Many ham radio adherents of a certain age became involved with the hobby following an interest in shortwave listening. Being able to tune-in radio signals and sounds from exotic corners of the planet was a special kind of magic that can’t fully be appreciated by those who came of age with the internet.
Short wave listening (SWL) was the beginning of one-way radio, a facet of radio exploration that includes aerials and receiver hardware, but without the need for a transmitter or for that matter, a license. Traditional ham radio is best known as a two-way pursuit, but opportunities for exploring one-way communication have grown considerably in recent days and one can’t help but notice how these are being embraced and practiced by a lot of radio amateurs.
For instance, plenty of hams enjoy capturing images from weather satellites or otherwise explore a plethora of signals from space. SatNogs is a global network of satellite ground-stations that collect data from any of hundreds of satellites and push that info into a large viewable database via the internet.
Still others chase non-directional beacons, monitor scanner traffic from ships, planes, municipalities, balloons, and even radio equipped buoys. Hams have been listening for low-powered beacons for decades. I’d even call the WSPR network one-way communication though low-powered transmitters are deployed though not in an attempt to make contact with anyone in particular, but in order to visualize who and where those signals have roamed and been received.
This aspect of the hobby has no doubt been fueled by the explosion of low-cost software defined radio gear that has opened wide swaths of spectrum that would otherwise have required expensive and specialized equipment decades ago. All of that seems logical, especially when you add a healthy dose of general interest in snooping on all kinds of otherwise hidden RF signals.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some shift away from two-way radio because it has become boring?
Simple rag chewing seems to be a lost art with frequent articles published to try and teach us how to talk with each other.
Really? Well, almost everything else we hams do is little more than an endless collection of contacts. From contesting to DXing to QSO parties to nets and even Field Day, most of we do is just make “contacts” and fill log files.
Everything it seems, no matter the mode, is little more than a signal report and location.
Compare and contrast the tiny bits of data exchanged via ham radio’s now most popular mode, FT8, with capturing a radio signal from space that results in stunning weather satellite images and it becomes almost impossible to understand why anyone would actually prefer two-way radio?
Oddly enough, I find myself drawn to the exploration of a variety of one-way radio projects. Having been a radio amateur for many decades I’ve gained a measure of radio and electronic knowledge that no doubt would prove useful in any sort of radio adventure, but it seems fair to at least ask, given this one-way future, does anyone really need a license to explore the world of radio?