Amateur radio, Radios

Skill Comes in All Different Forms


As I look around my shack I find it interesting the many different radios and facets of the hobby represented here, and I admit I have a rather modest shack. It occurred to me there is a lot of knowledge (and much more to learn) involved in operating these radios and associated equipment. Often modern hams are accused of being mere “appliance” operators because we do not build our radios from scratch. I would love to build a radio from scratch, and if I could afford it, I would find a Heathkit radio still in the box and build it. Maybe when I win the lottery someday. Hey! It could happen!

For those of us who did not live through those times of tubes and capacitors and resistors, soldering through-hole in a case the size of a small car, we have to content ourselves with kits designed for a single band, or QRP work, or accessories. If one is really adventurous an amp can be built much like the old-school amps, but full-blown 100+ watt power radios are pretty much out of reach with a few exceptions.

Back to our modern radios. I find it fascinating as I look at what sits around me the sheer number of things one has to remember to properly operate the various rigs. While knobs and dials and switches seem impressive to look at (and they are!), learning how to operate modern radios efficiently is almost a radio course in itself. The infamous menu systems in modern radios are notoriously complex, and when operating multiple types of radios there is a lot to remember. The same holds true for software and cabling/connections to computers and accessory devices.

For example, I have two different digital scanners here from two different manufacturers. They both approach programming differently, their menu systems are different, and the way one accesses the operational controls are very different. There are more options than I can count for both radios, and sometimes it makes me long for the crystal-controlled scanners of decades gone by. (I loved the flashing lights on my first 16-channel scanner, especially when the room lights were out!)

shack-smallerI have a mobile rig with lots of bells and whistles (center-right), including APRS and packet capability, Echolink, computer control, programming and data output, not to mention the regular functions of a dual-band, cross-band repeat radio. There are approximately 32 bits of information on the screen at the moment, and that is without calling up menus or other modes. Remember when all you had to do was dial in a frequency?!

Another rig above and to the left (under the computer monitor) is my main HF rig. It has 55 buttons and 7 knobs/dials, with almost all of the buttons having at least two functions assigned to them, and the same goes for the dials. This does not include the menu functions or the connectors, plugs etc. on the back of the rig. That is a lot of information to store!

By contrast the rig to the right is an old Swan 350 transceiver with 10 knobs, 1 dial, and one switch. Pretty simple to operate once you have the plate tuning down. There is an old manual Dentron tuner above that, and sitting atop of it all is an analog Uniden Bearcat BC898T scanner.

There is an amplifier, a 220Mhz rig, several HTs, and on the bottom right my pride and joy Yaesu FRG-7 shortwave receiver. Out of the frame are two more computers, two SDR receivers, another monitor and a sound mixing board. I mention these not to brag (I still consider my shack “modest” compared to many I have seen!), but rather to point out the extent of equipment modern shacks have and the need to understand, if not master, a number of different skills. Not the least of which is keeping track of all the wires!!

Computer skills, radio skills, interconnections between equipment to operate on one or more computer operating system platforms, are all skills needed to operate modern stations. Programming and operating radios from different manufacturers and their particular/peculiar menu systems, digital modes and digital scanners with amazing yet often obfuscated programming controls, DSP filtering knowledge, SDR skills, and the list goes on and on. Add to this antenna knowledge, building antennas, modeling antennas on the computer, and we are looking at even more skill sets.

Of course to a brand new ham or radio hobbyist this might all sound too intimidating, but I hope not. One can enjoy the hobby with a single radio and a built-in antenna just fine. More than likely however there will be various areas which become of interest, as well as additional equipment and capabilities which pull and tug like the siren’s call. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the pack, obsessed but not consumed, enjoying every minute of the time I get to play radio as life allows.

There is always something new to discover and learn in this great radio adventure, and one can move as quickly or as slowly through the hobby as one desires. For me there are ever more modes to explore, antennas and radios to build, DX entities to conquer and, most importantly, life-long friends to make. Call me crazy, call me obsessed, call me a radio nerd.

Just don’t call me an appliance operator! – 73, Robert



  • Reply Jon KM4GIG 10/06/2015 at 2:41 pm

    I hear ya Robert. Last night I hooked my Ten-Tec up to my future roof mount antenna (inside the house, don’t ask …) and started twisting knobs and thinking “well that seems to do nothing” or “so that’s what that does ….”. I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t have to refer to the manual. That is, after I get the antenna on the roof.

  • Reply Robert 10/06/2015 at 2:59 pm

    Oh, before long you will be running that rig like a pro! Assuming you don’t trade it in for another rig – that’s what happens to a lot of hams – they get something new before they master what they have!

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