I will be the first to admit I am a radioholic – I can’t seem to get enough radios or radio accessories. This has led to overcrowding in the shack, moments of “oh I forgot I had one of these,” and many times the throwing up of hands in bewilderment as I try to find an organizational and storage structure which makes sense. I would take a picture of my shack but it would be too discouraging, as well as having to make it a panoramic. No one shot would cover it all.
This is not to say I have a lot of expensive things – I do not. I have found much of my joy in radio comes from second. third, and fourth-hand equipment. For me they are snapshots in time of our radio history, markers if you will, of the development of the hobby. I have yet to build or purchase a spark-gap transmitter, but hope springs eternal! I have as much fun operating something old as I do something new, and in some ways, more fun. Even most of my “new” equipment is actually older by comparison to the newest offerings on the market, but I digress.
“New” can mean many different things depending on context. New in time, new in first time owning something, new in style or operating procedures. When I think about the value of something new, any one or more of these three descriptions can come into play. I have found great value in finding new ways to operate, new equipment with which to operate, and new explorations of the radio hobby to keep it all fresh and exciting.
As humans we often resist change, become wary of something new, and consequently fall into ruts of “doing the same thing” over and over again. Anything can become stale after enough time, not just a loaf of bread! I have found over time, and especially in this last year, doing something new or having something new, really fans the flame of my love for this hobby. Allow me to explain.
The Value of Something New
I have this year, in essence, reworked most of my shack. I have owned ICOM radios for my amateur radio work for about 9 years. I have had several models, both desktop units and mobile units, and made many memories with them I will certainly cherish. But I decided I needed a change, and so I horse-traded equipment through QRZ.com which allowed me to sell my main radio along with some extras to get a newer (used) radio. The Kenwood radio I bought was in pristine condition, and while not the newest, certainly an advancement in capabilities compared to the ICOM I was using.
I also horse-traded a low-powered mobile rig and tuner for a 100w mobile rig and came out even, just like I did with the base units. This has, in effect, given me mostly new equipment to explore, learn, and have fun with while making contacts.
In a similar vein, because SSB has been quite poor in this solar minimum, I have been exploring weak-signal software since the beginning of the year. (See my “Reviews and HowTos” page for two articles I wrote on WSJT-X software.) This was a totally new area for me, and one which I had resisted for some time because there is very little interaction with other amateurs. But given the dearth of signals on SSB, and even relatively low CW activity, I decided to try out the software. A good friend of mine was making contacts all over the world with it, so I took the plunge. Boy, am I glad I did!
Allow me to brag just a bit! In the 8 months I have been using this software I have made roughly 2400 contacts (yes, 2400!). This represents more than half of all contacts previous to these over the last 9 years. I started the year at a total of 4378 contacts, I now have 6823, with 95% or more of new ones being weak-signal contacts. I have worked 19 new DX entities, worked all states on JT65, JT9, and FT8 modes, and made contacts with countries I have never even heard on the air before. This has added immensely to my enjoyment of the radio hobby during a solar minimum.
Would I prefer voice contacts and ragchews with other amateurs? Of course, but they are not happening right now. The weak-signal modes have helped keep the hobby exciting for me during this time. I have also been able to experiment with different antennas, identify RFI issues, and learn about propagation by using this software due to the unique nature of WSJT-X over other digital modes. So I have had fun, I have increased my DX and stateside presence, and I have learned a great deal by doing something new!
New Does Not Have to be Big
I do not want to give the impression something new has to be big to be of value. I have had many experiences of getting something small which has made the hobby fun. For example, a set of old radio magazines can make for quite interesting reading, whether from 10 years ago or 70 years ago. A new portable shortwave radio can be fun, especially older ones, which often have bigger speakers and therefore more pleasing sound. Or perhaps a new tabletop radio, like an FRG-7 which I have written about previously. While the radio dates from the 70s as I recall, it is still a great receiver, and one you have to “work at” to get a good signal – no auto anything on it!
Making small goals for yourself can also increase the fun of the hobby. I usually try to have at least one or two new goals each year in the radio hobby, which might range from working more with MultiPSK software to explore modes such as HDFL, MT63, GMDSS/ATIS, or ACARS, to learning CW or RTTY, to building more kits. Or maybe I just need to spend more time listening to shortwave and utility/military/Aircraft stations. I enjoy all of these aspects of the hobby and more, and it is easy to set one thing aside for too long while exploring something else. But when you come back to it, all seems new again!
Give it a Go!
I hope you will find something new to explore and to enjoy, all while continuing the things you already love in the radio hobby. Sometimes going back to your first love in the hobby will not only bring back cherished memories and moments, but your new experiences will be just as special and memorable! 73, and all the best of radio to you! Robert