Why use digital ham radio?

Amateur “ham” radio is just for old guys, right?

Well no, not at all. Even out here in the boondocks — the Highland Lakes of Central Texas — we have guys AND gals and young-uns as well as old farts. Granted, there are more old guys than of the other combinations but that’s changing.

Why would anyone under about 80 do ham radio?

There are many reasons like the technical challenges, support for your community in emergencies, talking to people all around the world, but I’m here to talk about digital communications. It has a lot in common with computers, texting and such but you can use more than just your thumbs.

OK, so what about this “digital” thing?

Ham radio has come a long way from Morse code and talking into a microphone with static crashes coming from a speaker. We now connect radios to computers and we type rather than speak. There are many ways that we use digital communications for emergency messaging purposes but let’s look at one fun aspect:  just “talking” to someone for the joy of human interaction.

One digital method can be compared to instant messaging. Purely over the airwaves with your computer connected to a radio, contact can be made anywhere in the world and a “conversation” conducted by typing back and forth. Here’s an excerpt where I answered a fella in California:



KA5GIL de W9UVZ W9UVZ thank you for answering my call. Name is Richard QTH Vista CA How copy?

W9UVZ de KA5GIL Hi Richard, name hre is Gil. You are stronger than raw onions here in Central Texas, just NW of Austin. K

CQ means hello anyone please call me back. In answered and we had a brief initial exchange. After another brief exchange about our stations and I told him a bit about me, he said:

KA5GIL de W9UVZ Your signal is pouring in up here also. A court judge… how abt that! I was a parochial school teacher in Wisconsin for 43 years. I moved to
CA about 2 years ago. The xyl died about 4 years ago and I had a couple of kids living in this area, so I decided to move out here.. It’s worked out very well. I
like to golf  and here I can golf every day. (unless it’s raining!) KA5GIL de W9UVZ

An “xyl” is ham-ease for a spouse. Suddenly we know a good bit about one another. We continued to visit for 24 minutes whereby I made a new friend. When is the last time you sat down for 24 minutes with a complete stranger and talked? Richard talked more about his career:

KA5GIL de W9UVZ   When I first started teaching, I had 35 kids and all eight grades in a coutry school.  As I look back on it now, I can’t imagine how I did it, butat the time, I just said it was my job and I went ahead and did it the best I could….    Later, I taught in the city of Appleton Wi and just had 5th grade…although at that time kids were so plentiful that some years i had 40 or more kids in my room….   I have no regrets… it was a good life and fortunately I still have good enough health to enjoy golfing ext…   KA5GIL de W9UVZ  k

And so it went for the 24 minutes. In a matter of just a few hours a ham with modest equipment can meet many such new folks from around the world. You see “hi hi” in a couple of places — that’s ham-speak for laughter. It originated in Morse code because an “h” is 4 dits and an “i” is two dits and done twice, it (sort of) sounds like a chuckle.  Play this in your head:  four rapids “dits” with a teeny pause and two more, then do two back to back.  **** **   **** **

You will see some other strange things in the transcript:

  • K just means “over”
  • KN means “over” but specifically addressed to that one person
  • Pse is an abbreviation for please
  • de means “this is”
  • QTH is location
  • QSO means conversation
  • 73 means “best wishes” — a polite goodbye

The full exchange is with Richard.

QSO with W9UVZ – Richard (click to open text file)

And what does it look like on the computer screen?

fldigi screen

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