One reason I enjoy amateur radio is that, in most cases, people just chat. The transceivers* most hams** have in their cars are tuned to a repeater—a transceiver located on a tall building, hill, television broadcast tower, or other elevated location. The transceivers in our cars are good for “line-of-sight,” say, five miles, and is impacted by trees, buildings, etc. Ham clubs install repeaters which simultaneously receive and retransmit a ham radio signal, which increase the line of sight 25 miles or more all directions. Repeaters obviously make communications easier.
Repeaters also act as neighborhoods. The hams who are experimenters may choose one repeater for most of their conversations, while those who prefer ham radio’s role in public service may choose another. However, when a storm is brewing, we tend to switch to the repeater that relays information to the weather service. We may frequently visit other “neighborhoods,” but there is usually one or two that we prefer.
Driving to work in the morning, I chat with four or five of the thirty or so hams who frequent one particular repeater. What do we talk about? Nothing in particular, but we tend to follow a long dead practice in that we generally avoid discussing politics, sex, and religion; this was once an expectation in social conversations but disappeared from general practice about the time that cable news arrived.
Live and telephone conversations are duplex, meaning you can speak and listen at the same time—an essential element for arguments. Ham radio, however, is not, so one person speaks while the others listen, waiting their turn. The repeaters also have a timer—usually 90 seconds—after which it stops transmitting. This “encourages” hams to not dominate a conversation. (Imagine if cable news had these features.)
My morning chats on the way to work are pleasant, and kind of ease me into the mindset I need when I get to work. I find that it puts me in a far better mood than listening to the news or hearing one song followed by fifteen commercials.
There’s a lot to be said for just chatting.
* A transmitter and receiver in one unit
** Ham – a nickname for amateur radio operators. Why? Nobody knows.