A Requiem for Amateur Radio

Electronics have always fascinated me. Not electronic gadgets themselves (those usually just irritate me), but the engineering and design behind them.

The how of their circuits, more than the what.

I took a very basic electronics course in high school, but until a few years ago, I hadn’t felt a need to really dig into circuit theory and understand how it all works.

And when that need struck, I decided the best “excuse” I could have to learn and practice this stuff, was to get an amateur or “ham” radio license.

There’s a huge number of ham radio enthusiasts who get their kicks from designing, building, and operating their own equipment. And there’s an equally-huge body of free or cheaply-obtained documentation and “HOW-TOs” out there, many of which will teach you the theory, and walk you through practical projects.

So, I studied up, took a couple of exams, and obtained my license. I also started hanging out with a local ham radio club filled with friendly and helpful people. Unfortunately, within a few months of obtaining my license, I learned there was a flaw in my plan: doing electronics, particularly radio-frequency stuff, is crazy expensive.

This sounds strange, at first, since if you search about online, you’ll see a plethora of detailed plans and parts lists for simple radios you can build for around five bucks worth of components. You can even get full-fledged kits with all the components and boards you need, starting at around fifteen bucks.

And that all sounds super cheap. The problem, though, is you need tools. Tools like a soldering iron. And an oscilloscope. Oh, and a spectrum analyzer would super helpful. Or you can use a fully-assembled, factory-built radio for testing.

Oh, you do have a well-lit, well-ventilated work area large enough to accommodate all of these things, don’t you?

As the months wore on, and I learned more and more about radio-frequency electronics, I also learned that those five dollar projects really only cost five dollars if you already had a twenty-thousand-dollar electronics lab.

So that sucked.

Still, I never really gave up thinking about it as a hobby. I kept it up on a high shelf of my mind, and every once and a while I’d take it down, dust it off, and see if there was a way to make it work. Then I’d put it back on the shelf for another day.

Now, though, I think it’s time to just pack it up and throw it in permanent storage. It’s an interest that might have made sense once, but I can’t see me doing anything at all with it now, even if I did have a spare $20,000 laying around.

Besides, given the luck I have with technology, I’d probably end up burning my house down anyway.