditions are right, but the overwhelming choice of SSB / CW operating power is more likely 100+ watts in order to be heard above the rising tide of man-made noise and interference. Add to that creating a 100 watt transmitter at home, from scratch, is for most a daunting prospect. So out comes the credit card, cheque book or whatever: several £/$ thousands change hands and it’s “plug-n-play”. A darker side of this is worth mentioning. Equipment “users” are inadvertently promoting the destruction of amateur radio bands, as they are not “experimenting” but simply operating commercial equipment. The commercial manufacturers of domestic electronics that create disruptive wideband interference therefore have a semi-legitimate claim that the amateur bands are no longer being used for their original purpose - experimentation - nor yielding any furtherance of RF technology, the very core of the Radio Amateur ethos. This means rising wideband noise is not an issue to those who generate the interference: hence no need to make any effort to accommodate the needs of Radio Amateurs.

The future?

If you want to see where Amateur Radio is leading by following the “Black Box” route, look at current “amateur” Photography magazines. No home made gear there? And look at those toe curling prices on the cameras, lenses and all the other optical paraphernalia that get punted out by “experts”. Now that does make you shiver!



When you like this article, please subscribe Hot Iron. Hot Iron is the FREE quarterly e-newsletter about radio related topics sent to all members of The Construction Club.

The above article is republished with the kind blessing of the autor Peter Thornton G6NGR.

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