All posts by Jay Farlow

I'm Jay Farlow. W9LW is my amateur (ham) radio call sign. I've been a ham since 1973. I've been a volunteer storm spotter for the National Weather Service SKYWARN program since the 1970s. I've also been a volunteer EMT and firefighter and member of a disaster medical assistance team. I advise the leadership team of Associated Churches Active in Disaster, a ministry of Associate Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County. Learn more about w9lw at www.qrz.com/db/w9lw.

Traffic Handling and Antique Engines

Have you ever been to a county fair or similar event and saw an area with guys sitting around running very old “hit-and-miss” engines? Today, those engines are anachronisms. But many people get enjoyment out of restoring them, running them and displaying them. Sometimes, I feel how those guys must feel when I’m handing traffic on ham radio, especially using Morse code.

There was a time, not too many decades ago, when the American Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) National Traffic System (NTS) served a real purpose on a day-to-day basis. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, people often hesitated to make long-distance telephone calls, because such calls were expensive. It wasn’t unusual for them to turn to their neighborhood ham radio operator to send a free radiogram for simple greeting messages, like “happy birthday.” The NTS was full of real messages being relayed on behalf of real people. And if a disaster stuck, citizens and government officials relied on NTS to fill in for incapacitated telephone and other communication systems.
Things sure are different today. Most people have telephone plans (either landline or cellular) that include long distance. Most have email, not to mention text messaging, Facebook and Twitter. There’s no longer incentive for the general public to use ham radio to wish someone a happy birthday. Even disasters don’t always create a big demand for ham radio. Many (if not most) local emergency managers are equipped with satellite phones that will put them in touch with the outside world even if landline telephone, cellular telephone and Internet services are unavailable. And it takes a pretty huge incident to disconnect the Internet. Not long after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, pictures of the scene were showing up on web pages and Twitter, provided by “citizen journalists.”
So, why do I invest my time practicing a craft that has little practical value except in the most dire of circumstances (e.g. something even bigger than the 2010 Haiti earthquake)? Well, I’ve never talked to one of those hit-and-miss engine hobbyists but I suspect I handle traffic for the same reason they keep their antique machines running.
It’s fun. I enjoy it.
There’s a certain order to traffic handling procedures that gives me comfort. Even if I’m relaying a “mail merge” radiogram addressed to some unsuspecting ham by someone who sent it only to provide “grist for the mill,” I get a feeling of accomplishment from keeping my skills honed. So, yeah, I realize I might never be pressed into service to handle real emergency traffic. But I know I can. And I enjoy the exercise. I’d be interested in hearing your reasons for participating (or not participating, as the case might be).