Beyond the Social: There’s room for us all in amateur radio…

by Ben (KH7QO)

“Why are you getting back into Ham Radio? You don’t like talking to people.”

These were the words my wife Kimberly spoke to me when I told her I was studying to regain the Extra license I had let lapse a decade ago. Figuring out how best to answer her made me realize that perhaps there were others out there who might also be interested.

It’s not the people I dislike

I struggle with PTSD, depression and various forms of social anxiety.  When speaking with someone, I analyze every facial expression, every change in body language and verbal tone to try to figure out if I’m saying or doing something that may be unintentionally offending them. It’s stressful and tiring, but necessary. The stress and humiliation suffered from the consequences of not doing so are far worse.

You may have noticed that only one of the three analytical tools I mentioned above are possible when speaking with someone using a radio. Having fewer tools to analyze whether or not I’m about to make a fool of myself (again) amplifies the stress by about 9dB. Which is why, while I like people, I don’t like speaking with them unless it’s in-person.

Then why get into Amateur Radio?

I’ve always liked electronics; in fact, it was my first major in college. I joined the Army in 1987 as an Avionics Repair Specialist, repairing helicopter radios. When I got out and joined the California National Guard in 1991, I became interested in Amateur radio. The ability to build my own circuits and investigate the technical aspects of HF propagation were very interesting to me back then. CW was also of interest, because the exchanges seemed to be more formulaic and therefore less stressful since I didn’t have to figure out small-talk. My callsign, a signal report, and possibly my rig and antenna were all I was really expected to send. Plus, CW was a world-wide mode in QRP, which was another interest. Something about being able to send a signal halfway around the world from a hand-held device was fascinating to me. I finally got my Technician Plus license in 1994, about a month before I married.

Getting married, moving half-way across the country and starting both a new job and Military Occupational Specialty with a new National Guard unit kept me too busy to really enjoy my new ticket. But my wife’s father, Dr. Rolly Jones (KH7QO) was a ham and he and his wife Barbara moved in next door to us. Rolly and I decided to pursue Extra tickets together, which we achieved in 2005. We really enjoyed building a shack together, though neither of us spent much time on the air. We mostly listened.

Ben (AI5PT) and Rolly (KH7QO)

Soon afterwards I went on my first combat deployment and was deployed or mobilized for most of the next ten years. I was a Battalion Signal Officer in Iraq, and I commanded a Signal Company in Afghanistan. When training up for Iraq, Rolly and I had thought I might find a way to use Ham to communicate back home, but the OPTEMPO there was just too high for me to even think about anything but the mission. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. In reality, for a long time I couldn’t separate the “radio” from the “war” and in order to start the healing process I just had to put it all behind me for a while.

Why come back?

I let my license lapse in 2015. I transferred to the U.S. Army Reserves in 2016, and retired in 2019. Rolly, who was a father to me in every way but biology, passed away on December 23, 2021. Convinced Amateur Radio was part of my past and not my future, my wife and I gave much of his equipment to others who would use it lovingly. And then, one day while surfing the web, I came across an article on POTA.

I was mildly interested. We didn’t have POTA or SOTA back then, at least, not as an organized activity. We had Field Day, but that was a once-a-year thing, and it was a big event. You couldn’t just drive down to the local state park at lunch and pick up an activation. I became more interested when I saw that the CW activations were even more cookie-cutter than regular contacts, and therefore even less stressful to somebody like me.

Then I saw that some POTA was being done in a new mode, FT8, where you didn’t have to rag-chew at all. And now there’s WSPR, where you can really investigate propagation over time and varying conditions. All of the things that had caused my initial interest in the hobby had really come to the fore. The only really depressing thing was that Rolly was no longer here to share the newfound excitement.

I decided to get my Extra license back, and the (relatively) recent FCC rule change meant that I’d only have to take a Tech test to get my old privileges back. The “Aeronautical Center Amateur Radio Club” (W5PAA) holds VE testing the second Thursday of each month, so I went in last month and passed the test. For a few days more I’m AI5PT, though to honor Rolly I’ve requested his old callsign. Later this week I hope to continue his legacy as KH7QO.

I’ve ordered a full KX2 Shack-in-a-box as well as the low- and high-band versions of the QRP Labs QMX radios. And I’m on the waiting list for an FX-4CR. But I won’t see any of those radios for months. So for now I’m reading up on articles, getting a Raspberry Pi ready for when the radios come in, and blowing the dust off my CW with Android apps and listening on WebSDR sites.

Why write the article?

There’s a perception that Ham Radio is mostly for the gregarious. I wanted to share that our hobby has room enough to include those of us who aren’t, who can literally get a panic attack just thinking about having to make small talk on a radio. That modes and operating styles like FT8 and POTA are not “the death of Amateur Radio”, but instead offer a gateway to people like me to participate in ways that are comfortable to us.

I look forward to being able to indulge my scientific curiosity with WSPR, to seeing my call on the Reverse Beacon Network, and hopefully someday having the courage to try more freestyle modes such as JS8CALL. And, once I can flawlessly do a simulated activation in CW without freaking out, I intend to do CW POTA activations in the surrounding state parks.

Ham Radio is not just for social butterflies. It’s a broad enough and deep enough activity that there’s room for us all. Even the boring, quiet ones like me.

Someday, I hope you’ll see or hear my CQ on the airwaves.

AI5PT, soon to be KH7QO.

Editor’s Update: Ben notified me that he just received FCC notification that he is now officially KH7QO. Congratulations, Ben! 

33 thoughts on “Beyond the Social: There’s room for us all in amateur radio…”

  1. Ben, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this article with us. I’m certain that there are many out there who can relate in a meaningful way. Also, congratulations on becoming KH7QO! Rolly would be so proud of you.
    Thank you & 73/72,
    Thomas (K4SWL)

  2. Thank you for writing this article Ben. I resonate with many of your observations and experiences. Maybe see you on the bands!
    Bob (W4ZY)

  3. Tnx Ben, We have a lot in common. I was in Army Aviation to include 3 years in special ops. I also suffer from PTSD. amateur Radio works for me. I am active with EmComm, POTA, and I am a pretty good at CW. If you need a CW “crash dummy” to practice with, let me know and we can set up a sked. To learn more about me check out my blog : ,, or email me at [email protected]. NSDQ and 73 Scott KK4Z

  4. Ben,

    Thank you for sharing your story and it’s one I can relate to. There are many parallels in your story to my ham radio journey. When I’ve mentioned to other hams that I don’t like talking on the radio, they are surprised and sometimes even offended. I also was licensed as a Tech+ back in 1994 but didn’t do much with my license until I was introduced to digital modes. Seeing just how well my antenna is working in real time using PSK reporter is a broadcast engineer’s dream. I got into commercial radio as a career because of the technology, I never wanted to get on the mic, having many of the same social anxieties you mention.

    I’ve completely gone down the WSPR rabbit hole and the amount of experimenting you can do with it is endless. I’ve learned a lot about HF propagation as a result. You’re in for some fun there. With POTA, I love activating a park and working a pileup on FT4/FT8. Plus, being able to help the hunters add my park to their logs is very satisfying.

    Good luck and have fun when your gear arrives and feel free to reach out to me, a fellow mic-shy techie if you have any questions. And congratulations on getting your new call sign!

    73, Conrad, N2YCH

  5. I’m sure we’ve all heard it: “Why do you still do Ham Radio? These days you can just pick up the telephone or get on the Internet and talk with anyone anywhere!” I have two responses to this.

    One is, “We don’t use our radios to talk with people. We talk with people so we can use our radios.” Now this is kind of tongue in cheek — but the point being that it’s because we’re fascinated with the technology of RADIO and everything about it. Ham Radio isn’t simply about saying “Hi” to random strangers.

    The other response goes something like this: “OK, pick a country, any country. Now, call a random number in that country and try starting up a conversation with the person who answers. Ask about the weather, what kind of telephone equipment they’re using, and things such as that. Let me know how that works out for you.” Again, it’s not about talking with random people with whom we have nothing in common. It’s about experiencing and understanding the “miracle” of RADIO.


  6. Thanks for your story Ben, mine is a different. I recently became a amateur radio operator but have wanted to since the 90s. I found that I love CW and have fallen in love with that mode due mostly to not having to verbally talk to someone. I found that over coming being proficient mostly weeds out the trolls you get higher up on the bands. In addition it’s a very efficient mode and I have made some awesome DX activating POTA with 5 watts and a battery, I can’t thank people like K4SWL enough for inspiring me to go down this path. I have PTSD too, for a period of 9 years I had such bad panic attacks I didn’t go far from my house. With exercise and other support along with this hobby I am about 90%. 72/73 de AI5DD

  7. Ben, so well said. Thank you for putting into words my 45+ years of enjoying this hobby.
    73, Steve, K8SAR

  8. I’m currently learning CW for this very reason. I’m on tablets for Depression and Anxiety and have to talk in my job on the railway. This leaves me mentally too tired to “rag chew” out of work. I play FM satellites occasionally because the contact is short and quick.
    Thankyou for posting this, because I thought I was the only one who felt like this.
    73 from the UK
    Simon -2E0HFO

  9. Thanks for being brave enough to publish your story Ben. I am sure there are many of us with similar experiences. I have never been mic shy but I do prefer CW over phone. More than that, I prefer short exchanges over rag chews. For me it’s about exploring radio technology. I don’t see our hobby as a social medium the way others do. Like you said, there’s room for all of us on the airwaves. Good luck Ben!

  10. Ben, i really commend you for sharing this. I’m probably more on the extravert side and your write up totally gave me new insight and put to rest those very questions i always had about this very subject. You’ve done this hobby a great service! Welcome back!

  11. Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful perspective on your Ham Radio journey. I think our radio interests, above all, can be deeply therapeutic. I wanted to become a ham in the 1970s but missed that opportunity until 2021. It’s very therapeutic at my age! I was a middle school teacher and my Principal’s motto for our school was that there had to be “something for everyone,” an activity, sport or club for every student’s interest. Ham radio offers that too. My club has a diversity of members, each with their own particular interests. I’m glad you’ve found yours. It’d be an honour to cross paths Park to Park on CW one day soon. 73

  12. Thanks for posting. It is good to know others have come to radio with similar backgrounds to mine.

    73 KE0KAZ

  13. Ben,
    I understand how you feel. I won’t say I know how you feel because we are all different and experience events differently. Part of my story is that I am a serious introvert, who forces oneself to get out of that box and do SSB. My other modes of operation are FT8/FT4. My journey to learn morse code has just begun (on the doorstep of 80yrs old). Yes, it is true Ham radio is for everyone who choses to engage in it. All the best to you in your journey. POTA ON!
    Jon K4CIH

  14. Ben, whatever your reasons or motivations for rejoining our ranks, welcome back!

    My wife doesn’t get me either… She thinks it strange a grown man would have such interests. No worries… Tell her it’s cheaper than golf, and you’re worried she doesn’t shop enough… life has it’s priorities, and you are most important…

    If she buys it, which she should, given it’s true, she’ll love you for it!

  15. I second, third, forth and fifth these thoughts heartily. I get so aggravated when I hear people say modes like FT8, etc, are not “real radio.” Perhaps they don’t realize that there are people like us who love radio but lack the inter-personal skills for one-on-one communications. But that’s no reason for having such a closed mind.

    Because of the way I was raised, to think everything I said and did was stupid, I became a painfully shy introvert very early in life. In-person and/or one-on-one conversations are so uncomfortable that I avoid them as much as possible. Which is funny as I am a radio broadcaster by trade. I’m fine in front of a mic on a “one-to-many” medium. But SSB, where I have to express myself to a single person, is nigh impossible.

    I’ve often thought of joining a ham club (or Jeep club, another interest), but I fear the social aspect of it.

    But the point is, as in life, there’s room for everyone in ham radio, regardless of interest or ability. And no one will prove otherwise. All radio is “real radio.”

  16. FT8 is great for the reasons you state – exchange QTH, exchange reasonably objective signal reports, polite goodbyes, NEXT. I’m sure the other op’s grandkids/great-grandkids are wonderful but I don’t need to hear about it. Given the amount of FT8 activity on just about every band, I think there are a lot of us that like this mode.

    POTA is my next challenge (challenging for some of the reasons it is for you). Thomas made me (*made* me! 🙂 ) get an IC-705/mAT-705/ paddle, so it’s high time I put that all to use. And given that I am across the freeway from a provincial park, I am out of excuses!

    1. When you try POTA with CW, you will find it smooth and easy. Both activators and hunters are courteous and considerate. Low stress. Nice to go to a park, and even one contact makes it a successful trip.

  17. Ben,
    Thanks for the article . Echoes more than a few of my own reasons for remaining a ham!

    Been a ham for 67 years now. Put a set of headphones on and paddles between my fingers and I am 12 years old again and can keep it up for hours on end, plus it is all street legal!

    72, de Gil K4JST

  18. Thanks Ben for sharing this touching article, and congratulations on your new call sign. My non-ham friends think ham radio is a lonely hobby because many times they see I do SOTA and POTA activations by myself. That’s fine, we love radio and we pick up the “sub-hobby” that fits ourselves.

    And, nobody can do CW flawlessly, everybody makes mistakes, that’s fine, CW operators are considerate to each other. Get on the air is more important, doing simple exchange in SOTA and POTA is fun! Dreaming one day I can activate all 50 states…

    Enjoy the hobby and 73,
    Jun KG6YJ

  19. Ben,
    Your well written piece gets to the heart of what Amateur Radio is all about and who is for. EVERYONE ! who chooses to pursue a license and participate. The options are endless as hams all know.
    Personally, I was lucky to grow up in the ham radio environment, and even more so to have held on to my license with no interruption. Although I have no more than a passing interest in any mode other than CW and a little SSB, MORE POWER ALL THE HAMS, new and experienced that pursue those modes.
    Yes ROOM FOR ALL! Ham Radio will continue on this way.

  20. Thanks for sharing your story. Look forward to catching you on the air sometime. -Kc2bkm

  21. Great post. A keeper. I don’t suffer from a stress related problem, but after 44 years on the air, I no longer have anything to say. My language has and continues to be cw, but I look for RBN monitors essentially when I send a CQ. If I get a call, fine. But the RBN is just as well do some. Sometimes, even more. Good luck and stay well.

  22. Ben, I read all of Thomas’ QRPer posts and have to say that this one (and all of the supportive comments) is at the top of my list of favorites. I learn something from all of them, and some can be inspiring.

    Best of luck with WSPR. Other than POTA activations with my friends, WSPR has become my favorite part of the radio hobby. I have some kind of experiment going on all the time. One WSPR transmitter is a lot of fun. Two are exponentially more interesting.

    Best Regards,
    Keith KY4KK

  23. Ben – Thank you for having the courage to share your story and be open about your post-military struggles. Too many Vets don’t and it doesn’t go well for them. Thank you for your service. You had made many sacrifices for our Country. As a Vietnam-Era Navy Vet (non-combat) myself who also has been a Neuropsychologist consultant for Poly Trauma for the VA Medical Center, it can get better, especially by focusing on positive activities, like Portable Ops with ham radio & having future goals. Our daughter, Dr. Lauren Conder KA4LHC works in primary MH for the Durham VAMC, & understands the value of ham radio. Two of my fellow Long Island CW Club instructors are combat vets, & I forwarded your post to them. Jim N0IPA co-moderates the Portable Ops forum on Sat mornings with me, and runs a program where he takes Vets on hiking and radio trips. Not all hams are gregarious; lots of us are shy and feel socially awkward. But ham radio is a perfect solution, because we can talk for days about techie stuff, eg, what’s the best rig, best antenna, is FT8 real radio, batteries, keys, etc. Really glad you got Dr. Rolly’s call and you’re experimenting with many modes. Radio can be a really nice bond for lots of different types, and a healthy outlet. Best and hope to work you portable sometime. 73 de K4RLC Bob

  24. Hi Ben
    First of all, thank you for your service brother. I am a member of VFW Post 6088 in Washington NC and an extra class ham, NG9T.
    I too love POTA, QRP, CW, and building things. I have a QMX sitting on my desk in box waiting to be assembled. The only thing really holding me up is that I’m President of local Pamlico Amateur Radio Club and my anxiety and depression issues have put a roadblock on my fun radio stuff. My tenure as President ends this year and Im hoping to get back to what I truly love about ham radio.

    Thanks for sharing your ham and life stories, as they give me hope that I will still enjoy ham radio when i lighten my load.

    Congratulations on the callsign!

    Best wishes

    Gary Faust NG9T

  25. Ben:

    You’ve received many good comments regarding your article which I, too, thank you for writing. Before ham radio, I socialized mostly because I had to as it was expected of me in my former marriage. Then came Covid which gave me some much-needed breathing room to “renegotiate” the amount and kinds of contact I had with others.

    I got into ham radio for disaster preparedness but stayed because it is fun and I gained a community of ops who are some of the kindest and most sincere people I know. Given how open I am in my articles and that I facilitate classes for CW Innovations, I bet many hams would be surprised to learn the POTA Babe is an introvert. However, I am and what I enjoy about this hobby is that I can make friends in a manner that is comfortable for me. Having that control and space has actually encouraged me to become more outgoing.

    I am glad you’ve found a way to make the hobby work for you. That is one of the great things about ham radio – there are so many ways to enjoy it and no one right answer.

    Congrats on receiving Rolly’s call sign and have a ball with this wonderful hobby!

    The POTA Babe

  26. I congratulate you on fighting your way through. I’m actually heading the other way with my PTSD and related issues. Thought I’d hit bottom about a year ago and reached out for help. Some things are getting better…I’m actually having times I feel better and can see some progress. But then life kicks me in the bum and the depression takes over…and hits deeper all the appointments with the VA and therapy keep me from having a steady income. My work requires a reliable car. I’m so far behind on payments, they can take it any time they want…and I’ve been up all night, but can’t figure out any way to make any payment this month. So. I figure that will be gone end of the month or early next month. When that happens, it will allow me to go to an inpatient situation like they have started trying to get me to consider.

    I ask everyone to keep an eye on those you know. You’d be surprised who is battling what. Even if they are not ready to reach out for help, be there for them. Do what you can to get them help before they get to where I am.


    1. Mel,

      I don’t really know how to say it, so I’ll just try and hope the ideas come across. I get depressed, whether there’s a reason or not. It feels like everything is falling apart and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Like nothing will ever be good or right again. Like it will never get better. I huddle in a ball and wait for the darkness to take me. In those times, I can only do one thing.


      That’s the one thing I cling to. In those times I can’t listen to the rational parts of me, that know things will improve. Or that people love me. Or anything else that would lighten the load. They don’t help. All I can do is endure. And then things do get better. They’ll get worse again, and all I can do then is what I did before. Endure.

      It sounds like you’ve reached out for help. I pray that it does. And in those bad times, maybe you can find something that gets you through like that one word does me. God bless.


  27. Good on you buddy! You have a crutch or a wheelchair and everybody wants to help, but when it’s in your head it’s you on your own. I love your story. Thanks for sharing it

  28. This article, and all of the replies from so many of you, have been a huge help to me.

    I seriously thought I was alone in my situation. I don’t wish what we deal with on any of us, but I am grateful to all who have posted in this thread, because you’ve helped me to understand that I’m not alone.

    Thank you all for your courage in sharing your stories.

    With great respect,

  29. Hey, neighbor!

    Great article, and boy can I relate! Interesting – after reading the other comments I don’t feel so…”alone,” as it were. I can relate oh, so well to the various sentiments from you and the commenters!

    For many reasons (again, related to much of what others wrote) CW is my mode of choice. Quick contacts are fine on SSB if they’re things like POTA/SOTA, Field Day, or other ‘fun’ contests, but otherwise I prefer CW.

    N1HOB (OKC)

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