Thursday, May 19, 2011

Open letter to Hamvention 2011

Radio has always been an interest of mine, but mostly from the broadcasting side of things. Learning the story behind Orson Welles' Columbia Radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" was the beginning of that interest. I spent many late nights listening to the "CBS Radio Mystery Theater" in the '70s and I still listen to audio shows when I find them, both over-the-air and as podcasts.

For a time I had a multi-band receiver that occupied many evenings. Part of the fun was the simple act of searching for something to hear, and, when found, it was often something so random it couldn't help but be interesting, at least for a little while. Then on to find something else being beamed and bounced around the ether...

In the early '90s I thought seriously about getting into two-way amateur radio. I was haunting the local Radio Shack to try and get a handle on technology and terminology, and I read newsstand magazines about HAM radio. At the same time there were many magazines about computers and many of the HAM articles also talked about the use of computers. My interest was shared in both arenas.

I didn't have the money for a good radio and antenna any more than I had money for a decent computer, but one January day in 1994 I found an old PC really cheap at a Goodwill and the die was cast. I followed the computer path, and I can't say I regret it - the entire world followed computers and the Internet. I haven't become bored with it, yet, but radio hasn't gone away, and neither has my interest in it.

Any true fan of the Cincinnati Reds knows that you listen to radio coverage, even as you may be watching the game on TV. Maybe it's like that for other teams as well, I don't know. But I do know Radio isn't skulking around in dark corners. Radio lives!

There's an essential purity to radio that the internet can't ever match. The simplicity of powering on your equipment and working a few dials, never quite sure what you might find. Even a planned radio conversation might be sidelined by bad weather, or sunspots, or who knows what. HAM radio still holds sense of wonder and wide open spaces, of exploration and discovery!

If I have my facts straight, it was HAM radio that gave birth to the most common communication in use today, our wireless phones! Wireless = Radio. HAM Radio operators were sending files and images to one another long before most of had heard of the Internet and cell-phones. HAM operators used data compression and packet data to accomplish these things. Today, the phone in your pocket, purse, or on your belt, IS a radio doing all the things HAM operators did 30+ years ago without all the plans and subscriptions that are the major complaints of wireless phone users today. As a matter of fact, I originally began this blog post on my BlackBerry, where it would have been radioed to the nearest tower, radioed to another tower, perhaps many more, maybe even a satellite or two, until it found it's destination - a line to Google's Blogger servers, and, finally, posted to this blog. All the while being sorted and kept separate from all the other traffic on the wireless network and the Internet. And I'm pretty sure all of that sorting and compression technology began with Amateur Radio.

So, thank you HAMvention and all the Amateur Radio Operators there have ever been for laying the foundations that keep today's world connected, and for often being a last line of communication in disaster zones, helping to assess the situation and coordinate rescue and relief efforts. Radio remains the single most important form of communication on Earth, and that's no exaggeration.

HAMvention! Welcome, once again, to Dayton, Ohio's Hara Arena. We know you've got a busy weekend ahead, but, if you happen to find yourselves in downtown Dayton, we hope you'll have time to stop in at Bonnett's Book Store and say "Hi". You'll be among friends.

Thank you,
Kevin Bonnett

Bonnett's Book Store
502 E. Fifth St.
Dayton, OH 45402
Noon - 8 PM, Mon - Saturday, closed Sunday