Thursday, December 29, 2011

Troubling Events at 75 Meters

I listen to shortwave radio. I realize this is an odd anachronistic hobby for a 39 year-old suburbanite who should be empowering himself with yoga, reality television and crap purchased from the Apple Store. But long ago I had a shortwave radio in high school, a time before the interwebs were capable of delivering live streaming of any radio station you could fathom. Perhaps I listen to shortwave radio now to re-experience the wonderment that I felt then, alone in my room, pulling in signals that seemed to arrive from anywhere and everywhere, as though through some magical cypher.

I have a Grundig G3. It is an amazing little machine, and well worth the $129 it costs. It is able to pull in many international broadcasts as well as aeronautical communications and amateur broadcasts. I must confess to being most intrigued by what I might find discussed by Ham Radio operators. As I got back into shorwave, it was easy to presuppose that amateur broadcasts were ocean of anti-government Obama-haters, writhing in the seats of their remote Ham Shacks, imploring any and all who might be listening to prepare for the End of Times.

I spend most of my time on shortwave listening to Hams. I track their call signs and document everything I hear. I do this mostly out of curiosity - it's interesting to see the vast distances from which I can pull in a signal on such an unsophisticated receiver. And to my surprise, most Hams are enormously likable and listenable men (I've only heard one female amateur operator). Rather than spewing venomous political crap, they mostly are looking to make connections with other Hams to discuss the shortwave conditions in the ionosphere and the effectiveness of their antennae. And once these connections are made, Hams generally just converse about their lives - what they're doing that day, how the weather is, what they're planning to do next summer.

I've been listening and documenting religiously for almost a year now. But now, due perhaps to the oncoming shift and uncertainty popular culture believes Planet Earth will endure in 2012, the Ham universe has taken a decidedly darker direction.

On December 11th, I was listening at 3827 kHz on the lower side band. A Ham operator was delivering a long religious speech, which at times seemed mildly anti-Semitic. Other Hams were trying to break into his broadcast, either by speaking or by sending out Morse code. Still, other Hams began attacking those Hams who were looking to disrupt this broadcast. A consistent voice trying to counter the religious broadcast was met with another countering voice decrying his attempts by repeating: "That's an ARRL Member jamming a legal QSO" (meaning 'hey - that's a licenced operator trying to disrupt a legal broadcast').

It was all very unsettling. Since then, I've encountered other hotbeds for political diatribes, most infamous being 14313 kHz during the daytime. These exchanges are nothing more than verbal versions of any anonymous internet comment board. But there's something scary and sinister here. Hearing the actual voices of their adversaries doesn't seem to deter the anger these men feel. One would assume that the anger a man might feel for another man who does not share his viewpoint might be assuaged if the two men, rather than conversing through the blindness of an internet chat room, could actually hear one another's real voices. This is not the case, unfortunately.

1 comment:

  1. A raised voice does not automatically convey anger, but perhaps enthusiasm. It is easy to confuse the two.