EchoLink is Ham Radio Too

Jan 8, 2017
By: Jerry A. Goodson
In: Amateur Radio

It seems bigotry is everywhere in society, so it should come as no surprise it's even in the amateur radio hobby. We're not talking about racial bigotry, we're talking about ham snobbery.

There are two things people hate: one is change, and two is the way things are. Amateur radio is the number one platform for experimental innovation in communications... primarily, wireless communications.

Many commercial wireless communication modes, methods, and products originated as amateur radio experiments of some sort. Unlike commercial radio licenses, that Part 97 amateur radio license issued by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is license to experiment, create, and innovate, and enjoy.

Many hams lose sight of that.

Throughout history, hams have balked at new innovations in amateur radio. They are purists in their own particular interest in the hobby, and refer to some or all of everything else as, "that's not ham radio." Most are content to simply not participate in the aspects of the hobby that don't appeal to them, while others have no problem asserting their opinion. For a somewhat extreme example, read my op-ed piece titled Sorry Sucker Trashes 'Freedom Lickers' on the Radio Amateurs of Cass County website. 

There are the "old school" hams who objected to the elimination of the morse code requirement to get a technician license in the mid-1990s. They really got upset when the FCC eliminated the morse code requirement altogether in 2007. Hams can upgrade all the way to Extra Class without ever taking a code test.

The "CW only" hams have pretty much all died off by now. By "CW only," I mean those hams who objected to any phone mode in amateur radio. There are still many hams who don't believe local FM repeater ragchewing is considered amateur radio, and you'll only catch them on HF.  Then, there are the digital modes.

"It's ham radio, not ham computers."

CW was around before phone.  AM and SSB was around before FM.  Radios were around before computers.  Computers were around before the internet.  With the introduction of each technological advance, there's been resistance from a minority of operators who didn't want change.  Enter EchoLink.

EchoLink Linking Example

When my three boys (ages 8, 13, and 14) got their ham radio license, I helped them out with various aspects of the hobby.  I helped them start a school club (Atlanta Rabbits Amateur Radio Club KA5AHS), I bought each of them a Baofeng UV-5R dual-band handi-talkie, and I helped them build a school club repeater.  I funded the repeater project, but I had some help from a couple of local hams who were doing repeater linking in a big way.  They built a repeater system that was exclusively linked via RF.  

My friend and repeater trustee asserts any communication that doesn't happen over RF is not ham radio.  He's announced over the air, "it's ham radio, not ham computers."  He pulled me to the side and warned me about the kids losing sight over what ham radio is as opposed to what it isn't.  Of course, he was sensible to know he took a "traditional" view towards the subject, and seems a little more understanding that technology is advancing in certain aspects of the hobby... but he still doesn't like it.  

Interestingly, my friend has been subjected to the same attitude towards his linking project.  He approached a nearby club and offered to add their club repeater to the mix, and they (along with several other hams in the area) declined the offer... and in some cases, it wasn't done politely.  The sentiments were repeaters were for talking locally, and if you wanted to talk beyond repeater range, get on HF.  

"It's a fair-weather link."

There are young hams all over the country... even the world!  I told my friend the boys aren't connecting to EchoLink stations with their smartphones (even though that is a popular option), they're connecting their club repeater to other repeaters all over the country.  (Since I had the conversation with my friend, we've even connected the repeater to a repeater in South Africa).  There aren't a whole lot of places where there's an abundance of young hams gathered up to talk to each other on a local repeater without linking.  

I posed the question of how the kids are supposed to talk without linking via EchoLink.  

"You don't.  Just don't do it," he responded.  "Once that signal goes from RF to a wire, it's no longer ham radio."

Wait a minute.  My kids are talking on their HTs (handi-talkies) through their repeater that's connected to a repeater in Pennsylvania to some kids that are talking on a 2 meter radio into their local repeater, and that family (Mennonites) doesn't even have internet, and that's not ham radio?  

As I was typing this out, Josh KI7DEF connected to the KA5AHS-R repeater via EchoLink.  We started a nice QSO when he dropped the bomb on me that this was the first contact he has ever made on ham radio since he got his license.  He had his license for a few weeks, but was apprehensive about getting on the air, worried he would do or say something wrong.  It's typical of a lot of new hams.  

After our QSO, Mark KD0BJV connected to the repeater, and we had a nice little QSO.  He was testing his EchoLink connection on his 50th birthday!  

With the connections on EchoLink, it's hard to convince me that EchoLink is anything less than amateur radio.


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