I 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 with 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.