What Am I Up To?
But First... Yesterday an Asterisk, Today a Few Paragraphs
HamSphere is everything I described hypothetically, and a lot more. I have been thinking about this for days, and only recently. They created their program years ago, have a lovely web site, and have put together a splendid ham radio imitation, including one of my hobbyhorses, easy swapping of QSL cards. I haven't actually used their program, and haven't made any QSOs yet. And there is one issue: They offer a 30-day free trial, which strongly implies that after 30 days it is no longer free. I have been a ham for 60 years, and although I probably won't be for yet another 60, I'm not eager to make a long term commitment to sending my money to someone else. Nonetheless, they do seem to have fully accomplished what I only hypothesized in the previous blogitem, and in greater detail.
I haven't evaluated it myself, but I found a number of reviews. They range from good to bad, as one might expect, and they give some insight as to how it is being used.
The most surprising thing about HamSphere, at least to me, is that I had never heard of it. I genuinely believed that whether or not I "thought" of it first, it hadn't been accomplished except, perhaps, by some experimenter. As a fairly active ham, and ARRL—the ham national organization—member, I would have thought that something this interesting and useful would have been more prominent in their main publication. Perhaps I somehow missed it.
And Now, The Denouement of My Verbosity
Thank you for staying with me thus far. I went on at perhaps tedious length about ham radio and how the internet might be useful for amateur radio communications. I expect you might have two slightly discordant thoughts at this point:
- Interesting! Using the internet might get more people interested in ham radio given that the usual barriers to entry—licensing, antenna construction, expense, danger—are missing.
- Stupid! It's not really amateur radio, is it?
Right on the first count, maybe not on the second. Let's think about how to eliminate the "not."
The Romance of Radio
My radio life began using a crystal radio with a chunk of galena and a "cat's whisker." Every once in a while I was able to pick up some sounds with it and the cheapie earphone that came with it. I built a Heathkit shortwave receiver, encountered ham radio, got FCC licenses, and eventually got a temporary career working in radio. For years I loved "the magic of radio." And—Surprise!—I still love the magic of radio. In a merciful gesture to my thousands of millireaders, I shall spare you the lyrical description of late-night contacts with the blankets pulled over my head, which would be de rigueur if I weren't, as it says above, "Up to Something." Which is this:
Ham radio isn't radio without real radio. But ham radio loses its charm and its candidate enthusiasts abandon it when faced with daunting circumstances. Young people with no access to antennas, retirees who have spent their lives happily hamming suddenly consigned to assisted living, folks with the misfortune of living in HOA communities with restrictive regulations, and many others could benefit from this idea, which I will finally get to at the end of this sentence, which I promise won't run on forever since I'm about to have it taken out and shot in just a few s...
Hybrid Ham Radio
That's it! Are you way ahead of me yet?
Of course you are. I'm simply suggesting combining internet ham radio and, well, real ham radio. One piece of equipment can do it all: A radio transceiver along with an internet connection and internet app, with a single control surface for both. It has a variable "MIX" control that you set depending on your mood and the current state of your antenna.
You already have one kind of hybrid radio in your pocket. Your smartphone uses the cellular network when you're outdoors or away from a WiFi connection; when you're connected to WiFi, it uses the internet. (Yes, WiFi is also radio, but still...) Extend this concept to ham radio? HamSphere is, so far as they can make it, internet ham radio. It uses "virtual transceivers" to make contacts, much as I had envisioned when I started this series. A virtual transceiver can be an app on your PC or phone, or a piece of hardware with one or more knobs, mic, and Morse key connectors. If just virtual, it can still be very flat!
A real ham radio transceiver has extra depth for all the radio bits, and also has connectors for antennas. But modern transceivers from the major manufacturers also have a display screen, an internet connection, and, most likely a powerful enough CPU to be a virtual transceiver as well as a real one. In fact, the manufacturers can sell their current line of products with and without depth, much as some mobile transceivers have control heads.
It all comes together when you go on the air or "go on the air." If you have no internet or no antenna, well, you know which way to turn the "MIX" control. If you have both, set MIX in the middle and only your transceiver knows for sure!
I Think I'll Stop Here
That's pretty much it. Sure, there are lots of details. Licensing? Necessary for the real radio, not for the internet. DXCC? ARRL might want to have new rules! QSL cards? Easy! Just push a button on one end and it can be printed on the other. (The QSL can go via the internet even if the QSO itself didn't.)*
I'm assuming nobody is already doing hybrid hamming as well as the internet-only "radio" I mentioned in the previous blogitem. If not, I'm pleased to have resolved the future of ham radio, over which many of us old timers have been agonizing.