Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Ham Radio 2.0
By ARRL Youth Editor Duncan MacLachlan
Web 2.0 is the name that has been given to the second wind of the Internet evolution, characterized by new gadgets, new developments and new ways to have fun online. Amateur Radio is also experiencing a second wind, with more hams, more activity and more ways to enjoy the hobby than ever before. We are also experiencing a new marriage with the Internet, as well as a new immersion in social media.
Ham radio is an age-old hobby -- and at the same time a pinnacle of modern technology, but our goal remains to same: To initiate contact with another amateur in any way possible. Our means of achieving that goal continue to advance. From AM and tubes to PSK and solid state, the goal of contacting another amateur has stayed the exact same. We now have a new mode of connecting to other Amateur Radio operators; and that is social media.
When you turn on your radio, you use the ionosphere to communicate with a ham down the street or maybe in another country. When you turn on your computer, the Internet is the ionosphere that allows you to connect with hams around the world. For many years, hams have argued over whether the Internet helps or hurts Amateur Radio, but I believe the two work synchronously.
Social media has two principles: To connect people with people, and to connect people with purposes. Twitter, a social media site, is a prime example of this. You connect to your friends through messages of no more than 140 characters, and at the same time can connect to foundations, organizations and causes. Ham radio isn’t too dissimilar, with our underlying goal being to connect with others. As Scot Morrison, KA3DRR, said, “There is not too much difference between ham radio and Twitter. What has Ham Radio done? It’s allowed us to connect to those with similar interest. What has social media and Twitter done? The exact same thing.”
Scot is an avid ham radio enthusiast, and Twitter guru. He first signed on to social media in June 2008, when Web 2.0 was really taking off. “I jumped on the social media bandwagon and was trying everything. But due to ‘social media overload,’ I decided to focus on promoting ham radio through Twitter,” Scot said. “When I first joined Twitter, my intentions were to promote our 20th century hobby using 21st century means.”
That is the first advantage social media has. While we’re thought of as a hobby that has seen better days, by using social networking sites, we can prove to skeptics that it is quite the opposite. Through use of social media, we can make ham radio more visual to the public eye. Any kid with a computer can log in and see all this information on ham radio. Only instead of finding that on a club Web site or the ARRL’s Web site, he’s looking at it on Twitter and Facebook. But for this to happen, hams have to be online with the intention of promoting ham radio to the public.
“The number of hams jumping into social media has been phenomenal,” Scot said. “I have increasingly seen more and more hams using Twitter to share experiences, making ham radio a more personal and friendly hobby online.” He continued by saying that the role Twitter will play in promoting ham radio will be by connecting hams with other hams on a more personal basis. “Hams share their projects, experiences, ideas and it’s all out there for everyone to see. It not only connects those already licensed, but it shows to the world that ham radio is still a technologically exciting hobby and reliable form of communication.” One of the challenges many find once they join Twitter, is finding ham operators to follow. An insider tip is to go to hamfeed.com, which will allow you to find other hams on Twitter.
While many hams continue to sign onto Twitter and Facebook, some have gone one step further and created entire social networking sites for hams. Social media for hams, by hams. Chris Matthieu, N7ICE, is one of those who went the extra mile and created 73s.org, which is basically the Facebook of ham radio.
73s.org is a social media project that Chris started simply because “none of the sites met what I envisioned in a ham radio/social network Web site.” Chris wanted a Web site that would provide a friendly environment for hams to connect and get to know each other, and for younger hams to delve further into the hobby. Chris thinks that 73s.org and social media can help give Amateur Radio a more modern feel and help bring hams together off air.
Chris also sees his site as a resource to those looking to get into ham radio. “When we create a network of friends with similar interests and share our experiences, we share our knowledge. Social networking makes the knowledge and experiences of hams accessible by putting them in one spot for everyone to see, ham or non-ham.” Only hams can produce content, but everyone can consume it. “The 73s.org community is a very friendly and genuine, and there are many diverse people with diverse interests providing a wealth of knowledge to everyone,” Chris explained.
Chris says his mission is the same as the ARRL: promoting Amateur Radio and providing a place for younger and tech savvy hams to feel at home and for all hams to build friendships when the ionosphere won’t cooperate.
While nothing can ever replace the magic crackle of the ionosphere, I see social networking as a tool that hams can utilize for personal enjoyment, as well as betterment of the hobby. By producing that valuable content and making it available to the world, we not only continue to produce a new generation of hams but we give younger generations a comfortable online environment to learn. As a teenager, the idea of being able to log on to Twitter and ask a question is much more appealing than attending a radio club meeting as an unlicensed newbie. As a ham, following friends and reading of other ham’s adventures has kept me interested in this vast hobby.
While connecting to the nearest wireless hot spot isn’t as exciting as 20 meters on a contest weekend, social media certainly has a purpose to serve.
Up Coming Events
February 20-21: The ARRL International DX Contest (CW) is a fast-paced, 48 hour contest that any CW enthusiast will love. Starts 0000 UTC Saturday and runs to 2400 UTC Sunday. While the youngster in your neighborhood may not know code, use it as an excuse to get them into your shack and let them hear how active and exciting Amateur Radio truly is.
Thanks for reading73--
--Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM