Clear and Present Danger

It can be a tad depressing, this hobby, to consider all the scenarios conjured with regards to the death of amateur radio. Fortunately, every single one of them has been wrong — so far. Over the course of an entire century, the only thing that has silenced our CQ’s has been the government, in the face of two World Wars.

The coming of the law, end of spark, AM, SSB, incentive licensing, the end of code testing, lack of youth, cell phones and the Internet — all notable milestones in our long adventure — and every one of them created a firestorm of predictions about the imminent death of the hobby.

Some still do.

Toothless Tigers? is the title of ARRL CEO K1ZZ’s ‘It Seems to Us’ column in the May edition of QST. He was writing about the FCC and the deep budget cuts set to eliminate most of its enforcement capability. He tried to put the best spin on it possible but facts are facts. Vocal citizens scream for lower taxes and elected jacklegs oblige with budget cuts. None of our taxes ever actually go down, but the services we’ve come to rely upon vanish into endless belt-tightening.

We are fortunate that ham radio has, for the most part, been a self-policing service. Radio amateurs take pride in being friendly gentlemen on the air. We are not a lawless mob — we follow the rules, wait our turn, permit others to enjoy the service, and in general — keep it together fairly well.

However…

We’ve always suffered with our fair share of cretins, nutbags and the mentally ill. A handful who gain perverse pleasure in jamming, provoking, and otherwise disrupting normal ham radio activities. We live with it, look the other way, grumble about it, but overall, we’ve had it pretty good.

But lately it’s gotten worse. Perhaps as a result of our growing numbers, perhaps because of societal changes that have turned otherwise decent people into angry mobs. Watch the news. You know what I mean. That same spirit is becoming manifest in ham radio.

The bands sometimes seethe with anger. During one small contest last weekend I heard people screaming at their perceived inconvenience. Major DXpeditions over the last twelve months have reported more problems with intentional interference than at any time before.

It’s almost like creating radio havoc has become a hobby unto itself.

Until now that sort of on-air behavior came with some risk, no matter how small, that the FCC would become engaged. License revocation and financial forfeture, while used too sparingly for most of us, at least presented some risk for the radio ham with a nut loose. What happens with that gone?

The loss of FCC enforcement won’t be the death of ham radio, but it does present a clear and present danger to the status quo. My guess is that we will eventually arrive at some technological solution to the problem.

But like strong medicine, none of us are going to like it.

Author: Jeff Davis