From HF to HS (and back again?)
When I was 17 years old, I bought a used Drake TR-4 HF Transceiver from the local Ham Radio Store — Oregon Ham Sales in Albany, Oregon USA. This would remain my one and only HF rig for the next 34 years. Old tube rigs like this were amazing creatures, with high voltage running around inside and enough heat produced during transmitting to almost crinkle the paint. It was a bit scary to hear the metal popping as it expanded and contracted when I alternated between transmitting and receiving.
Of course, over the years, after using my trusty Drake with dipoles and inverted-vees and homemade yagis and quads, eventually things started to wear out. Parts became hard to find and eventually I felt unqualified to keep it running. Besides, wife, family, job, and other hobbies had moved Ham Radio to nothing more than “something I used to do”. So, on May 5, 2012, I sold my Drake TR-4 to a Ham who had the time and knowledge to get it working. I imagine that a couple of months from now it will be up and running in a new shack — back to doing what it was made to do.
As you can almost predict, the very act of selling the old HF rig got me interested again. I got on Google and started researching the changes which had occurred in the hobby since I was last active in 1992. As I was looking into the status of the Sunspot Cycle, I found mention of “virtual propagation” and stumbled across…HamSphere. Since you’re reading this on my HamSphere blog, you probably don’t need me to tell you what HamSphere is. If you don’t know, follow the links along the edge of the Blog page and learn more. The short version is that HamSphere is “The virtual Ham Radio experience”. No, it is NOT radio. The only high voltage present might be in your monitor — if you’re still using an old CRT. There is no antenna, unless you are using wi-fi to connect to the Internet. It is virtual. You don’t have to be licensed, although the rules of conduct encourage (and sometimes enforce) behavior that would be welcome by most Hams on most Ham bands. You’ve got static and fading and QRM (man-made interference) and QRN (natural interference). In short, it FEELS like Ham Radio.
I am hooked. I’ve paid for a year’s subscription and I’m off and running (13 countries in 4 days is most definitely NOT like my experience on real radio, but it is a blast nonetheless). And you know what else it has done? It has made me want to get back on the air. I’m thinking more about what kind of rig I could buy and what kind of antenna I could put up. Those who object to the very concept of “Virtual Ham Radio” need to understand that it has proven to be an incredible gateway to expanding the real Ham Radio hobby. I’ve already spoken to two licensed Hams who became licensed after using HamSphere.
Whether you’re a Ham using real radio or a Ham using virtual radio or a non-Ham using virtual radio, just enjoy it. You’ll make new friends all over the world and, ultimately, isn’t that the greatest thing about this hobby?