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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Todd K7TFC on Pessimism, Optimism, and Homebrew Radio

In response to my blog post about Rob Sherwood, Todd K7TFC sent this very thoughtful comment.  It is so good that I wanted to put it up as a more visible blog post.  Thanks Todd. 

Todd wrote: 

Several of 4Z1UG's recent interviews have either hinted at or clearly expressed pessimism over the future of technically-oriented, homebrew ham radio. Of an age myself (another IGY baby) in which disgruntled cynicism is endemic, I nevertheless found their pessimism exaggerated and perhaps a little-too conventional.

Not that there's little evidence to back them up: recent retirements at QST and the magazine's thin technical coverage have not improved matters, and even QRP Quarterly recently found it necessary to spend more pages on UFOs in New Mexico than on VFOs in their readers's hamshacks. Even podcasts whose names might suggest otherwise--I'm thinking of Ham Radio Workbench--actually spend more time talking about store-bought black boxes, antennas, and cool things they've purchased (or want to purchase) than melting solder or winding coils. To be sure, HRWB, QRPQ, and even QST, make important contributions , but they do reflect the *proportional* decline of hands-on electronics.

For me, though, that the *proportion* of homebrewing, technically-oriented hams has declined is not as important as the actual numbers of hams so oriented. If their proportion is down to, say, five-percent of the total number of hams in the world, that's still *a lot* of homebrewers worldwide, and now that we interact in a truly-global theater of enthusiasts, we've never had it so good when it comes to the numbers of people who share our enthusiasms.

This question of actual numbers versus proportions can be seen in the most common modes of operation as well as on the hardware side. SSB long ago passed CW as the mode-of-choice, and now SSB is in decline *proportionally* as the weak-signal digital modes seem to be taking over. But when the bands are open, you can still tune through the lower portions of most bands and find *plenty* of CW ops at all levels of speed and clarity. CW is not dead, and in fact it's easier to learn than ever before. I expect a proportion will always see CW as essential to ham radio--enough in fact to keep them supplied with contacts to satisfy their retro-cravings and keep the tradition alive.

I may be in the last quarter (third?) of my life, but the older I get the more I come to believe in living *three-dimensionally*. The "X" is my own time and place (a west-coast Boomer), the "Y" is my own time but other places and cultures, and the "Z" is other eras, times, and places. The "other eras and times" in the ham-radio context means I don't have to abandon tank circuits and crystal filters and vacuum tubes *merely* because other and perhaps objectively-superior technology is now at my disposal. I can use the new stuff and the old stuff, too. I'd even argue that to abandon all use of older technologies means there's been no *growth*, only "progress."

We see this clearly enough in other aspects of the human endeavor. The computer may have totally replaced the typewriter, but it hasn't replaced pen, ink, and paper. The internet may be a superior repository of knowledge than printed books, but books and magazines are still widely used and are in some ways superior to online media. Microwave ovens cooking prepackaged, processed, and *manufactured* food are more efficient, but no one denies a meal made with raw whole foods and hand-prepared is better.

I expect there will always be plenty of people living three-dimensionally as hams with whom I resonate. There's already a high SWR between me and *most* people anyway. I've grown comfortable with a more-narrow bandwidth--73, Todd K7TFC
Todd's Web Site: https://mostlydiyrf.com/


  1. That's an excellent commentary. Another data point is the re emergence of valves in audio preamps, pedals and power amps, no doubt powered with modern ultra compact switch mode power supplies. All the top end audio preamp ranges include at least one with a twin pentode sitting just behind a glass window in an otherwise pristine surface mount forest! There are other examples I'm sure. The high selling QRP rig, the QCX is CW only.

    73 Paul VK3HN.

  2. Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing!
    Pete Van


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