To introduce a new category, I present a post on an oft-discussed facet of amateur radio: EchoLink.

I overheard someone at work the other day mentioning how neat it is and how it can be a good way to get young people interested in ham radio. The way he described it sounds exactly like the instant messengers I’ve been using for, oh, 7 years now? As a young person, if someone used that to try to get me interested in ham radio, I’d probably tell them that I’m already using something that doesn’t require me to take a test and get a license to use and that all my friends are using already. EchoLink is cool in principle, but the method some people are using to promote it just doesn’t seem to hold much value to me.

So you want to get kids interested in ham radio, but you’re going to mention to them something that’s very very similar to something they’ve already been using for a while? Give me a break. Show them something that’s really cool(TM) and that would grab their interest and not let it go. Sadly, I don’t think EchoLink is going to do that. An IRLP-equipped repeater, however, might. If I tell someone I can talk to someone on the other side of the world with my handheld through the local repeater, they might go “Cool!” and inquire a little further into it. But if I tell them that I can use my computer to talk to the same person without using a radio at all, well, it just doesn’t hold the same kind of impact, as they’ve probably been doing that for a while already.

But, of course, why just limit these VoIP-based ham solutions to the method to get a kid to “catch the bug.” Why not use HF like has been done before? When I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot talking to someone in Russia using nothing more than 100W and a relatively inefficient antenna… well, that’s just undeniably cool.

So you want to get kids involved in ham radio? Stop trying to merge it with the ‘net and mimic their beloved IM and actually do something. After all, you can do voice (and even video!) chat in AIM now. So what’s the big deal with EchoLink?

Don’t even get me started on the attitudes a lot of the “elder statesmen” of ham radio have with regards to kids getting involved in the hobby. I don’t know about you, but if some old fart told me to get off “his” repeater because I was born 5 seconds after him, well, I’d probably be left with a really bad taste in my mouth about ham radio. For the record, I’ve met some young hams who are far and away more knowledgable and active in the hobby than the previously mentioned “elder statesmen” who do nothing but sit around all day on their favorite frequency and talk about their gallstones and other afflictions. I don’t know, but that’s not interesting at all to me. But, it’s not my problem.

And people wonder why I don’t get on the air much… >_>