What's a "Hamateur," anyway?
The 10-year-old boy in me loves the airwaves. Three years ago I studied hard and passed the federal exam to get a license to play radio. It was a youthful, walkie-talkie dream realized. As I began attending swap meets, field days and club meetings around my area, I got to know more than a few curious, colorful amateur radio operators, or "hams"—I call them Hamateurs.
They're your dad, your older brother, or a crazy uncle. They're the old man down the block, and the army dude you run into at the laundromat washing out his camo. Some are women, and too few. They build enormous antennae, and live under them—in basements and attics, amid the crackle and hiss. There's probably one on your block.
The amateur radio hobby goes back more than a century. In the the latter days of Morse Code—once the only way to spread messages quickly around the world, a steampunk ‘Twitter’ born of brass and sparks—landline telegraphy became untethered with the discovery of wireless radio transmission.
As the radio telegraph expanded across oceans and around the world, business and government grew a professional class hired to send and receive. Many operators built sets of their own from scratch, and the first civilian “amateurs”—the early tweakers of radio—brought the technology into their homes.
The hobbyists formalized their passion. Organizations were born. The Columbia University Amateur Radio Club stretches back to 1908; The Radio Act of 1912, passed after Titanic sank, was the beginning of U.S. federal licensing of amateur radio operators and stations; and 2014 saw the 100th anniversary of the Amateur Radio Relay League—with over 161,000 members, the ARRL is the largest amateur radio association in the world.
The Hamateurs Project is about these hobbyists; the unheralded tinkerers and eccentrics, makers and researchers who continue to expand radio, this “ancient” technology, to new purpose—along with the equally primal need to simply talk to someone.