Hamming It Up

My listening interests have shifted in the past couple weeks. After nailing down Eritrea and Ethiopia, I’ve scaled back my time in the broadcast bands and been spending more time in the amateur bands. As I discovered on the broadcast bands, listening to hams is a very different experience than it was 20 years ago.


I dabbled with listening to hams in the 80s. I’d get really into it for a month or so and then the propagation would shift and it would be time to chase some different DX targets on the broadcast bands. At one point I went as far as drawing up personalized QSL cards that I would send out in an effort to at least verify all 50 states. A surprising number of hams replied, but I don’t think I got more than 20 or so states verified.


The big difference I see is that ham DXing is less hit-and-miss now to the casual listener. In the 80s, I would have to subscribe to 73 or CQ magazines to have an idea where the rare stations were setting up shop. Since I rarely did that, logging countries on the ham bands was all about luck.


Today, though, thanks to a handful of free websites, I can see exactly where operators from countries I want to log are transmitting. Last night, for example, thanks to DXwatch.com I settled on a station from the Isle of Man. He sounded like he was in Ohio, not a small island in the Irish Sea. And while I listened to the biggest DX pileup I’ve ever heard, I logged a couple new states and three new countries.


I’ve stuck with the ham bands for a couple reasons. First, I can dodge the local noise a bit better there than on the broadcast bands. 20 and 10 meters offer plenty of DX targets in the evening, and if I slip down to 80 meters, going to LSB cuts the noise a bit. Second, I’m considering getting my license. At this point I’m just thinking the Technician Class license, which offers limited HF priviliges for a non-CW guy like myself. But it’s the first step into the world of hamming. I can start slow, both in terms of hardware investment and time, with a 2 Meter handheld. While I figure out how the heck VHF works, I can build on my meager electronics knowledge and then try for the General Class license down the road.


I’ve been reading a couple Technician Class study guides and have cruised through a couple practice tests. I don’t think I’ll have a problem passing a real test, it’s just a matter of finding a testing session that is convenient. There are two that involve a bit of a drive in June, and then one right downtown if I want to wait until July.


Oh, and I discovered over the weekend my new neighbor is an ARO. Our wives shuddered in fear/disgust/shame when we started talking about radio the other night.


None of that means I’m giving up on broadcast DXing. In fact, with summer right around the corner and our family’s vacation home opening up, I can take the R-75 down to a more rural location and see if that bitter noise that plagues our neighborhood disappears and lets me chase some domestics under 6 MHz.


If there was any doubt, I’m definitely back in love with radio.