|Just a few of the ham radios in my "shack"|
At last count there are over 700,000 ham radio operators in the United States and close to three million worldwide. The number of licensed amateur operators has actually increased over the last several years since the requirement to learn Morse Code was eliminated from the license test. I had to learn code when I earned my license but passed that section by the skin of my teeth.
Of course, the big difference in using a radio instead of a cell phone is often you aren't trying to contact one specific person. Rather, you are just transmitting you call letters and waiting for someone to answer, or listening for other folks who you'd like to connect with. It is also a bit of a thrill to suddenly hear an operator in England or Japan respond to you. In times of emergencies (think Katrina) cell phones or landlines stop working. With a proper battery, ham operators are often the only ones left to help coordinate aid and emergency services.
For the period from 2004 through 2007 I was very active as a ham. In fact, for three of those years I served as the president of a local amateur radio club. I put antennas on my roof and in the backyard, bought several radios for my office, and even installed one in my car. It was fun to talk with other hams across town, across the country, even across the ocean.
Then, I stopped. Without going into the scientific details, it became increasingly difficult to contact people on the radio. These down periods often last up to a decade, so it becomes tough to maintain interest in something that works rather poorly for all that time.
I moved on to prison ministry, church small group leadership, and eventually blogging. While I kept the various transmitters and antennas, I didn't turn on the radios. A hobby that had captivated me disappeared from my life.
The down period I referred to had bottomed out a year or so ago and things on the radio bands were improving, though I hadn't paid any attention. Then, for some reason, about two months ago I turned one of the radios back on. Suddenly I was hearing voices from all over the world. In short order I jumped back onto the air. Within the space of a few weeks I talked with fellow hams in Australia, New Zealand, Wales, The Azores, Portugal, Japan, Germany, and Russia. For the first time in seven years I was enjoying the thrill of contact, the thrill that had enticed me into the hobby in the first place.
Is there a lesson broader than my restarting my long lost ham radio hobby? Yes, I think so. Retirement is a great time to revisit an interest or hobby that once enthralled you. Maybe you used to love model trains, or sketching or painting landscapes. Building simple wooden pieces of furniture or bookcases satisfied and calmed you. Did you once love to quilt, cook, or sew?
Did you collect stamps as a kid? Many of us did (including me) and found the colorful little pieces of gummed paper fascinating. Did you realize there are over 2 million stamp collectors just in the U.S.?
How about ....anything you once did you remember fondly at any time of your life? Now may be the perfect time to dust it off and try it again. Retirement gives you the time to indulge in something that once had a very special hold on you.