May 15, 2014

Welcome Back An Old Friend

Just a few of the ham radios in my "shack"
One of the hobbies I became rather heavily involved in after retirement was ham, or amateur, radio. You probably have known a ham radio operator at some point, or seen the large antennas on someone's roof or backyard. You may assume that hobby has pretty much died out. After all, why would you spend thousands of dollars to buy all that equipment to talk with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away when cell phones or Skype are so easy and cheap?

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.


21 comments:

  1. My dad, K5QNX, was a ham for nearly fifty years. I remember him studying for the test in the late 50s, then building power supplies and collecting all the equipment necessary for the hobby. I still have all his QSL cards- he talked to every continent including Antarctica when the "skip" cooperated. I didn't inherit his love of ham radio, but I remember fondly my childhood when I'd hear him call, "CQ, CQ, CQ, this is K5QNX, calling..." He wanted his call on his headstone. It's there.

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    1. Great memories, Jeff. I have a few walls partially covered with QSL cards, too (post cards that are sent by a ham to verify contact). They are pretty and remind me of all the people I have talked with.

      For those that don't know, CQ is ham speak for "I'd like to make contact with anyone. Please respond." Seems rather fitting for a headstone.

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  2. Never was a ham; I collected coins when I was a kid. I still have the bulk of my collection down in the basement somewhere, but I don't think I'm going back to it. I guess I kinda feel, instead of welcome back old friend -- been there, done that.

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    1. I collected coins, too, for a while, but found stamps held my interest longer. However, like you, at least in terms of stamps I don't want to start again. Besides, it has become a rich man's hobby.

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  3. Glad to hear you're back at it. You got me thinking - maybe it's time to dust off the radio here. Need to put up some hidden antennas, though, thanks to the HOA. 73-- K0FBF

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    1. Yes, my vertical, 6 meter beam, horizontal loop, and various 220 and 2m/440 antennas wouldn't please an HOA.

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  4. It's funny that I'm reading this post now. About a week ago I was thinking about trying to get back to the "me" I used to be. Last week I pulled out my jump rope and did a few jumps. It used to be soooo easy! The jumping got me thinking that I'd like to try running again, but not marathons. I'm thinking I'll try running a 5k race in the near future. I've also been away from my "people" in the Library. I'll be going there today. I've missed the real books.

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    1. There is much comfort in some of the things in our past that were important to us. Starting to run for pleasure and getting back to a library "habit" are excellent examples.

      BTW, Betty and I went to a used book store yesterday and walked out with 12 paperbacks for our long RV trip. Even though I have close to 50 books on the Kindle, having a book in your hand feels so much better than a tablet.

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  5. I want to go camping...that surprises me a lot. I fought that vacation style for so many years because it was all work and no play with three children. Now I miss the night air, the stars and even the smell of a tent. Go figure!

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    1. I never enjoyed tent camping very much but like the feeling of being in nature, breathing fresh, pine-scented air, and allowing the day to flow without a schedule or commitments....as long as I can end the day in an RV or nice resort!

      You and Earl should give tent camping a try. Oregon is certainly loaded with some incredibly beautiful places to check out.

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  6. I have thought of getting back to playing the piano, but it involves BUYING a piano! LOL! AND taking lessons, and finding a place for the piano is our smaller home.. may put that off. However,writing was always my first love in life, I wanted to be an English teacher when I was younger.I have started writing my "NURSE'S NOTES" book, stories from my years in Mom and Baby nursing.I may self publish.. who knows?Enjoying the process.. I also had to put a lot of my collage art hobby to the side in the past year while we made our transition. .ready to get back to that too!

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    1. Though it isn't the same, you could consider an electric keyboard. With the proper setting it can sound like a piano and you can make music.

      Writing a book and getting back to art.....you have a lot to keep you busy in Pine.

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  7. Stamp collecting was a great way to learn a lot of geography and history. I gravitated from European to all U.S. issues. Interest waned, and I gave the collection to my son. I have no interest in renewing the hobby, but enjoy revisiting it now and then with a trip through the old albums at my son's home.

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    1. I actually started my very first business built around stamps: buying extras of each issue to put in small envelopes and trying to sell them around the neighborhood. It didn't work but set me on a path of self employment for much of my life!

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  8. I have always loved anything related to music. I got back to piano/keyboard in retirement and play the uke (can't manage the guitar). I am now taking a free online course on coursera.org. It is a fascinating course on songwriting. So far it relates mostly to writing lyrics. Even is I never write songs it is interesting to see how line length and the various rhyme forms convey different emotions. Can't wait to see what next week's lesson reveals. Also thinking of playing bridge again. Loved it in college, but it has been years since I played. It is a great mental exercise.

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    1. Is bridge one of those games that will disappear when our generation dies out? My parents were big bridge players, but only a few of my peers play and I've never heard of people my daughters' ages (33-35) play. I've always thoughts it looked intriguing but have never tried it myself.

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    2. There are still lots of organizations and tournaments out there, but you are right it mostly involves people of our generation. When we were in college, we played pretty much every time we could get four people together. And for years after that I was in bridge clubs. Some Ivy League school are trying to get bridge clubs started, but it requires some effort to learn to play and you never completely master the game. Now young people are much more interested in hanging out on social media. I can feel myself getting mentally fuzzier with age, so it might be good for me to go back to it.

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  9. I spent the morning servicing the garden tiller and lawn mower, then tilled the garden and planted some vegetables for the first time with my granddaughters, ages 6 & 4. When I was young, the garden just meant work as my mom "planted the groceries" (my granddaughter's words);the garden was a necessity to feed the family back then. I want to feed myself too but mostly I want to enjoy the planting and the produce that comes from it. And I want to share this activity with the next generation. In reflecting upon this, I realize that I want to get back to play, not taking life quite so serious, stop to watch an earthworm and follow a spider and have a break for "bubble juice" (cream soda). And like my other "hobbies", the play activities may be difficult to justify to others but they'll certainly nourish my heart & soul.

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    1. Great comment, Mona. It sounds as though this post stirred up some pleasant memories and might have reopened a "closed" door. Gardening is tremendously relaxing and a good physical activity.

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  10. Bob- Maybe I'll see you on Six Meters sometime! DE AB5L (Marty)

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    1. I've made lots of 6 meter contacts in Texas, Marty. Maybe we'll get a little June opening this year to play with. Listen for K7UNL.

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