Why Modern Makers Are Bringing Back Ham Radio

More than a hundred years ago, a few intrepid amateurs began experimenting with a new means of communications known then as “wireless.” These protohackers — soon to be known as hams — for etymologically obscure reasons — began building their own electronics gear, hoping to use it to communicate with others. By the early 1920s, amateur radio operators were talking with and even transmitting images to complete strangers on the other side of the world.

By the 1980s, ham radio was in decline. But the spirit of those early tinkerers survived: They were the first makers, who — like the makers of today — built technological gizmos for themselves that they just couldn’t buy.

And now, coincident with the rise of the modern maker movement, that decline has reversed. New ham licenses are on the increase, with 35,000 new ones issued just last year. According to FCC records, there are now roughly 800,000 ham radio operators in the United States — more than ever before. And this latest generation of enthusiasts is doing things with ham radio that their forebears could never have imagined.

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