Online experts, advice-givers, sages & frauds

signI think a lot of people “learn the ropes” of ham radio like they learn everything else these days – over the internet. This is no more hands-on mentoring or coaching. Nothing wrong with learning over the ‘net via forums etc – if you know who you’re taking advice from.

By learning, I don’t mean electronics, licensing or Smith charts. I’m talking operational ham radio…how to zero beat a signal, how to operate split, when to call CQ, when not to call the DX, etc. There are subtleties in these and many other aspects of radio that are either not learned or are taught incorrectly by wannabe’s and posers.

The internet allows a relative anonymity which in turn allows anyone to assume a status they may not necessarily rate with regards to handing out advice to newbies too green to know who they’re listening to.

I’ve had my ticket since 1978 and still have questions fairly often on various aspects of whatever I’m contemplating at the moment. The difference between me and a greenhorn is not that I have all the answers but that my Bullshit Detector is accurately calibrated. I know where to go to get correct answers. And who to listen to when I go there.

For the past year or so I’ve had this very topic on my mind as I read eHam forums and other venues. It’s troubling to see a new ham ask a question about an antenna or how to go about logging a semi-rare DX station…only to get bad answers.

If you were going to drop some serious coin on a photographer to make family portraits of you, the sweetie and the bambinos, wouldn’t you check out his gallery first to see if he could deliver? Maybe it’s a good idea to check up a bit on the advice-giver from time to time. If the results come up shallow, seek a 2nd and 3rd opinion. Along the way you’ll develop a feel for credibility.

There was once a frequent commenter on a forum who would give advice to people withbad_adv questions on DXing – bad advice. I went to quite a few online logs for recent and not-so-recent DXpeditions and looked for his callsign. Surely someone dispensing frequent advice on DXing would have the experience to back it up and the result of that experience would be that his callsign would adorn numerous DXpedition logs.

You know how that turned out, don’t you?! He wasn’t in a damn one of them. Nowhere to be found, either in online logs or DX contesting results. DX-wise, he was a nobody and yet a giver of advice.

The lack of knowledge is also evident on the air. Lots of DXpeditions are taking place right now and the behavior of many in the pile-ups reflects not just the lack of courtesy so often mentioned but also a lack of the most basic concepts of working DX in a pile-up. Like copying the DX station’s callsign. Numerous ops are working 5J0R on CW and then spotting him on the cluster as XR0ZR (this also explains why many also don’t know what “up” means).

While there is a certain poetic justice in that (months from now they’ll bitch about not receiving a QSL from who ‘they thought’ they worked), the lack of competency doesn’t end there and often manifests itself in ways that affect others.

I can’t help but think that if an Elmer – a non-internet Elmer – was there to hover over them and coach them through a few adrenaline-inducing pile-ups for a Rare One that we’d all be better off. Less accidental QRM, less intentional QRM, more stations logged quickly and a better reputation overall for our aspect of the hobby.

But those days are gone.

To newbies, I would say to check the credentials of those giving advice. After a while, you’ll be able to discern competent e-Elmers from those simply seeking to impress.



  7 comments for “Online experts, advice-givers, sages & frauds

  1. Nigel
    November 10, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    I am in agreeance with your points OM. The internet gives trolls and experts alike a vehicle for expressing knowledge good or bad. And a lot is bad! Medical. Financial. Self-help. Ham radio Dx. Me thinks it happens in the ham homebrew electronics arena too. Like you say popularity might be a main reason but also blokes is promoting goods and services that just happens to be shown on their footer, blog, avatar and all that jazz.
    Ironically the people I wish would blog or podcast or publish MORE don’t and the village “experts” NEVER stop talking.
    Poor inaccurate content or advice and lots of back patting and hero worship of their ilk and so on and so forth.
    F2F or internet elmering by qualified chaps is perhaps being overshadowed by the egotisitics and rogues?
    Nigel Pidwirny, Manchester

  2. Natouk
    November 10, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    What you said is TRUE

  3. November 11, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Here’s a related video recently posted to DX-World:

  4. JSWilson
    November 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

    May I pose two questions from an aspiring Amateur Radio Operator? I have had a Short wave radio- receiver only- for 25 years and enjoyed listening to far way places- and listening in on Ham Radio “conversations”. Finally decided to try to get a license and join the fun; now that the Morse code is not required – as I have hard time hearing and it is hard to distinguish some sounds. First question- how “accommodating” are DXers to people that know code, but are not “fast” due to hearing issues? My understanding is that the better CWer is supposed to be “friendly” and slow down to the lesser operator. But does this happen in practice? Or do the slower users get frozen out? Bottom line- would it be an futile expenditure of time and resources in a quest to get the more advanced licenses only to not be able to participate? And on the topic of the post, I am overwhelmed with the information out “there”- all of the short hand words and lingo is very confusing for a new person in the field. Do you have a go to place or places for information?

    • November 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

      There are two schools of thought on CW ops slowing down. Yes, it is the courteous thing to do and the majority of ops will do that. But some ops will call CQ at 25 wpm because they want to converse at that speed. It’s unfortunate that there are no longer dedicated Novice bands where the speeds were slow and where experienced ops came to provide on-the-air practice for new hams. I appreciated those guys when I was new and, now that I’m fairly good at CW, I appreciate what they did even more now than I did then.

      You can always call CQ at whatever speed is comfortable for you and be almost 100% sure that anyone answering you will match your speed. Another recommendation would be to join FISTS. There are helpful ops there with whom you could set up an on-the-air session (“sked”) to practice at whatever speed you’re comfortable at.

      I would suggest that if you want to chase DX on CW, that you get proficient at CW first – the DX chasing will come in time. But DXing means different things to different people. To me (and perhaps you) it means seeking out new countries to increase my total. To others, it means any casual conversation with a ham in another country. Casual conversations can take place at any speed & therefore need not be fast.

      As you may know, there are many facets to this hobby and my involvement in it consists of only a tiny little corner. Some of the lingo in other aspects of the hobby is foreign to me as well! There are dedicated groups for many of them – check here:

      Most folks on them are pretty helpful.

      Good luck on getting your ticket and feel free to email me when you do – I’d be happy to set up a sked with you at whatever speed you’re comfortable with.

      • JSWilson
        November 11, 2013 at 8:02 am

        Thank you for this helpful info. Wish more people were as helpful. Ham radio seems to be a small population and the demographics are less than encouraging. If ham radio operators want to keep their band from other uses they need to expand-at least a little. Outreach and happy helpful operators like you are an asset.

        • November 11, 2013 at 8:16 am

          Thanks for the nice words but I’m one of many – nothing more. Once you start putting your feelers out there (FISTS, eHam forums, etc.) I think you’ll find many willing to help. My main theme to this posting may be more accurately called “When Opinions Are Offered as Fact”. There is a bit of that out there but, as in other aspects of life, we can usually discern one from the other eventually.

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