I’m fortunate to have a few ham radio friends who indulge my imagination without writing me off as nuts. Recently, our conversation went something like this, “imagine all our computers suddenly quit working and there was no more access to the internet — would amateur radio continue to thrive in this 21st century without the computer?”

Immediate feedback was about how that might happen; nuclear war, EMP, massive solar flares, etc. All possible of course with varying degrees of probability, but I wanted to leave the “how” out of the equation, after all, we’re just spitballing here.

Imagine no computers, it’s easy if you try…

No more electronic logging or QSLing, no more leaderboards or instant score results from radio contests. No more digital modes, RBN, or instant call sign lookups. No more online schedules, email, web sites, print on demand award certificates or, gulp, YouTube videos. No podcasts, online newsletters, PayPal, eBay, or online commerce.

I’m no doubt leaving a hundred other significant digital things out of the discussion, but based on an immediate removal of just the above I’m convinced our hobby wouldn’t survive because without the conveniences and niceties that we’ve come to enjoy thanks to computers and the internet, ham radio wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

This probably seems obvious and unworthy of discussion until you consider that was the exact state of amateur radio (no computers) just forty years ago, yet ham radio was thriving and growing.

Voice and CW were the only available modes of operation, unless you owned an oily mechanical beast capable of radio teletype. Logging was a handwritten affair and once a year you bought a printed call book so you could more easily exchange QSL cards via postal mail. If you worked a rare or even a semi-rare DX station you might wait a year or more to receive a QSL card. Your hand generated Field Day submission would be mailed to ARRL and the results would appear in the pages of QST magazine nearly a year later. All breaking amateur radio news would arrive via W1AW bulletin or weeks later via your letter carrier.

(How ironic that some old school hams warned loudly that the advent of the computer would destroy the hobby. Yet decades later we’re still here and now ham radio wouldn’t exist today without the computer. It should make us all think twice, and then maybe a few more times, before condemning every new technology that appears in the ham shack as the NEXT thing to kill the hobby.)

Certainly you can’t miss what you’ve never had which explains how ham radio was able to thrive without these remarkable tools we now take for granted, but it’s fascinating to consider the changes that attended the introduction of computing and the internet over just a few decades and admit what seems now patently obvious; we would never again put up with ham radio without them. We’ve moved on. You might even say we’ve come a long way baby…