This is a article written by Howie W9HG

Sometimes, we just have to stand back and take stock of ourselves, and maybe examine our direction and aims. The beginning of a new year always offers an excellent time for us to do just that. How about if we take a thoughtful look at amateur radio itself?

" Ham Radio Hobby Or Service"

Well, this discussion is not only interesting but very important. Amateur radio is at a pivot point in history where it is critical for us to know just what we are: members of a radio service or electronic hobbyists? I like to believe we are both and even more. There is no doubt that our mission statement has changed even though Part 97 is relatively unchanged in its wording. Handling traffic, checking into nets, chasing DX, learning to use CW as another Ham tool, building antennas, working with QRP, and experimenting with things like PSK31, satellite communication and digital voice transmission are just a few of the fun parts of amateur radio today.

However, we cannot hide from reality. Look at the coming of powerful home computers, high speed electronic connections, world wide communication and information transfer via the Internet, cheap long distance rates via phone cards, hand held Cell phones that can reach parties around the globe, global positioning satellite equipment that tells us at all times where we are and where we are going, and on and on. In my opinion only a fool would say that Amateur Radio is the same thing that it was twenty years ago.

We are at a new page in Amateur Radio History. It is not the end of Ham Radio. That is a prediction that has been made each time in the past when new electronic communication technology has been developed. Also, it is not the dawn of a new age where Amateur Radio will only be some form of charity or community service organization. Nor will Ham Radio be just a fun pastime for the electronically talented or technically curious. Nor will it be just another market for the commercial sale of high tech toys like high fidelity stereo sound or high definition TV. (Yes, Virginia, Radio Shack was once a serious source of electronic parts for Ham Radio Operators before it became an electronic toy store to survive in today's market.) What then are we to become in this new phase of our history?? That depends on us. Yes, we are to some extent all of the things mentioned above and more. But there are new challenges now before us. We are faced with a foreign world that is developing highly skilled engineers, scientists and technicians faster than we are. Our educators have not been able to generate the spark of curiosity and the desire to learn in many of our young Americans. That "spark" in the past has made our country the most innovative and productive in recorded history.

We are faced with new technologies that both make our lives more comfortable than ever before. And yet, most of us feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the speed of ongoing new developments. Our automobiles are the best and safest in history, yet highway accidents are the leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 20 years old. We know more about alternate fuels, recycling our waste, the protection of our natural environment, and the dangers of smoking that ever before. And yet smog still hangs over our city, our streams and lakes are still polluted. People still throw their waste out of car windows and leave trash to float down the rivers. We have not been able to help people stop a deadly habit that causes them to spend billions of dollars just to kill themselves with lung cancer.

And we think we have problems in Ham Radio??? It is my opinion, however, that the challenge has never been greater for Amateur Radio to demonstrate the importance of electronic communication and the use of sound methodology for the transfer of information. The challenge is to experiment and develop new and better methods. The challenge is to create a spark for our young Americans who will become the leaders of our Country when most of us have already "shorted to ground." The challenge is to serve our communities and demonstrate the need for an amateur radio service whether it is in providing safety through communications at a parade, setting up demonstrations of ham radio for public education, enjoying benefits of a 3905ccn, or helping with the myriad of communication problems associated with public safety during foul and dangerous weather. The challenge is to provide a well trained cadre of volunteer radio operators to provide back up for communications necessary for the defense of our homeland from terrorists.

There are some who say that Ham radio is no longer needed and the valuable frequencies we have should be sold to commercial interests to help with the national debt. What if tomorrow they were to outlaw visible ham antennas and towers everywhere? What if they reduced our maximum output power to five watts? What if they made the sale of commercially manufactured ham radio gear illegal? What if they said all future ham activities would be restricted to 11 meters?

Well, it has happened before. The frequencies being used in the early days of ham radio were stripped away by the government and given to commercial interests. Ham radio was restricted to the spectrum we now call the HF frequencies which at that time were thought to be worthless. The hams of that day met the challenge and found through experimentation that the HF frequencies could be used for long distance communication by bouncing signals off of the ionosphere.

Ham radio transmissions were silenced completely during World War II Thank God for the trained ham operators that were able to step in and help train the radiomen needed at that time. After the war AM was challenged by a new technology called single sideband. Many felt it would be "the end of Ham radio as they knew it."

So where are we now?? Same as before?? As I said earlier, in my opinion we are at a pivot point. It is time once again to discuss what we are and what we can be. A wise man once said, "Science is the study of why things are what they are. Engineering is the study of what things can become." We need to decide what we can and should become. We need to establish a new mission statement to supplement Part 97. And most important we need to get started right now. 2003 should be the year that we redefine ourselves in light of current technologies and the challenges of the future.

Amateur Radio is a "service" and a "hobby" and much more. We are public servants, we are pseudo scientists. We are "electronic dream weavers." We are historians. We are both student and teacher. We are the first level volunteer communicators of last resort during some emergencies. We are the first communicators on the scene of other emergencies. We can be the spark that lights the creative fires for a young person who may become the next Edison, Armstrong, or Faraday. Whatever we are, I believe it is critically important and I take it seriously. I believe amateur radio operators should stand proudly and let others know why Ham radio is and what it can be. I hope that during the coming year we can begin to establish a new and proper mission statement that will enable us to carry our antennas, our batteries, our gear our log books and a proud commitment to the meaningful operation of amateur radio (practice, hobby, service and much more) well into the next century.

Enjoy your Hobby/Service to its fullest and support it to the best of your ability as we have come a long way from yesterday, and tomorrow is bringing us glints of the future technology that will change our lifestyles.

I hope that everyone finds a bit of uplift in this message for a fantastic 2003.

Howie W9HG

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