I Geek Ham Radio

Filed under: Culture,Nonfiction Collection,technology; Author: Chelsea Blog; Posted: June 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm;


Radio Is Magic.  The ability to send sounds, sights, or data from one point to another with no connection of any kind still boggles my mind, even though I’ve been experiencing it in one way or another for fifty years or so. From my father’s old tube-type radio that he used to listen to Tiger games on hot summer nights, to my teenage shortwave radios, college stereos, and now cell phones and wi-fi, the gut feeling remains that it’s all magic.

Oh sure, 25 years ago an old boyhood friend suggested that I finally get that Amateur Radio license I’d dreamed of as a kid listening to the BBC and Deutsche Welle, and I did, and I kept earning higher classes of license till there were no more to get. But still, when I turn on my station and call ‘CQ’ (does anybody hear me?) and I hear a voice answer from Stockbridge, or Alaska, or London, or Siberia, or Australia (as I have), it is just such a kick!  It worked!  They heard me!  Next, as long as conditions allow, we might get a chance to know one another, what they do, who they are, family, dreams, life…  What privilege, what a club!

And all this without wires, fees, charges per minute or per megabyte.  Just a license that proves to the government that I know what I’m doing, and to other hams that I’ve earned the privilege to join them on the air, and enough gear to make the electrons/waves leap off the antenna in just the right way.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this new digital age, I make my living in computing, but this, this is staring into the void and getting a signal across by hook or crook, by skill and guile.  And where did I start?  The Library. My folks knew nothing about how this stuff worked, and there were no aunts or uncles or neighbors who did.  So they dropped me off at the library and made sure I knew how and who to ask questions of.  So I read, and read.  And took things apart and broke them and tried to make things work, and one day, the crystal radio worked!  And I could receive stuff on a radio I built!

Today, there are more hams in the United States than ever before, and the hobby involves more things than ever, from the art of Morse Code to new Open Source digital modes, from minimalist transmitters built in Altoids tins for a few dollars to hand-built satellites launched by a ham-astronaut by throwing it overboard from the space station, and helping with parades to spotting tornados that threaten our community.   All available at the flip of a switch, whenever I wish or whenever it’s needed.  Like Magic. -Jeff Cowall

Whatever you geek, fun or serious, the public library supports you.

Find more information on ham radio:
The AARRL ham radio license manual: all you need to become an amateur radio operator by H. Ward Silver
The AARL extra class license manual for ham radio 9th edition by H. Ward Silver

Ham radio’s technical culture by Kristen Haring

Ham radio for dummies by H. Ward Silver

Get your geek on. Show your support | geekthelibrary.org


  1. Comment by Dorothy Greer

    I recognize you but can’t come up with your name. I know you started out in/near Highland Park listening to Tiger games!!

  2. Comment by W1AGP

    Jeff… EXCELLENT writing of the fun and excitement of radio – you never are sure who you may find on the airwaves and talk to. From Australia to Iceland, the joys of making friends worldwide and doing it without some corporate paid system will not die off.

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