Narrow-mindedness runs rampant in the ranks of the amateur radio community. If it wasn’t for operators launching their “arguments” and every new video or blog post I make I wouldn’t actually care. So what’s the cure?
There’s always a debate going on about the best antenna, the best radio, the best this, the best that, or even the best way to do something. For the most part, those operators declaring absolutes need to have their bowels emptied by a professional. There simply is no such thing as the best anything, since methods and solutions are created to solve problems or inefficiency.
When someone asks my favorite radio, antenna, or even operating style, operators often get ticked off with the answers I provide. For example, I don’t have a favorite antenna. What I have is a toolbox! That toolbox includes magnetic Loops, end fed half waves, shortened verticals, random end fed long wires, resonant dipoles, and any plethora of deployment configurations. Why? Simple, there is no one antenna which is good at doing everything, everywhere, all the time. Moreover, some antennas are simply easier to deploy or have more desirable operating characteristics than others. There may be the illusion of a single slices, dices, cuts, chops, … antenna, but this illusion is usually driven by what we are used to.
Of course we can talk about efficiency, losses, antenna height or a variety of other things but for the most part, we need to remember, “antennas are designed to solve a certain deployment or performance problem”. That’s why we have resonant dipoles, shortened verticals, magnetic loops, end feds, linked dipoles, some monstrosity with a million radials, … there simply is not any one antenna which stands out ahead of the rest in every deployment or performance scenario. The antenna configuration we use for working extreme DX, is absolutely useless for regional Communications. A resonant dipole is not going to be useful, if it can’t be deployed high enough, or without enough land to spread it out. So why do operators Proclaim their loyalty to certain antenna designs or configurations? It’s because they often lack experience operating in a variety of different operating locations, operating scenarios, or with various/unusual operating goals. For example, if an operators only purpose in amateur radio is working DX on 20/40m from a specific environment allowing them to deploy resonant antennas for these bands, that operator may not understand why a qrp operator setting up on a hotel balcony might choose a shortened vertical or magnetic loop, or why the EMCOMM operator in the field using NVIS on 40/80M would use a horizontal end fed half wave.
The operator setting up in an Arctic environment, unable to touch metal parts or untangle fidgety wire with bare hands, because he/she is forced to wear mittens, may choose something like a Broadband vertical on a tripod using a tuner inside the shelter. An antenna choice made simply to avoid getting frostbite, during a winter deployment.
I could say exactly the same thing about the operator setting up an the sandbox or desert. Metal Parts get hot, and exposure is a real concern in hot or cold environments. In the desert operators have an additional problem which is there may be no trees to hang the “perfect antenna” from. Are you following along?
My point is this. Anyone proclaiming absolutes about anything in amateur radio has their head buried so deeply, it should be surgically removed. These opinions are driven by narrow-minded operators who haven’t had the experience of operating in diverse operating scenarios. One sure and simple cure to ham radio narrow-mindedness, is getting out of ones operating comfort zone, trying something completely foreign to our normal operating practices. Field day is supposed to be one such day where we minimize our stations, get out in the field, and try something entirely new. Unfortunately what usually happens is operators mimic their home stations out in the field. They stick with what they know, rather than challenging themselves by operating in a completely different way.
So, there is no one right way or right anything! The best gear or method are those which allow you to satisfy your operational requirements!
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Regarding “the best”, I always invoke the words of my attorney ex-wife – “it depends.” Context is everything, and you can’t speak in absolutes when there are so many variables at play. Really the only numbers that can’t be argued about are size and weight. But even those are open to interpretation when it comes to what is best or acceptable for an individual.
Other forums and topics have similar discussions/arguments. One point that I always end up making is that while cost (or weight or size) is a quantifiable metric, “value” is totally up to the individual and there are no absolutes. One man’s prize is another man’s trash.
The topic of closed-mindedness similarly exists in other circles. As humans we tend to try and stay in our comfort zones, but the reality is that we only grow when we in fact move into discomfort. The Buddhists describe this as “leaning into your sharp points.” It is easy to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and some never get bored. Others constantly flip from thing to thing and rarely gain the mastery necessary to really engage or execute in a meaningful way. I think the trick is finding the balance between working towards mastery while exploring breadth. One great thing about amateur radio is that there is a vast breadth of topics and approaches that one can explore if they are game.
I will admit that I’ve been somewhat reticent to explore digital modes, in part because I got into radio based on my memories of it being a profoundly analog experience – real-time communication not mediated by computers. But my experiences in the 70’s are just that – in the 70’s, and today is a different landscape. The beauty is that I can still stay firmly rooted in the more “analog” approach to the hobby. And in fact this is one reason I like my KX2 (despite it having some SDR underpinnings) – the experience of operating the radio is much more “analog” than “digital.”
However I’m a pragmatist. Turns out I’m being very slow (lazy) to learn CW, and doing SOTA activations via SSB with 12W is a challenge. And not necessarily a problem I can solve as we’re at the mercy of mother nature. So digital modes appear to be one answer to effective QRP, so I’m faced with a conundrum; do I stick to my “analog experience” mantra or do I expand my horizons and add some digital modes to the mix. And as above, no single right answer, just what works for me at this time and place.
Very long-winded way of saying we have choices and can take them – or not. All up to the individual.