The Cranky Sysadmin A world of technology, fun, and ignorant rants.

February 27, 2013

Why Become a Ham?

Filed under: ham radio — Cranky Sysadmin @ 8:21 pm

A friend of mine from Finland discovered the hobby of amateur radio a few days ago. He doesn’t have a license or a rig. As far as I can tell, the hobby just looks interesting to him. That got me thinking about why someone would want to become a ham radio operator.

Technical Challenge:

If you like to build things or solve technical problems of almost any size, ham radio has a lot to offer. You can do a deep dive into analog and RF electronics, digital electronics, and antenna theory. If you’re a software engineer, digital signal processing is a challenging field with lots of room to grow and lots of space for innovation. You can go as simple or complex as you want with your problems, from buying your gear and making it all work together to designing your own gear. You do need some problem solving skills, so if you’re not at all technically inclined, this hobby might be frustrating.


Many hams love to participate in contests. A common type of contest is contacting as many different countries in a set period of time as possible. There are many other scored contests. I’m not much into contesting, so I can’t speak much on the topic.

Useful Skills:

If you aspire to be an electronics engineer, you can have a lot of fun while learning a career. Outside learning as much as you want about electronics in particular, there are the general problem solving skills you can learn which are applicable everywhere.

Emergency Preparation:

If you know how to operate a radio under stress, you have a valuable skill that you can contribute to your community in the event of disaster. Along this line, I’ve read that a lot of Preppers are getting their amateur radio licenses to prepare for various emergencies.

Meet Strange New People:

I’m only being a little facetious here. Hams tend not to think like most people. I consider that a feature, but your mileage may vary. In the US, there are about 700,000 hams in a population of 300 million. You can bet that with the technical hurdle at the gate, and the type of activities that hams do, they (as a group) probably aren’t like normal people. Most are kind souls who are helpful and intelligent, so you may be able to forgive their strange hobby.

It’s Probably not Like Your Day Job:

Much like golf, ham radio is probably not like your day job. This makes it a good way to unwind for a lot of people. If you have non-technical friends, they probably have no interest in ham radio. Maybe “non-technical friends” includes your spouse as is the case with me. My wife is understanding, and supportive. I like to think she considers this a good way for me to stay out of trouble and exercise my mind.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to consider ham radio as a hobby, but that’s all I can think of on short notice. I promise, I’ll get back to progress on my antenna analyzer.

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