Please don't downvote just for the title, I'm not trolling, and honestly looking for an answer.

I'm not directly involved with Amateur Radio, but have friends who are. They're always by the book. The book is right. period. With amateur radio, if you even ask whether something is within the rules, you get shot down and threatened with government reports. I've seen this in person, even on this very forum.

If you do it, please tell me your call sign and station location so I can file a complaint with the FCC. I'm certain they will come after you. If you want a free wireless link, try a part 15 device like Wi-Fi. Or do what everyone else does: pay for commercial wireless data. This kind of abuse is precisely what the regulations aim to forbid. What if I'm a radio broadcaster, and I want a remote feed? Maybe I'll use ham radio to link back to the transmitter (so far, non-commercial), then I'll re-transmit it with ads. Yeah, right.

To me, that comes across as extremely hostile. The question is a fair one in my mind. The difference between "legal" and "potentially illegal" is so minute, and the reaction is entirely disproportional, but from my experience, the norm!

Most hobbies aren't nearly as strict. If you want to use 80 grit sandpaper instead of 60, or drive 110 instead of 100, no one cares. Absolutely no one would report you to a federal agency for not wearing a mask painting, or using a double instead of an int.

I'm intrigued by amateur radio, but scared of attitudes like the one above. Could someone explain why these attitudes exist?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You should find better words for your title. <br> I'm not a ham but I use MURS/GMRS. "They're always by the book" because amateur radio is a regulated hobby. You don't go into amateur radio by buying in. You study and you earn your chops. Hams are protecting the airwaves because they have been entitled to use it. Anyone (unlicensed, or specially licensed folks) polluting the spectrum are dealt with extreme prejudice. $\endgroup$ – sessyargc.jp Nov 26 '14 at 7:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Some people are mean. Nothing specific to ham radio. Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Get used to it. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Nov 26 '14 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ Right, it's the "extreme prejudice" that confuses me. Some people are mean in general, sure. There's this huge gap between reasonable and "I WANT YOUR NUMBER AND IM CALLING THE FEDS AND RAHAHRHARHARHRHAR" Maybe I'm just not in the loop? Are most people not like this? $\endgroup$ – evandentremont Nov 26 '14 at 16:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @evandentremont Sometimes the problem is also reading sarcasm as hostility. I guess after some decades of writing and reading with people on the internet, I've learned that usually people are sarcastic, sometimes they are trolling, but rarely are they hostile. And sometimes there's missing context, too. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Nov 27 '14 at 0:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for this question! I too got the impression that many hams are obsessed with FCC and rules. In my country, the culture is considerably more relaxed regarding the regulations. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Nov 27 '14 at 5:38

I think there are two parts to this; why are they so "anal" /strict / uptight about the rules? why are they so hostile / aggressive / generally unpleasant?

The first part I think is due to something that most people don't appreciate. The Ether (if you'll excuse the name) is a shared resource. The rules are there to try to let us all use it as effectively as possible. If people don't follow them it is easy for a few people to cause a lot of inconvenience to many others. Because they had to show an understanding of this principle in order to be granted a licence, most hams (excuse again pls) try to adhere to the rules and expect / exhort others to do the same.

Some hams overreact to other peoples failure to follow the rules. Partly this is simply a personality factor. In other areas this appears - road rage affects some drivers, while most people just ignore bad driving by others; on the forums such as this, some people overreact in ludicrously offensive ways to posts they think are at fault in some way. The distance created by radio, the internet or being in separate sealed cabins has a slightly disinhibiting effect on people, so that they are more likely to vent their spleen in these situations than they would in normal personal contacts.

Since hams may have spent a lot of time and effort to gain their licence and a lot more time, effort and money setting up their station (as the jargon has it), this quite literally ups the ante. They have a lot invested in this activity and it is hardly surprising that their reaction to ignorant, inconsiderate or even malicious interference is exacerbated.

And of course it is the people who have got excited about an issue who are most likely to respond to you.

I also play Bridge and although most people one plays against are pleasant, courteous, even convivial, at every club I've been to there are always some who cannot get through an evening without being unnecessarily aggressive, offensive or just unpleasant. Now you can hardly think of a more genteel environment, but this sort of behaviour still happens.

I hope this answer is acceptable, as I see now that it does not conform to the forum standards, in that it expresses opinions and does not cite sources. If required I can cite sources for the rules, but most other matter is based on my experience as a radio amateur since 1976 and as a human being since 1949.

  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate the insight. $\endgroup$ – evandentremont Nov 26 '14 at 23:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To put this in a little context, here is some personal experience: in the part of the world where I live, there are many radio 'pirates' who use HF to talk to their friends. They have chosen frequencies around 7MHz and 10MHz. This renders the CW part of the 40m band, and the 30m band, practically unusable across most of South East Asia, as they use high power talking on SSB. There can't be more than a few dozen individuals using these frequencies illegally, but they are preventing thousands of amateurs who are the legal users of those frequencies from using them. $\endgroup$ – Scott Earle Dec 1 '14 at 4:36

As has been mentioned, many radio amateurs tend to be in the types of fields where various forms of rules are the name of the game. Electricity always behaves the same. So does a computer (assuming it is working correctly, it simply executes one instruction after another; it doesn't deviate or take initiatives of its own). And so on.

However, there is another reason as well which I think is important but that no one has touched on. You point out that:

Most hobbies aren't nearly as strict. If you want to use 80 grit sandpaper instead of 60, or drive 110 instead of 100, no one cares. Absolutely no one would report you to a federal agency for not wearing a mask painting, or using a double instead of an int.

If you use 80 grit sandpaper instead of 60 grit, nobody else is affected.

If you drive above the speed limit, well, others might be affected, or they might not. It depends very much on the situation. (Also note that some countries are very strict about speed limits, including "no speed limit on Autobahn" Germany.)

If you use a double (floating-point) type variable where an int (integer) would do just fine, most won't care because most won't (or even won't be able to) realize, and those who do realize will likely know whether it matters or not.

On the flip side, the radio spectrum is constantly under "attack" from different directions. Commercial operators want slices out of the radio spectrum which is allocated, in many cases, on primary basis to amateur radio (that is, other spectrum uses are outright prohibited, or other spectrum users must accept interference from amateur radio stations). Amateur radio licenses are not handed out to anyone who asks and pays; an amateur radio license is a privilege that comes after proving your ability to handle the rights that come with it. (Basically no other radio spectrum users get to use homebrew equipment, decide on their own the transmission mode, transmission bandwidth, exact frequency, transmitter location, etc.; for just about every radio service except amateur radio, such things are stated in the permit document. Amateur radio operators have a huge amount of leeway in this regard.) Part of that is proving your knowledge of relevant regulations, radio theory, and operating practice; the exact examinations vary by country, but they cover largely the same subject areas.

What amateur radio does have, is very generally written regulations which sets the boundaries for how we (amateur radio licensees) are allowed to use the spectrum. (One of those boundaries is that amateur radio is non-commercial in nature.)

A commonly held opinion is that if we in general start accepting people going outside of those already very permissive regulations, the commercial operators in particular will be able to point toward that practice and use that as an argument for taking over portions of the spectrum that is currently allocated to amateur radio. Some of that spectrum could easily be quite valuable to commercial entities, and much of it is allocated on a primary or shared-primary basis to amateur radio.

By asking of each other to strictly adhere to the rules that do exist, we reduce the risk of commercial entities being able to point to rampant rules violations as an argument for reducing the freedom of and spectrum allocations to radio amateurs.


I've only been a licensed ham since 1997, but having worked for 30+ years in a technical field with lots of engineers of various disciplines, I've observed a lot of the "passionate responsiveness" you mention. I think this "black and white" thinking is a common trait of individuals that populate the technical/engineering world and it seems to be a similar thing in the ranks of the Amateur Radio community. Don't let it scare you! Excluding the occasional bad apple (every community has one), you're going to find that hams are some of the most ingenious, problem solving people you'll ever meet. That passion for "getting things just right" leads to improvements and discoveries that benefit the community as a whole and eventually the "advancement of the radio art".

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Many operators with larger "antenna farms" are treated with suspicion (if not outright hostility) by the local community. Their rigs get blamed for any RF interference in the local area. As a result, some make an active effort to clear their name. This includes locating arcing power transformers (RF interference), or hunting down transgressors. Keeping the local community happy means accepting no compromises. $\endgroup$ – Alan Campbell Nov 27 '14 at 7:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.