Thursday, October 15, 2009

Taking the radio out of ham radio

Paul, PC4T has just posted in his blog about CQ100 VOIP Ham Radio. He asks: "Is this still ham radio?" What surprised me is that what provoked his post was an article called "I've got my hobby back", subtitled "CQ100 is an option for hams that can't get on the bands" published by none other than the ARRL. Pardon me, but I thought the first "R" in ARRL stood for "Radio."

I've already made a couple of comments on this to Paul's blog post, but I'm starting to wonder if the ARRL is losing the plot. I do read QST, and it seems to me that many of the editorial staff live in situations where they have limited opportunities to get on the air. This is reflected in the increasing number of articles on things like D-Star and FM operating. And now this. I used to look forward to receiving QST every month but I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth the money.

It's a fallacy to say that just because you can't have antennas you can't do ham radio, as I and other bloggers such as Paul, and John, N8ZYA are trying to prove. Even if you don't have a tiny attic like I do, you can make a simple magnetic loop and make QRP contacts with it on the desk beside you, or you can load up the curtain rail and see how far you can get using WSPR. Surely any of these real radio activities are more interesting and rewarding than pretending to operate ham radio while not actually using radio at all?

By encouraging the idea that unless you can put up outside antennas you'd be better off playing fake ham radio on the internet the ARRL is doing the entire hobby a disservice. Let's hope the government agencies don't get wind of this or someone may start to wonder why we need all that valuable spectrum space at all.


GW0KIG said...

Hi Julian,
You may have seen the comment I made on PC4Ts blog about this. Having read the ARRL article I can see your concerns. The author portrays CQ100 as if it is real RF radio. The idea of contests on a system which is no more than a chat room for hams is crazy.I don't think this a threat to true amateur radio though. For one thing it isn't particularly heavily used.If we see it as simply another chat programme which happens to be exclusively for radio amateurs then that is nearer the mark. There is no challenge or achievement in using it any more than it is an achievement to use a telephone.Incidentally there is another similar system out there which simulates interference, random band conditions and QRM!! In any case like most of us the existence of these systems would never replace my fascination with 'Real Radio'
73 de Kevin

Jeff Davis, KE9V said...

I'm a bit lost by your comments and your atitude. Of course this sort of online activity isn't radio, but what about that makes it a "bad" thing? Let's say some pensioner moves to a retirement home and leaves his hobby behind. One day he gets on the Internet and strikes up with some of his old friends via the Internet.

MY GOODNESS -- has some crime been committed?

It simply comes down to the fact that we hams will easily strike up a conversation with a total stranger if he also happens to be a ham. It gives us common ground when we talk a certain way (CQ, QSL, 73, etc.) and the same is not true when striking up a conversation with a perfect stranger.

So hams have found a place where they can meet and chat with other hams online. Would they prefer to have a 1500W setup with a 100 foot tower and beam? Of course! But lacking that, where is the harm in chatting in this manner?

Let me ask you -- have you ever attended a hamfest and sit around a table enjoying coffee and casual conversation with fellow ham radio enthusiasts? What -- you have? How dare you -- THAT'S NOT REAL RADIO!!! The true ham should ignore any sort of communication with another ham unless it comes via RF.

This bit of silliness seems to be at the core of your argument...

73 de Jeff, KE9V

Unknown said...

I'm a bit lost by your comment, Jeff. I never said that there was anything wrong with meeting and chatting with other hams online whether it's using forums like or some online chat system. The silliness is pretending that it's radio, making the user interface look like radio, using ham radio procedures just as if you were on the radio (yes, I tried it once, a year or more ago, and they do that.)

I certainly didn't suggest any crime had been committed - don't know where you got that idea from - but I do disagree with the suggestion in the article (did you actually read it) that this was a serious alternative way to take part in ham radio for people who are not permitted antennas. It cannot be an alternative to ham radio because no aspect of ham radio - no construction, no experimentation, no antennas, no effects of propagation - is involved in it.

It's just a chat system, no more and no less. There is nothing wrong with VOIP chat, any more than there is anything wrong with our having this conversation via the comment form on my blog. The difference is that neither you nor I, unlike the author of that article, are under the illusion that what we are engaging in is ham radio.

David, K2DBK said...

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with this, but it's not radio. It's multi-room voice chat environment that you need to be a ham to access. There's nothing wrong with striking up a conversation using RF, IP, or AF (talking!), but nobody would call a bunch of guys sitting around a table "in-person radio".

I think that part of the issue is that we like to stick with terminology that we know, so hams call this "Internet Radio" much the same way as they do with streaming audio from broadcast stations that are transmitted over the Internet. It's just too confusing to call it "streaming audio" for many people, so the simplified version is "Internet Radio". (This is the same reason why you still "dial a phone". Nobody has yet come up with a better term for it.)

This is all fine, but it certainly isn't radio.

David, K2DBK

David, K2DBK said...

Oops, looks like Julian got in before me and pretty much said what I did.

I do want to add that (as was noted by the editor in the article) these "contacts" should not count for any of the "rf-based" awards, nor should they be included in "rf-based" contests. If they want to run shadow contests with shadow awards and shadow adjudication, that's fine. (I will say that it would be trivial to have the system owner "record" ever single QSO; wouldn't that be nice "in real life"?)

David, K2DBK

Unknown said...

Yes, I think the editor's comments were needed to avoid the impression some people might have got that this really was a way to participate in ham radio activities.

As to the suggestion in the article that they could have contests, well I suppose it won't do any harm, but I find the idea ludicrous. Everyone has perfect propagation to everyone else, give or take the reliability of their broadband connection, so where is the excitement, the element of luck, the challenge, that makes real contest participation a worthwhile exercise?

No crime is being committed, but I do think it is a disservice to the hobby to suggest that just because you can't have a good antenna system you should just use this fake radio system instead of trying to do what you can with low power and indoor antennas, or operating from the park or your car like many other people in that situation.

Jeff Davis, KE9V said...

HI Julian. My reply was mostly tongue in cheek. I had read the article on both eHam and the ARRL Web and do agree that the ham radio interface is a bit silly as is the $32 charge to do what can be done elsewhere for free.

Having said that and not having ever used this VoIP service, I still think it's nice that there is a place online for hams to congregate where they can talk like they are on the air.

I know that I don't like to chat with total strangers online and it seems that having a friendly spot where it sort of "sounds" like ham radio and feels familiar makes it a valuable service.

No question, it's not radio and the ARRL was quick to add you can't get any award credit for these "contacts".

Nevertheless, I'm happy to see that folks who perhaps can't get on the air anymore still have a way to stay connected to the fraternity.

Warmest 73 de Jeff, KE9V

Unknown said...

Hi Jeff. From that point of view I can see it could be useful. But when I tried it out of curiosity I personally found it rather silly using VOIP and pretending I was on the radio.

Really I just got a bit annoyed by the implication in the article that if you can't have the kind of station that lets you have a 30 minute rag chew with someone in India, doing it over VOIP is an acceptable alternative. I've never had the kind of station that enabled me to do that but 35 years on I still find enough other things to do with radio to keep my interest.

Let's call CQ100 a VOIP chat service for ham radio operators instead of trying to kid people it's ham radio.

Jeff Davis, KE9V said...

"Let's call CQ100 a VOIP chat service for ham radio operators instead of trying to kid people it's ham radio."

I agree.

73 de Jeff, KE9V

Ed N4EMG said...

The first go-around I kind of missed Jeff's tongue-in-cheek tone, but once he pointed it out and I reread it, I noted the sarcasm. I also subscribe to the opinion that this form of communication is hardly representative of ham RADIO. I suppose it has a useful benefit for reasons already pointed out in previous comments. Sometimes I sense that there is a group of bloggers who feel that if you're not up-to-date with the latest social networking apps and gee-whiz substitutes for real ham radio, then shame on you for not keeping abreast of things. Frankly, I'll probably just give up the hobby if some of these silly alternatives actually do gain a strong foothold and replace operating as I know it.

73 Ed N4EMG

David, K2DBK said...

Ed, I wouldn't leave the hobby even if it does catch on. Of course, as I (and others) have noted, it simply isn't ham radio at all. No reason to leave, it's just "something else". Fortunately, nobody forces you to operate in any mode (if that really even applies here) that you don't want to, so you can just ignore the VoIPers if you want.

David, K2DBK

Steve GW7AAV said...

See for my take on the subject. I had forgotten until I read it on PC4T's blog that it is a pay for service stuff that and call me on Skype it's free.

Paul Stam PAØK said...

Oh boy oh boy, what have I done? Hi. Maybe Sony would be interested for 'My first Sony Ham Radio' a first step to real ham radio. We need more youngsters in Ham Radio space, because otherwise it will die out sooner or later. 73, Paul PC4T

Unknown said...

David and Ed,

I wouldn't leave the hobby either. But I do think some of us curmudgeons have a responsibility to point out that things like this are not what ham radio is about, in case newcomers get the wrong impression from reading articles like that one.

It was the suggestion that CQ100 was a way to take part in the hobby that didn't involve having to mess with antennas that I disagreed with, not the existence of the chat system per se.

Ed N4EMG said...

My last comment about leaving the hobby may have been taken too literally. Or I may have chosen the wrong words? I'm not advocating giving up the hobby simply because something like CQ100 exists, or if a dozen similar alternatives existed. But if similar means began to displace actual radio operation, then that would be a direction I would hate to see the hobby go. Certainly we're not in danger yet.

Jspiker said...

I had not even THOUGHT about loosing MORE "band space" because of "non-use" on the two meter band.

An excellent point Julian!

There are bushels of company's that would LOVE to have the entire 2 meter and 70cm portions of the band here in the US.

I would agree this is nothing but "Skype" in another package.

This is NOT my cup of tea....and I agree NOT radio.

It's confusing when I think about Hams that THINK they can't run HF radio from an apartment building...

This IS silly....