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This is Their Ham Radio” – K9EID

BY RICH MOSESON,* W2VU

*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

What draws kids to ham radio today?” I was asked by a reader at the Huntsville Hamfest in August. “After all, they’ve got their smartphones and the internet.” I don’t remember my exact reply, but I’ve given it more thought since I’ve gotten home, especially in light of events later that same day. In retrospect, my response should have been, “maybe the fact that it isn’t a smartphone or the internet. It’s a challenge, just as it always has been, and kids love a challenge.” Smartphones and the internet offer many things, but challenges are not high on that list. Another part of the answer is, in some cases, “the same as it’s always been — DX and contesting.” This was reinforced in several ways at Huntsville, where CQ joined in the presentation of the 2018 Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF, Memorial Newsline Young Ham of the Year Award (YHOTY) to 14-year-old Bryant Rascoll, KG5HVO (CQ has been a co-sponsor of this award since its earliest days). It started at the YHOTY ceremony itself, where past recipients have tended to be pretty much alone as young people in a sea of older hams. Perhaps a friend or former YHOTY recipient was there as well. Not this year. This year, it seemed there were amazing young hams everywhere!

The ceremony started more locally, with Warren Whitby, W4RRN, being presented with the 2018 Alabama Outstanding Youth Ham Award. That presentation was made by Kaitlyn Cole, KS3P, the 2011 Newsline Young Ham of the Year and, until very recently, ARRL Alabama Section Youth Coordinator. Kaitlyn has begun college this fall and passed the section youth coordinator hat to her assistant … 2018 YHOTY Bryant Rascoll, KG5HVO! Also at the ceremony was Bryant’s good friend and fellow outstanding young amateur Christopher Brault, KD8YVJ. The two of them met last year as participants in the Dave Kalter Memorial Youth DX Adventure program in Costa Rica. Bryant was also one of three young hams among the competitors at last summer’s World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC 2018) in Germany.

In the audience for the YHOTY ceremony was equally-amazing young ham Faith Hannah Lea, AE4FH, along with her parents and three siblings, all of whom are hams. She and her dad, James, WX4TV, were barely off the plane from South Africa, where Faith Hannah represented IARU Region 2 (North and South America) at the annual Youth on the Air (YOTA) camp program.

At the YHOTY presentation, I made the somewhat counter-intuitive comment to Bryant that one of the greatest things about this year’s event was that he was not unique, but rather that we were surrounded by outstanding young hams.

So back to our earlier question … what draws young people to ham radio today? Here are a couple of examples: On Saturday night, most of downtown Huntsville — including the hamfest hotel — was hit with a power outage (reportedly courtesy of a squirrel that managed to fry itself and take out a transformer, which caused a cascade of additional breakers to trip). Bryant and Chris found a quiet corner of the hotel lobby (which had generator power) to plug in their laptops and connect via an internet hotspot to a remote station to operate in the summer SSB weekend of the North American QSO Party! Bob Heil, K9EID (Heil Sound is another YHOTY corporate sponsor, along with CQ, Yaesu, and RadioWavz), who snapped the photo that we’re borrowing here, watched how much fun they were having and commented that “this is their ham radio. It’s not your grandfather’s ham radio, or your father’s. It’s theirs.”

Earlier in the day, Faith Hannah’s dad was telling me about the YOTA camp and related a story of the group being introduced to slow-scan TV and one of the campers asking what it could be used for. One example given was chess-by-radio, with moves photographed and sent to a fellow player via SSTV. Another participant suggested a different way to do that — substitute each chess move (e.g. q3r5) for the grid square (e.g., FN30) in FT8 data and transmit the moves via this quickly growing digital mode. He also volunteered to write the code when he got home to send the data to a chessboard on a computer screen and automatically show each move! This is their ham radio!

Each generation of hams has customized the hobby to take advantage of advances in technology. The first generation’s ham radio was spark. The second generation’s was CW and AM phone. Next came SSB and FM repeaters, followed by the generation that first connected computers to ham gear to communicate via packet radio. The next generational group began integrating the internet into our hobby, and today’s young hams are using FT8 to play chess by radio and contesting in the dark from a hotel lobby via remote links. This is their ham radio, and they are our future. Our hobby is in good hands.

EmComm Special This issue is our annual Emergency Communications Special. As always, we’ve got a stack of great articles on different ways in which hams are helping their communities, along with projects to help ensure your EmComm equipment is as reliable and flexible as possible. We encourage you to read everything and see how the experiences of others can be applied to your station and your skills.

– 73, Rich, W2VU
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