Amateur radio is a fascinating historical artifact. Why did society give up something as valuable as electromagnetic spectrum to a bunch of mere hobbyists? (We're talking billions of dollars of potential profit here!) Well, there are several big reasons, summarized in a Federal Communications Commission acronym: PICON. Those letters stand for the "Public Interest, COnvenience, and Necessity".

Since early in the twentieth century, radio amateurs were pioneers in creating the technologies that evolved into modern telecommunications systems. Hams taught themselves and each other Morse code, circuit design, ionospheric propagation principles, antenna theory, and a host of other concepts. When war came they enlisted (or were drafted) as ready-made comms experts. When natural disaster struck they provided emergency connectivity. They policed the airwaves and tracked down pirate operators. They led countless young people into careers as scientists and engineers. And they did it all at their own expense. Governments wisely encouraged this because it promoted the general welfare.

But fast-forward to the present. Is ham radio obsolete today? Like bridge, bowling, numismatics, philately, and many other graying leisure-time pursuits, the ranks of the amateurs are thinning as death turns them one by one into "Silent Keys". Not many people build their own equipment anymore; it's too complicated and expensive. Cellphones and Internet chat offer some of the same thrills that used to come only grudgingly, through the crackle of static in headphones, late at night while carefully tuning the dial. Who needs to study for months to learn the radiotelegraph code, electronic theory, and regulations? Why bother to take tests and earn your callsign and then practice still more to advance to the higher ranks, when you can have it all with just a few mouse clicks?

But of course, without hard work you don't really have it all --- you've only rented the illusion of having a sliver of it. And the mirage only persists as long as everything is working properly. Go outside normal parameters and the house of cards collapses. Try to do something unanticipated and hit a brick wall. Annoy folks who have more knowledge and less morality, and watch them hack into your systems. Stop paying license fees and see how long your ship stays afloat. Pry open a black box and watch the lawyers swarm over you. Let a hurricane blow through and hope, in the dark, that somebody better-prepared will be able to turn the power back on.

There's magic in the long-term learning that amateur radio encourages --- self-reliance, creativity, resiliance, and above all, honor. Like girl scouts and boy scouts, like volunteer firemen, like emergency rescuers: hams exist to serve. PICON ....

(see also MolybdeNumbed (10 Jan 2001), WouffHongAndRettysnitch (19 Jul 2001), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), ScriptKiddiesEverywhere (18 Sep 2002), ...)

73 de N6WX

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicScience - TopicSociety - 2003-01-10

(correlates: AirFlow, MolybdeNumbed, SilentKeys, ...)