It Must Be Something in the Air – Radio Clubs & Emcomm

It must be something in the air, the obvious differences between various amateur radio hobby groups.

Wait — perhaps that is it? amateur radio hobby groups — there we go, it is that combination of words.

Amateur — the nonprofessional, the enthusiast, the Explorer, the experimenter, the advocate.

Radio — that use of the electronic ether to communicate.

Hobby — a pursuit of passion, a non-employment enjoyment, and adventure in learning for the joy of learning.

Groups — a club, an organization, an observable affiliation, and alignment.

There does seem to be a difference between a general all disciplines amateur radio group and the group singly focused on one aspect, one small subset, of the greater hobby.

I might liken it to the difference between being in a big tent — a Chautauqua like encompassing tent — or being in an isolated command tent back in my Army Field days.

Amateur radio emergency service and radio amateurs civilian emergency service both are disciplines, important but small disciplines within the greater amateur radio hobby.

There is little doubt that when served agencies are in true emergency need that they find some comfort and utility in having willing radio groups to fulfill their communications needs.

However does become the fashion of these days for that comfort to be more economic than practical. The economic side being that the volunteers are unpaid, usually bring their own equipment or heavy equipment available from various grants, and are quite willing to do drills and other training on their own, whereas employee base communications would be phenomenally more expensive to develop and maintain — not to mention limitations on available frequencies.

In their own interest of containing liability and improving interoperability served agencies have pushed a professionalization of the amateur. A professionalization that in the way of most oxymorons doesn’t seem to work.

While perhaps it does work a bit, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as envisioned — the unintended consequences being a disharmony among radio amateurs, an unrealistic expectation of some sort of priority for frequencies in the event of an emergency, an effort by those involved to subvert wider general amateur radio hobby groups into their ideals of emergency radio communications.

This is not just at the street level — that the club level is not alone in experiencing this conflict — but is very observable right to the highest levels. The current arguments over whether the FCC should selectively choose to not enforce regulations existing on the books or whether they should enforce them to the nth degree, have greatly replaced the ongoing code/no code argument that had preoccupied amateur radio creating factions over the last several years.

In speaking with leadership in the various emergency communications groups they have not even been properly briefed on how to handle the waiver process, the full background on why the rules exist and need to be enforced, or what the impact is for their members who also happen to be employees of served agencies. Part of this may be the very newness of the awareness that the law had provided for regulations of this nature.

But the card is continuing wishful thinking and lack of consultation with true professionals while operating in areas that could cost a person not only a significant fine, but perhaps their amateur radio license.

To have a lack of understanding in this area isn’t surprising given the general confusion in emergency communications over insurance, command structure, whether an emergency communicator works for their emergency communication organization or the served agency, or how to deal with dual hat situations.

It isn’t easy — none of it’s easy — but that doesn’t excuse us in the eyes of the regulations and enforcement that well could follow if we make it personal operating error. in the end it would be the amateur who may well have to defend themselves from economic loss and potential loss of their hobby.

I have also had emergency communications leadership correctly point out that with the direction of professionalization of the amateur emergency communications, the compatibility of a general radio club and in emergency communications organization is minimal. They have told me they are suggesting that the groups develop distinct separate leadership, identity, legal organization, books, tax ID numbers, and operate in separate fashion. They hoped that these separate entities would be cooperative and mutually supportive, but made no bones that in their mind emergency communications held an ultimate trump card, and must prevail over general amateur radio in their vision of that cooperation.

In other words that’s nice talk for an open plan to displace the hobbyist in favor of paraprofessional mock amateur radio operations, under a unilateral implementation of their idea of greater good.

What a load of rubbish — what a disservice to their fellow radio amateurs and the history that brought this hobby to this point.

It was not some paraprofessional subgroup that our country look to in each of the world wars for radioman in the military, it was not some paraprofessional specialized team in specialized DF bunkers on the coasts that are Coast Guard and Navy have looked to to assist over the years, nor has it been some select paraprofessional group that are various military services have looked to for civilian support for their radio amateur communication efforts.

Of course they will speak of the needs in a true emergency, that sort of emergency where every one of us would be willing to help. But to limit response to paraprofessionals many of us, despite having all the technical and accreditation qualifications, we’ll find ourselves less able to help.

And of course when undertaking a drill there is no legal claim to “true emergency” and their claim to priority becomes hogwash.

Many of you have seen some of these paraprofessionals, once a year drill warriors whose brand-new pristine radios and manuals have suffered more wear from storage than from use, usually a mixture of retirees, the medically retired, and the perennial unemployed, along with a spattering of a few good souls. These drill warriors are the sorts who seldom actually hear on the radio, and if you do it is likely to be just one mode or perhaps even only on one repeater.

Luckily there are exceptions, the fellows who have full station capability and are on all the time, but in many groups they are expected to carry a heavy load being not only the only seasoned operators, but among the few technically orientated who can say quote “I have done that” when asked for solutions.

What does it mean for the rest of us? If one does not want to become a paraprofessional, nor wants to compromise existing commitments to family or to other organizations to become a dual hat wearing person, or simply has greater responsibilities, what do we do?

Some time ago the concept of Freecom was launched quietly among the amateur radio community.

This is a simple idea of being fully capable of emergency operations, of handling traffic, and having a calling to a higher level of love of country, freedom, and the Constitution.

It is an ideal that incorporates the traditional traffic handling with the emergent awareness that without our freedom, our inalienable rights, and are deference to the Constitution we are lost.

It has been proposed back in oath, like the oath the military and police oath takers affirm, dictation mode would become a major component of this new amateur radio initiative.

Actually it is a very old amateur radio initiative that is made new only in contrast of the darker side of the amateur — paraprofessional.

If one reads amateur radio books from the 20s 30s 50s and 60s you will find a self sufficient radio amateur portrayed in a way that has not remained fashionable. Technology has brought us to the point where we have radio amateurs who are “appliance operators” and have neither in the interest nor in many cases the ability to move beyond.

Our historic self-sufficient radio amateur built what they couldn’t buy, pioneered what has not yet been invented, talk themselves what had not yet made it to university lectures, and many as a result became not only pioneers and leaders in amateur radio but also became historic businessman and inventors of the wide renown.

It is not that we are completely lacking of the spirit today, but rather that it has been subverted by the enslavement to a served agency dictate of emergency communications.

There is a new Yahoo group covering Freecom and I intend to cover it further here. I will be adding a tab at the top of the page for Freecom as a shortcut to posts concerning a self-sufficient perspective of the radio amateur.



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4 thoughts on “It Must Be Something in the Air – Radio Clubs & Emcomm

  1. […] on the role of amateur radio in emergency communications. See the comments on my blog posting, this article by Steve K9ZW and N5FDL’s blog. There seems to be some pent up frustration with ham radio […]

  2. “It is not that we are completely lacking of the spirit today, but rather that it has been subverted by the enslavement to a served agency dictate of emergency communications.”

    A powerful statement. One, for individuals like myself, is best conceptualized as a motivator. Period. End of sentence.

    I have observed across a few RSS feeds for example the ARRL and Southgate Amateur Radio Club, a significant portion of articles devoted to EMCOMM. Perhaps, as suggested in your posting, we are engaged in a defining struggle.

    Thank you for providing further thought on this topic.


  3. Mark ~ KJ6EUO says:

    I am a new Ham (9mo). I have a young family and am an active volunteer in my church. As a result I don’t have as much time or money as I would like to put into HAM. Even though I have a general ticket and expect to get an extra sooner than later, I only have used UHF/VHF transceivers right now. I’m planning to build some antennas for myself and the local ARES group that is forming. I have my eye on some digital mode kits I’d love to build (time and $). You may still call me an “appliance operators”.
    The guys you are critiquing that are retired or unemployed for whatever reason. I’m sure have their own stories. If there are guys that take Ecomms too seriously so what? Why is that really bad? There is room for all of us under the big tent. There are guys in my club that think CW is the only true mode. There are DX guys and contest guys. There is a guy that’s all about building antennas. I’m keen to learn it all at this point, so I’m having a hard time seeing your point here. Why not give our Ecomm guys our blessing and let them know we are here to help them if/when our help in needed. Ecomms is a part of ham that many site as a fundamental reason for it to exist. I say let us not be guilty of being the head telling the body “I have no need of thee”.

  4. “If there are guys that take Ecomms too seriously so what? Why is that really bad?”

    From what I have observed it creates a negative image, that this is the only thing ham radio is good for.

    Before you know it your whole club erodes mostly because it drives those with a bona fide interest in radio away.

    The net result is the hobby doesn’t move forward as fast as it should because 3/4 of your membership is stuck on something that you really are only good for 1% of the time.

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