What is a Radio Artisan?

I’ve felt for a long time that the moniker radio amateur is outdated. I think the term ham is even worse, bringing to mind old, crusty, cynical, balding overweight Archie Bunker stereotype. I avoid using the term ham, though I find many non-amateurs in the general population don’t recognize what I’m talking about until I call this hobby ham radio.

We have to consider how amateur radio has changed over the past 60 years. We’re no longer a group that the gubermint is going to call up for radio operators like they did in WWII. We’re not inventing any cutting edge technology. Today we merely play with new ways to do things, mainly with computers and software, and we have developed new applications like APRS but it’s still the same basic communication. Industry is not coming to us for the next 5G wireless technology. Amateur communications used to mirror commercial communications on HF, with CW and Q signals, and a lot of jargon and equipment that was nearly interchangeable. Today the military doesn’t use HF, MARS has dropped CW, and commercial HF maritime operation has become more a historical and preservational endeavor. We have evolved amateur radio in a sort of time capsule over the years while the rest of the world has changed around us. Contesting has evolved into its own sport with roots perhaps in the old days of radio relay networks when DX was 100 miles. Our Emcomm efforts, while noble efforts by those who donate their time, energy, and equipment, are largely exercises in preparation for events in which our services will unfortunately not be requested or required by agencies. If the big nucular bomb hits, I doubt any of us are going to be playing radio.

We do have a thriving and diverse community within amateur radio, or perhaps I should say communities. We have the QRPers, the contesters, the Emcomm folks, digital people, AMers, Slow Scan TVers, CW afficienados, satellite fans, APRSers, foxhunters, D-STARs, and 80m phone roundtable dweebs. Each group practices and refines their amateur radio art to some extent. And it is an art.

Even the FCC recognizes the term art in Part 97.1(b):

Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.”


Dictionary.com defines art quite extensively:

1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.
6. (in printed matter) illustrative or decorative material: Is there any art with the copy for this story?
7. the principles or methods governing any craft or branch of learning: the art of baking; the art of selling.
8. the craft or trade using these principles or methods.
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
10. a branch of learning or university study, esp. one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature.
11. arts, a. (used with a singular verb) the humanities: a college of arts and sciences. b. (used with a plural verb) liberal arts.
12. skilled workmanship, execution, or agency, as distinguished from nature.
13. trickery; cunning: glib and devious art.
14. studied action; artificiality in behavior.
15. an artifice or artful device: the innumerable arts and wiles of politics.
16. Archaic. science, learning, or scholarship.

When I attempt to nail amateur radio down to one of the above definitions I find many apply, even number 13 at times.  We no longer parallel professional communications, but we are not amateurs — we are artists and we’re preserving an art independent of what is going on in the outside world…. But more than just artists, we engage in a craft and we are craftsmen.

We are  Radio Artisans



3 thoughts on “What is a Radio Artisan?

  1. A light in the radio wilderness has just been ignighted. I have been encouraged to get my “ham” license by a friend and while studying for the test I realized that I was not sure I wanted to have to get a $10,000 dollar radio and a 50 foot tower to talk to someone 10 miles away. I have been interested in the idea of open source software for years and most recently in the concept of open source hardware. “Ham” radio seems to be stuck in the 80’s when it comes to software and even hardware. (Why the use of rs 232 ports in current radios boggles the mind). Thank you for your comments. I will complete my test, and then explore the radio waves with a clearer perspective of what this “hobby” is and should be about.

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