By Rick Barrett
MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (AP) – Long ago, before Facebook, Twitter and email, ham radio operators were the original social media geeks.
And they’re still out there, in greater numbers than ever, chatting and messaging each other all over the world without an Internet connection or even a telephone line.
Currently, there are more than 704,000 amateur radio license holders in the U.S., an all-time high and up from 662,600 in 2005, according to the National Association for Amateur Radio.
Even with Skype and other Internet-based ways to chat, “ham” radio operators, as they call themselves, are holding their own with radio sets from the 1950s and new technologies including satellites that boost voice, video and Morse code messages.
It’s social media that’s more than a century old, says David Schank, a ham radio operator from Greenfield.
Unlike a lot of social media, ham radio users generally don’t bad-mouth each other over the air. There’s a respectful tone to the conversations, even when users are from countries at odds with each other or they have conflicting political views.
Ham radio communication is more person-to-person than an anonymous posting on the Internet or a tweet that nobody reads.
“On the radio, you can tell if you’ve offended someone or said the wrong thing. It’s probably best not to talk about religion or politics,” Schank said.
On the flip side, some radio chats last only a few seconds as participants try to make as many contacts to farflung places as possible in a given time period.
“There’s a certain thrill in it. Every time you work a new country and make a contact, it’s like going fishing and catching a musky,” said Thomas Ruhlmann with the Ozaukee Radio Club. (For the most part, English is the standard language for ham radio traffic, even overseas, operators say.)1 2 3 next >>