Chapter Six: Activities
Many observers of the current Amateur Radio scene are concerned over the extent to which today's amateurs rely upon commercially built equipment and upon factory service for that equipment when troubles arise. This has been accompanied by a decline in equipment construction and experimental activities. In light of this trend, it is appropriate to wonder whether the technical activities of Amateur Radio are still important. With relatively inexpensive and technically sophisticated radios readily available, is it really necessary for an amateur to be technically proficient, or should the emphasis shift to operations-how we use our radios?
The resounding answer is that most experienced amateurs believe that the technical side of Amateur Radio is important. In the first place, competent communicators must be able to tell whether their station is working properly and know what to do if it is not. The experienced operator must be able to maintain communications in spite of equipment failures or catastrophes which affect all or part of the normal station capabilities.
Furthermore, the current basis and purpose of the Amateur Radio Service speaks of ". . . the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art" and of "Expansion of the existing reservoir. . . of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts." When we compare the increasing need for technically trained people in today's society with the current shortage of engineering manpower, the technical side of Amateur Radio takes on even greater importance. Any activity which serves to interest young people in pursuing a technical career is important to our national interests.
While the day of major discoveries by an individual working in his or her own laboratory seems to be past, amateur experimenters can continue to make important contributions to technology. There are related fields, too, where amateurs have made and continue to make contributions; for example, amateurs regularly:
- Adapt and make practical use of new devices and communication techniques.
- Investigate and perfect new modes of communication.
- Provide a widely distributed, technically competent group of observers of natural phenomena ranging from radio propagation measurements to weather phenomena, radio astronomy, and potential indicators of impending earthquakes.
Unfortunately, these eager experimenters soon sense a valid and growing concern over the level of technological activities and the factors that restricts them in many situations from keeping up with progress. Among the deterring influences are the:
- Requirement for sophisticated and costly test equipment to cope with current technology.
- Scarcity of component sources for technical projects.
- Lack of practical home construction project literature.
- Inability of many amateurs to perceive the rewards to be derived from experimental involvement.
Experimenters can overcome the obstacles of advancing technology by pooling their knowledge and skills, much like making a group purchase of parts through programs coordinated by the TC and TS. One of Amateur Radio's reasons for being is technical competence. You don't necessarily have to be an experimenter, but no matter how you help others, sharing your technical ham knowledge can be a rewarding experience.
Newsletters are an informative way to spread the word about technology. They're especially useful because they can display views of projects or circuit schematics. The prime value of most newsletters is that they are very up-to-date and to the point. You might find some clubs that make part of their local gossip newsletters into a technical format. If they don't, you could check with the editor to see if article contributions would be accepted, most editors are delighted to get input. The League also has a few newsletters:
- QEX. The ARRL newsletter QEX, the Experimenter's Exchange, is a monthly publication packed with articles on equipment modifications, projects, the latest technical happenings, and special computer modes like RTTY, to mention only a few.
- The ARRL Letter. This ARRL newsletter is published weekly on the ARRL Web site and contains news about regulatory changes, new ARRL technical resources and other matters of interest.
Computers are streamlining Amateur Radio communications more rapidly than SSB replaced AM voice communications. Even inexpensive computers connected to ham radios can provide various speeds of CW, RTTY, and ASCII modes, while specialized computers can convert RTTY to synthesized voice for the blind, control various functions of repeaters, operate packet radio, check for duplicate contest contacts, keep logs, help keep club records or write news- letters. If you aren't set up with a computer in operation, then visit a friend with one and have fun. The more you know, the more you can share with others.
Many amateurs now own personal computers. Thousands more are interested in the subject or are about to purchase a computer. Technically inclined young people, who in the past might have taken up Amateur Radio, are now being attracted by the burgeoning technology of computers. So a closer tie between computers and Amateur Radio could potentially attract some of these gifted young computer enthusiasts to explore the complementary hobby of Amateur Radio, as well as allowing more amateurs a chance to become familiar with computer technology in exchange.
The computer approach is consistent with an overall goal of expanding the scope of Amateur Radio into a vitally important new area-networking or linking of computers, remote entry, use of computer records and related subjects. This technology will have an explosive growth in the 21st Century, and Amateur Radio should be a part of it. Try a couple of these computer activities for starters:
- Develop a series of Now to guides on uses of computers in Amateur Radio.
- Sponsor and encourage development of software for Amateur Radio applications.
- Develop reliable construction projects for interfacing between a computer and Amateur Radio equipment (transceiver frequency controls, signal processing and detection, RTTY/ASCII converters, antenna rotators, and such).
- Implement or support a club computer bulletin board with information of interest to amateurs and potential amateurs, especially in technical areas.
- Sponsor development of computer-based tutorials or Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) programs for licensing and for technical areas.
- Explore further the area of digital communications as a means of attracting experimentally-minded people into Amateur Radio.
- Establish club library or exchange system for computer programs related to Amateur Radio.
6.5 Computer Interference
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published a booklet giving a general overview of regulations concerning computing equipment, which are incorporated in Part 15, Subpart J of the Code of Federal Regulations Title 47 (47 CFR). The intent is to limit radio emissions originating from the operation of devices utilizing digital circuitry in order to minimize potential interference to television and radio communications. Some of the notable cases reported to the FCC were:
- Several western states police departments complained that coin-operated electronic games were causing harmful interference to its highway communication system in the 42-MHz region.
- A number of purchasers of a popular personal computer complained that its operation disrupted TV reception in their own and neighbor's home.
- Interference to aeronautical safety communications at an East Coast airport was traced to a drug store electronic cash register located one mile away.
- Interference from PABX telephone equipment to government communication service in the low VHF region of the spectrum.
6.6 Amateur Interference
Interference problems generated on VHF or UHF repeaters are primarily local problems requiring local resolution. The local amateur-to-amateur interference is dealt with by the Local Interference Committee. The Training Guide: Amateur Auxiliary To The FCC Field Operations Bureau, which summarizes procedures to be used by such committees, is being used by all Official Observers (00s). Such interference between amateurs is to be handled by the 00s or the Official Observer Coordinator (OOC).
The TS should limit RFI investigation to that caused by amateurs to non-amateur equipment, such as interference to entertainment equipment, radios, TVs, computers, telephones and intercoms.
6.7 Summary of Activities
Just as Dean Martin sings, "Everybody loves somebody, sometime," it's true in hamdom that "everybody helps somebody, sometime." If you have special technical knowledge and like helping someone by mail or on-the-air, or can give a club program, then the TC and TS roles are for you. You can inspire newcomers to work toward getting their ham licenses or encourage others to upgrade. Promote greater familiarity with personal computers and their use in Amateur Radio applications. Give a club program on your favorite technical subject to enlighten others. Just in case you would like a few more technical activities, here they are:
- Provide technical training for license classes.
- Diagnose and remedy problems to get rigs to work.
- Set up an amateur station and operate equipment properly.
- Teach and experiment with specialized modes making use of computers.
- Compile and use a section-mode directory, such as a list of all those capable of using packet radio, to help others.
- Encourage your friends with satellite or computer communications experience to give a club talk.
- Investigate the current VHF, UHF, ATV, SSTV, moonbounce, RTTY, computers, or satellite interests in your section and spread the word.
- Write, or help someone write. a technical article.
- Contact the OOC in your section and exchange notes on solutions to interference.
- Contact the ACC in your section and help with theory training programs.
- Ask others for suggestions to improve the technical content of QST and ARRL books. Convey this to Head- quarters.
- Conduct a ham radio demonstration at a school and encourage teachers to include Amateur Radio in a science curriculum.
- Become a radio merit badge counselor for the Scouts or work with an Explorer Post.
- Help in the Big Brother/Sister program teaching ham radio.
- Form a group to assist either handicapped hams with their rigs or those who can no longer do antenna work.
- Design, build, and test tutorial technical projects to be adopted into club programs of continuing education.
- Organize or catalog club member technical books and publications to form a library.
- Report your TC activities to your Section Manager
Add to this list of technical activities if you wish, but don't try too many activities at first. Begin with an easy activity, then slowly build up your skills. Just like the old saying says, "Success is a ladder that can't be climbed with your hands in your pockets," developing successful club activities can't be accomplished without hard work.