Tag Archives: Ben (KH7QO)

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!