Episode 325 -Ria Jairam - N2RJ
Eric Guth, 4Z1UG:
QSO Today Episode 325 Ria Jairam N2RJ.
Eric: This episode of QSO Today is sponsored by ICOM America, makers of the finest HF, VHF and UHF transceivers and accessories for the radio amateur, reminding you to check out their new IC 705 all band portable transceiver and their new ID52A dual band portable. My thanks to ICOM America for their continued support of the QSO Today podcast.
Welcome to the QSO Today podcast. I'm Eric Guth 4Z1UG your host.
Ria Jairam N2RJ discovered amateur radio in her native Caribbean island of Trinidad back in the 90s. As an immigrant to the United States, Ria pursued a degree in electronic engineering and great ham radio mentors. Now an electronic security professional, mother, active ham radio operator and contester, Ria was recently elected the ARRL Hudson division director. N2RJ tells her story and the issues that interest her in this QSO Today.
N2RJ, this is Eric 4Z1UG, are you there, Ria?
Ria Jairam N2RJ
Hi, Eric, 4Z1UG this is N2RJ. How are you?
Ria: Well, the very beginning, sometimes people have a long interest before they get into amateur radio, they're interested in other things to drive them to amateur radio. When I was a little kid, my dad had a shortwave radio that we would listen to. So this was in my old home country of Trinidad and Tobago. I had a shortwave radio and we would listen to distant shortwave stations, the BBC, Voice of America, All India Radio, Radio Moscow, and that kind of drove my interest in radio and electronics. When I entered secondary school, I was looking for an outlet to explore those interests. And I was very much encouraged by a teacher, Mr. Tony Lee Mach 9Y4AL, he’s a silent key now. But he basically encouraged me to investigate amateur radio, he didn't go and say get a license. He said, this is amateur radio. This is what we can do. Does it seem interesting to you? And he showed me a number of different things, aspects of the hobby. And then I grew into it. It took me five years to get my license. But I got hooked. And I was very, very much involved in the culture of the hobby.
Ria: So that's my story, how I got started.
Eric: It's my understanding that it wasn't that easy to get your license there in Trinidad in terms of working with the bureaucracy, what happened there?
Ria: Oh, there, there are two things. Well, the first of all, is that it's not like America, or I love the freedom we have here and the accessibility but internet and Tobago, you have to take, you had to take at that time, the City and Guilds radiometers exam, which is a UK the British exam. And you paid approximately 60 pounds UK, which was about $600 Trinidad and Tobago money, and I saved up that money for my allowance and odd jobs. And you would then coordinate that with the local amateur radio society, they would have the exam twice per year, it took three months to get the results. If you failed, you have to wait probably next year, because sometimes they don't hold a second exam. I passed on the first try. I was very happy that I passed on the first try. That wasn't the end. I had to go up to the, that time we didn't have a modernized telecommunications regulator, we had the Office of telecommunications, which was a division of the Prime Minister's Office. So I went up to, I called them up and you know, usual bureaucrats speak saying yes, well, we do amateur radio licenses, you have to do this, that and the other, bring money, bring forms filled out and make sure they fill up properly. Otherwise, we're going to make you come back again. And this I said, By the way, what about the Morse code? Because I was learning Morse code, too. He said, well, that's not necessary anymore. But if you want to take it, you'll take it and you'll get a 9Y4 call, instead of a 9Z4. So I actually scheduled a Morse code test because I wanted to have that 9Y4 call. It was kind of a badge of honor for some people. But I felt it was an achievement for me. So I did, I went up to the office, I paid my $10 Trinidad money and taxi fare one way went up and then only to have the officer Tell me Oh, well, your Morse code tester. He decided that he was going to cancel today. So I'm sorry. You're gonna have to take a code lesson license. So I officially got on the air on October 31, 1997 with Nine Zulu Four Delta Sierra. I then got rescheduled for the code test on December 11. And I got Nine Yankee Four Romeo Alpha Juliet. So the first QSO I've had I took my radio and bought a little handheld radio, a Kenwood. TH215 ordered from a local ham. I went out into the town square and nervously pressed the button, said QRZ this is Nine Zulu Four Delta Sierra. And then a voice Nine Why Four Fox Papa came back and said, this is Nine Why Four Fox Papa. And then I said, I just got my license. I'm just testing out. He said, well, congratulations, and welcome. That's the story. That's the missing pieces. That's that was hopefully the more exciting part.
Eric: Well, I think that's an exciting story. Now, did Trinidad have a two meter repeater? Was that what you were talking to him on?
Ria: Yes. So try that at that time, three, two meter repeaters, two of them operated by the Trinidad and Tobago amateur radio society. There is 147.93, which is in the northern part of the island, and which is where most people are on. There is also 146.94 on 2 meters. And there's a third repeater on 147.800 operated by the National Emergency Management Agency, which has not only hams but also the NEMA offices they check in from time to time.
Eric: And it sounds to me based on the frequencies that you're mentioning that Trinidad has the region two frequency plan, just like the United States of America.
Ria: Yes, correct. They're actually a little more liberal than the United States, meaning that you know, they have a few more privileges. But yes, that's correct.
Eric: What is the level of licenses that were in Trinidad? Just out of curiosity? I don't think I've ever spoken to anybody that's gotten a license in Trinidad. Is there just one level of license, or now that you've passed the Morse code, and you have a different callsign? Does that give you any more privileges?
Ria: So it's kind of murky, back then, I was told that there's no difference in license privileges if you take code or you don't take it. So step back a bit, they actually the local communications authority, they removed the Morse code licensing requirement before the it you made the recommendation and changed the radio regulations to remove it formally as a requirement. So Trinidad and Tobago did it on their own. I was told the main difference is that you couldn't use Morse code when you were, if you didn't pass a code test, which would totally make sense but if you know, it was what I was told. But then other people said no, there is no difference. It is just a call sign you got a different call sign. So those were the license levels back then. Now I think they have a foundation license for youth, which I think might be either 9Y2 or 9Z2 or something like that. I'm not entirely sure. I've seen a few people say that there's a lower class introductory license now.
Eric: Do you get back to Trinidad and do you work DX from there?
Ria: I haven't been there since 2006. Right now, obviously we can’t go due to the health situation. I want to go back sometime. Hopefully for good reasons. But we'll have to see how this whole thing shakes out. So I haven't been there in a while.
Eric: So other than the Kenwood portable what was the first rig that you had there in Trinidad before you move to the United States?
Ria: So there are a few of them. The first that was the first VHF rig, the Kenwood portable, I also had a Midland that I borrowed. A Midland crystal controlled transceiver two meters which had crystals for some of the local repeaters that was loaned to me by 9Y4SP. I didn't have a lot of money to buy equipment to be quite honest. I bought another two meter rig from a silent key and that I installed in my first car which was a Honda Civic. I'd also been gifted a kit by 9Y4AL, which was an IARU single band transceiver 20 meters. It was a kit so the deal was that I put together the kit. I get to use it and when I grow out of it, I give it back. So I did that and I operated you know CW, slow CW because it was a straight key, no keyer. It was pretty fun. I made a lot of contacts. But mostly I found myself after that. Really not using too much of my own equipment. I went to friend’s houses, I went to Arnold 9Y4NG. I spent a lot of time by Ervin 9Y4IBM. He not only had HF capability, but he had a WINLINK node at his house. So I learned about that too. And, you know, generally that's how you do it on the internet. If you don't have money for equipment you go to you make friends, because there are only like 400 hams. Everybody knows everybody. So you go and you make friends and you operate at people's houses.
Eric: So the ham radio club there is really important.
Ria: It is, and you know, for a national member society, it actually operates like how local clubs in the states do. But you'll find that they're very tight knit.
Eric: And do you remember the first contacts you made out of Trinidad with the 20 meter rig?
Ria: Yeah, so I made some contacts. One of the contacts actually made I think, I do have K3LR in my log. I have to check whether that's from 2006. Still, but I do remember distinctly remember him. I have to look back in my logs. They're mostly most of the hams, we make contact when we're in the southern portion of the United States. So like Florida, and you know, the Gulf Coast and such like that,
Eric: Because you were working QRP mostly?
Ria: Right. QRP definitely …
Eric: …on 20 meters and CW.
Eric: But did ham radio play a part in the choices that you made then for your education and career?
Ria: Back then. Yes. So ham radio actually helped me a lot in my career, I did always have a fascination with computer technology, because my dad had bought a Commodore 64 when I was like four or five years old, and I learned a lot about computers on that. And then, you know, in school, I learned about computers and such like that. So I took a lot of career direction from that. But ham radio has helped me be technically curious. And I use that phrase a lot, technically curious, meaning that you not only like technology, but you like it enough to go and learn as much as you can about it. And to break things, and to learn how to fix things when you break them. That's what amateur radio did for me. It actually took me to where I was reading a lot more books, I was reading a lot more technical books, I was reading a lot of articles from magazines. I was going to the library. So yes. So that's how it drove me.
Eric: Do you think that amateur radio in terms of creating that technical curiosity also makes you more curious about how other things work? Like mechanical things? And does it just heighten your sense of curiosity? Over how just about everything works?
Ria: I would not really say that much. Because in Trinidad and Tobago, so you have to understand, we didn't have access to a lot of things that you have in other countries, like in North America or Europe, we had to improvise a lot on our own, like, for example, fixing cars. I mean, you had to know how to fix a car, no matter who you are, you have to know the basics about fixing a car. Because it's not, you know, you could still carry a car to a shop, but it was so expensive. You had to, you know, to learn how to do it. So my dad kind of like knew a lot of that. And he taught me and you know, my sibling, my brother, and he basically taught us that. But amateur radio made me curious, mostly about electronics and technology. The other stuff I wouldn't say so much. I think that was generally a byproduct of living in a country that didn't have access to resources,
Eric: Bill Mehra N2CQR, who does the Solder Smoke podcast? I think he was stationed for a while with the State Department in Haiti. And he said that when he had a problem or needed a part, there was a guy on the corner that could wind transformers if you needed to change the windings. So did you find in Trinidad that there were a lot of people that actually knew how to recycle parts and equipment and things like that? Just because of the lack of new parts and equipment?
Ria: Oh, yeah, that was generally one of the biggest industries in Trinidad, Tobago is recycling of old things, especially like automobiles and automobile parts. They take a lot of it from Japan and Asia. And they, you know, they tear them down. And there's a whole industry on that. But yeah, generally things you know, you don't I mean, today is probably different now that the world is more globalized, but there is a culture of you don't buy something new, unless what you have is pretty much obliterated. And even then, if you could fix it, you fix it. So yes, we did. We did a lot of that.
Eric: As part of that growing up there, do you have the ability to fix anything if need be, or at least make an attempt?
Ria: You know, as far as I did learn, actually that um, yeah, you know, I could apply a lot of my knowledge, even things like a washing machine or a dishwasher. I could just go and you know, it's really nice. You have the washer, I put the old country knowledge together with the new country resources. Well I could then go on YouTube and see a video of how to replace a pump in the dishwasher. Because my dishwasher failed and then I would go on Amazon and order that pump and instead of paying $600 to a repair man, I would do it myself and save myself that money. Even things like the screen on my phone breaks. I get another screen and do it myself.
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Eric: So I asked you about whether ham radio played a part in the choices that you made for your education career, how were you educated after that?
Ria: So after I finished high school, I kind of started work a little bit. I did a few technical courses at a local college. And I didn't really have university education until I came to the states. So, in Trinidad and Tobago, I really didn't, you know, have much in terms of formal beyond high school education, but I did work with them. I worked at an insurance company and I worked at Fujitsu after that, because I gained some experience and you know, I just generally soaked up knowledge. When I came to the US, I started working and I found myself kind of wanting to go a little further. So I enrolled in Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York, which is now NYU School of Engineering. They kind of went back and forth being NYU and not so this was when they appeared when they're not, and I did electrical engineering there in class level seven, and it was, it was pretty good. So that that kind of strengthened my whole knowledge base. And there are things I learned in college that I would never have learned on my own.
Eric: Like what, for example?
Ria: Like, you know, the whole structure. So when I learned things like object oriented programming in computers, I used to do it before, I never quite understood how it you know why it was important. So you learn a lot of why it's important in college, not necessarily just how to do things. If you learn practically by yourself, you learn how to do things. If you learn a formal setting, you learn, you possibly know already how to do things, you learn why it's that way, you learn how other people do it. And you learn why it's important to do it a certain way.
Ria: So that's what I learned.
Eric: What are you doing now professionally?
Ria: So professionally, I work in the financial industry. Unfortunately, I can't exactly say where but I do work in finance, it's easy to look up. I work in the financial industry, doing systems engineering, I basically developed systems to automate operating system deployment to build clusters of cloud machines, you know, using AWS and other cloud technologies, and I do generally a lot of high end financial IT.
Eric: So I know who to call the next time I have an AWS problem, right?
Ria: Oh, yeah, you could.
Eric: Do you think that learning amateur radio makes better engineers and software developers?
Ria: You know, that's a talk I gave IEEE. The IEEE group here. I definitely think it's true. But I generally find that it's not necessary. But it will definitely give you an edge. However, I think that it might have been definitely more true in times past than it is today. Because today, there is just so much experimentation. And the spirit of amateur radio that lives on outside of the amateur radio ecosystem. That it kind of is I wouldn't say it's not necessary. But you know, amateur radio is not the only path anymore. And that's, that's good. And that's bad, because, you know, I want us to be able to increase our numbers. At the same time, I still like the fact that the ham spirit is there.
Eric: So those other communities could be like the maker community or the communities around Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, and Linux and things like that, right, that are outside of amateur radio.
Ria: So there are several communities, there's makers, there's hackers, technically curious people. There's a YouTube community, that YouTubers that I because I do some YouTube videos, too, I find that if I want to talk about a topic, I have to go and research a topic myself, and then try it out myself. And I learned that way. So yes.
Eric: Now you mentioned someplace that I read that you once had a podcast, do you still have a podcast?
Ria: I had a blog. I think I was trying to do podcasting at one time, I might have made one or two episodes and then lost interest.
Eric: For anybody that doesn't know, it's a lot of work to make a podcast.
Ria: Oh, yeah. I couldn't tell. You know, actually, when I worked for about 10 years, I worked at a large media outlet in the city. I actually did a lot of the technical backend work to support podcasting. So Trust me, I know how rigorous it can get,
Eric: What's the current rig?
Ria: Current rig is a Flex, of course, the Flex 6700. It's been an absolute life changer for me.
Eric: In what way?
Ria: So previously, I used to think of a radio as a box that sat on a desk, and you had to go in front of that box. And you can only do what's in that box with the set of knobs and controls that gave you and you're limited to the performance in that box. Well, with the software defined radio, the Flex, I have that box at my house. And actually I'm considering moving it to another room out of my main workspace, so I can have it out of the way. And I can run the fans full speed on the other equipment and not have me noisy. So that's one thing, I can pick up my smartphone. I can make contacts to my own rig through my own rig. And I can also have performance updates and improvements when they release new software when you know when Flex releases new software. So that's how it's been an absolute game changer for me.
Eric: I saw in the video that you did for the QSR today virtual ham Expo that you held up your smartphone and you had the panoramic display running on the smartphone. That was pretty clever. You said that you could use that anywhere in the world where you had an internet connection. Have you actually tried that or do you know anybody that's actually tried it where you've got a latency of 300 milliseconds?
Ria: So I actually tried it out. I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2017 for about a month. And the latency there was pretty high. And yeah, you know, it worked, except for the fact that the local cable company had a ton of interferences users on their local last mile loop. So I couldn't really have a reliable internet. But when the WiFi worked, it worked. So it definitely does work. It does introduce a bit of a delay. And Flex kind of has like algorithms to it, to put compression on the signals so that it reduces the bandwidth requirement. But the latency especially for using CW could be a little something to get used to. And that's true for any remote system. By the way.
Eric: That's certainly true. What operating modes are you then using with the Flex radio if you're using it from a smartphone or tablet or something like that? Or could you operate CW for example?
Ria: Oh, I have. I pretty much these days average, mostly CW, I do operate some phone, I find that phone is a little more difficult to operate. Because you have to hook up a microphone. You could use a built in microphone and phone but you know, you want to hook up a good microphone. I operate FT8 sometimes in conjunction with a computer. Although on the iPad app, you can have FT8 built in, but I find that you know FT8 and I use it now and again. But most operating I would say CW and SSB
Eric: From a smartphone how would you operate CW?
Ria: So there are two ways to do it. Well, there are actually three ways to do it. One of them is you can preset pre canned messages like that, that would be like your memory keyer that you would use when you're chasing DX or working a contest. That's one the other one is you have a keyboard you can type on either you type a sentence, press enter and it'll send it and then you receive what the decoder between the ears. The other one is you can actually there's like a virtual paddle where you can tap on the phone that says a dit and a dah, and then you can run CW that way although you can't do high speed telegraphy with it.
Eric: So if you were operating at the station itself, and I noticed that you have the maestro you have the maestro control head for the flex radio.
Ria: I used to have it. I sold it because I really didn't use it that much. I know a lot of hams like knobs to me. Knobs has kind of got in the way. But when I don't have the maestro Yeah, I use a Maestro with either a set of paddles or I use my computer when contesting but I actually have a key like a paddle adventure paddle hooked into the front of the radio and I use that. I have a straight key as well that I would connect sometimes and use that for like straight straight key century club. Or I'd use that for other activities where I you know, I just want to use a straight key
Eric: Now it's my understanding that you're interested in radio sport and contesting in addition to DXing, your presentation to the QSO Today virtual ham Expo was on DXing with SDR. And I guess the way that you presented it and I'm not a DXer, but you kind of presented. That's almost a contest mode as well, especially if you have pileups. How did you get into radio sport and contesting and how far have you taken that?
Ria: There are a few things I mean, initially the first spark started in Trinidad Remember I said you operate your friends stations. So one of my friends, 9Z4DZ Stevenson, is a really nice guy. And he would you know, he would give you the shirt off his back. If he had to. He invited me to operate at his house for a contest and I did a contest but given out points not really competitive, but I enjoyed the idea of just making contact with stations and putting them in a logbook, so I did like that. Then when I came to the United States, I started to get the HF bug back in like 2006. So I was initially invited to the North Jersey DX Association by one of my mentors Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML was another. He's, he was absolutely phenomenal. He brought me into the NJDXA. I learned about all of that the DXing world had to offer and actually got a mobile setup in my car. So I went to Dayton. I purchased an ICOM 7000, screwdriver antenna, the automatic controller, but then my car. And then I was looking to build up my DXCC totals. So I was reading magazines and books and it said, why don't you operate a contest? You can get the DXCC on the weekend. Wow, I didn't know you could do that. So I went and I operated The IARU UHF championships and the IARU UHF championships was the first formal contest for actually submitting a log to be scored. And actually, it was a pretty nice experience because I gained maybe like 60 or 70 countries. That's how I got into a contest. So eventually, when we moved out to where I live now, which is in Wantage Township, which is in the countryside of Northwest New Jersey, put up a tower after fighting with the town, and winning Of course, getting the tower up and then getting everything together, get on the air, I realized I was getting great signal reports. So then I saw which contests are coming up. CQ worldwide. Okay. So I upgraded CQ worldwide, and I realized I did so well. I think I made something like 800,000 points, which was amazing for a low point in the sunspot cycle. I got an invitation from I think it might have been Glen O'Donnell K3PP from Franklin radio club who was trolling the 3830 mailing list because I, I think, one of these contests there's I think it might have been Rich NN3W, I asked him well, how did you know that these guys in the contest won. And then he sent me a link to 3830 I'm like, Oh, this exists. You don't have to wait on a magazine. I actually, when I published I got noticed by Frankfurt radio club and Frankfurt radio club said, Come and join us and pool your scores. And, you know, we could beat YCCC, you know, which is the other contest club in the northeast. And yeah, that's how I got hooked. I grew into contesting you know, I made some great friends. Unfortunately, some are silent key, which I think is an unfortunate fact of this hobby. But you meet some great friends and you get encouraged along. And that's where I am in contesting and I really, you know, I really got hooked. And that's how I got it.
Eric: The fact that people become silent keys isn't an unfortunate fact of the hobby, like the hobbies hazardous. It's that the demographic tends to be older. That's what you were saying.
Eric: For the uninitiated out there, right?
Ria: Right. Yeah, it's not a hip ham radio could be hazardous. But it's not that it results in a silent key. Sadly…
Eric: It’s that we're old. I've been ham for almost 50 years. So I can tell you Ria, we're older. We're kind of weighted towards old maybe you could say this, that your generation perhaps are more virtual to belong to organizations around the world is actually relatively easy now. But for people that are older, they tend to be in the local ham radio clubs.
Ria: Yeah, you know, and you first comment. Yes, that's exactly what I've seen. I mean, you meet so many great people. The fact is, though, that you know, you have to trade your time with them, because you don't know if they'll be gone tomorrow. And I've learned that about my mentors. But I'll make an exception. One thing though, my mentor in school, he died young, he died younger. So it was just unfortunate with him. Cancer does discriminate with age, but yeah, no, that is absolutely true. It's kind of like, you know, ham radio is this. It is this worldwide fraternity. And I was told that back in the days a lot of these hams were older now. We're in it when they were teenagers. And I heard stories of them, doing their radio hobby in secret in the middle of the night and boring the tube from the family radio, and then putting it back. And then and then dad or mom or grandma would wonder why the radio isn't working as well as it did before.
Eric: Hey, this is Eric for just another short break. One of my favorite ham radio podcasts is the Ham Radio Workbench podcast hosted by George KJ6VU, my guests in Episode 232 and Jeremy KF7IJZ. George and Jeremy take a bi weekly deep dive into their favorite ham radio workbench projects and the technologies that fascinate them. If you want to be a ham radio builder, or just be inspired, click on the link in this week's show notes page.
Eric: There's over 300 episodes of the QSO Today podcasts that are probably very similar stories. We had school the next day we were supposed to be in bed asleep. Of course, we were under the covers with the headphones on listening to 80 meters or something like that. So that seemed to be the way it was. I'm interested in your opinion on this because I think that what I have found getting to know older ham radio operators, even as a young person is that they had lots and lots of years of experience under their belt. So something that seemed like it was an impossible task when you first you're a newbie in ham radio and you're trying to do it. Working with an older mentor was absolutely amazing. Because of that, you learned what the right tool is, and how to apply that tool. And what hand to hold it in to do the job instantly and 10 times better than you could without the mentoring. What do you think about that?
Ria: So yes, I do think that if you find and, and this is not an attack on anybody, I do think that as hams, we need to be better at being more patient with newer hams. I know it's online. But when you do find an older, more experienced ham, not necessarily older in age, but older in the hobby, who can help you out and be patient and not tell you first thing go and read the manual, which explains to you and explains to you how to get your knowledge. You know, that's invaluable. I mean, the things I learned from my mentors were absolutely priceless. And I think that yes, you know, we need to treasure the generation that was there before because they've lived through the harder times they've lived through, when we didn't have them lived through when you had to largely scrounge for your equipment. I remember like Bill Pasternak saying that how he got his first radio is a six meter transmitter he built from an old discarded TV set, you don't really see that much. These days, you might see some of it, but these days, the impulses you go and you know, you go online, you buy the cheapest radio you can find and you get on the air, you know. But these days, we could use a little more that I'm glad that people like Bob Heil are bringing back the homebrew you know, the pine board and such. So yeah, so that advice, advice is invaluable.
Eric: I get the sense that you really treasure the time that you spent with your mentors, and that you may have a sense of paying it forward in their memory. Is that how you feel?
Ria: You know, I absolutely do feel that way. I. So I, since I got licensed, the first thing I did was I went and I taught a licensing class and actually got three more people licensed. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I got the opportunity to leave the country and come to the US. So I couldn't teach any more licensed classes there. But I taught one the other day, I've been a VE. I've taught ARRL EMCOMM courses. And I'm always there to share the knowledge. I'm always there to help people grow in the hobby, and even if they don't want to get licensed big deal. As long as they're technically curious, maybe one day they will figure it out and figure that ham radio is a cool hobby, or cool pastime. So I absolutely do love paying it forward. And I spend a lot of my efforts in the hobby on doing just that.
Eric: You're the ARRL Hudson division director. Why enter ham radio politics?
Ria: That's a really interesting one. Again, this is my friends. I mean, in 2018 some of my friends began to loudly complain about what the ARRL was doing. And the gory details are how actually made up my mind to run for amateur radio. But basically, I was challenged by the incoming director to run at a holiday party. So I said, you know what? Sure, I will do it. But it wasn't just that it was just looking at the whole thing and realizing you know what, maybe I could make a difference. And maybe I could take it one step further. And maybe my friends who are complaining because they're there. I tend to respect, you know, their stature in the hobby, so to speak. Those friends who are complaining, I thought, you know what, and I still do, by the way, that they had a very legitimate beef with one. So that's why I went in the quote, unquote, politics. I'm hoping that eventually, I want us to get into a place now especially that we have a new CEO. And that is widely supported by the board that we move ahead and get past the politics and get on with the business of keeping amateur radio. And in terms of keeping it period, one and two, enhancing it and growing it instead of just where well, not so much the hobby itself, but the league where the league kind of stalled for a little bit. So I'm hoping we could pick up, put aside the politics and move on. I'm having a good , hopeful feeling about that. By the way.
Eric: I'm glad about that. I actually have been at ARRL or a member for a lot of years. Yours and still even from Israel, I'm an ARRL Diamond Club member. Because I think that the ARRL has a very loud voice even across the world, what are the responsibilities of the division director?
Ria: So the first primary responsibility is as a member of the 15 directors of the 15 divisions. So I'm a director, basically, of the corporation. That's one. So we hold two board meetings per year at minimum. And we take care, we advise and consent the business of the league, of course, day to day operations handled by the CEO. But we basically do the governance of the league. Now it's more than that. Obviously, we're a working board. We're not like the board of, you know, a big company, where we're very close to our members and constituents. And I take my duty a little above and beyond. What are the mandatory statutory duties? One I try to be to, to have good outreach to members. So I keep in touch with them. I do videos on YouTube, I do. I send them out regular emails, I tell them what's happening. I show up at their events, I will answer questions, I will tell them who can answer their questions. And, you know, I generally act as a sounding board and a helpful air. And one of the other things I do, quite frankly, is be a visible face of the league in this, this area. Because you want somebody you know, you don't want people to think that they're spending $50 a year to get nothing but a magazine, you know, they want representation, which is what I wanted to give them.
Eric: In other words, you'll go to amateur radio club meetings in the area as the face of ARRL and maybe answer questions, give a talk.
Ria: Yeah, you know, I've done a lot of talks on ARRL business. I used to go physically to a lot of club meetings. But no, of course, a lot of them are on zoom, or video conferencing, other video conferencing. So yeah, I do go to a lot of club meetings.
Eric: Now, I noticed in my research that you submitted comments, and this is probably when you were a private individual and not a division director that you submitted comments to the FCC, on docket 1581. Regarding electronically stored personal information that the FCC has, until before the internet age, I think we weren't aware that lists of licensees from the FCC, for example, with their addresses and stuff are actually part of the public knowledge, and that now that we're interconnected that we can actually go to the FCC and find just about any kind of information and probably any other government database about other people. What was the effect of those comments? And what do you have to say about privacy in general, in terms of organizations like the FCC, and sharing that with everybody? Certainly, I think you are as it exists, because the FCC has a database that they publish.
Ria: I do think it's a double edged sword. I posted those comments, and actually, I might have posted them outside the comment period. So they probably don't, quote unquote, count. But um, I yeah, it's a general frustration I have. I think that generally, we do need to know who is behind the microphone, or who is behind the bad signal for the air, who's behind the good signal. So we could send them a good operator report. Because the FCC is not doing the enforcement it used to do. And, that's only part of the reason really. At the same time, there are people who do change their addresses, they are changing names, for various reasons. And you know, you could probably tell what some of those are. There are people who just don't want to be followed around digitally their entire lives, and it is a very much of a concern that they have today. With that comment, I think it is a reasonable position to have the right to erase your past information while keeping the current one public. Of course, this is not going to be a universal agreement. There are people who say to Hell no, everything should be out in the open. And there are people who say no, that nobody has any business to my data but me. If you look at countries and regions like the EU, where you have like, laws that give you the right to erase where you can actually remove all your data if you wanted to. And GDPR. (Transcriber - General Data Protection Regulation EU GDPR) Of course, everybody knows about GDPR working in the financial industry. I'm in a company that operates primarily in Europe, I can tell you that GDPR is a big thing. So generally, I think today, one it’s good to have access to information too. I think we've kind of lost that kind of innocence where, you know, somebody just can't be private anymore, you know? And then you have this whole concept of doxing, where somebody will look up information on you and then use and then publish it with intent to harm you. Or they might just do it just to be, you know, just to be malicious, or just for kicks…
Eric: …or with the intent to defraud you.
Ria: That's exactly true.
Eric: Well, I think one of the interesting things about GDPR, because obviously, the GDPR rules in Europe, if people aren't aware of them are incredibly strict violations, even by a small company holding database information of Europeans can be millions of dollars’ worth of fines. It's my understanding just this week that due to GDPR, and due to the EU's interest in Facebook, for example, that Facebook actually may stop operating in the EU as a result of GDPR compliance, or they might become a paid service in the EU, in which case they won't have any private information of European individuals. I can sense what we have coming up.
Ria: Yeah, you know, it's, I think a lot of GDPR makes sense, because I live and breathe it in a lot of ways. But I think sometimes it really does have a lot of collateral damage and unwanted consequences. All of that will likely be hashed out, like you said, Facebook, some people might herald the destruction of Facebook in Europe, some people might be saddened,
Eric: I think the people that use it as a way to connect to distant family members, for example, I think they may be the ones that miss it the most other than the people that buy the services from Facebook, for advertising, for example.
Ria: And I think in the end, what will actually happen is that the same thing that probably happened with Tick Tock in the US, where you have the president threatening to ban Tick Tock and actually put an executive order to ban Tick tock, and then it was hoped by a judge, there might be some sort of compromise that comes or some way around the rules. So I don't think it's that just yet.
Eric: When you did your presentation for the QSO Today virtual ham Expo, there was a very patient, young man sitting behind you. It looked like he was engaged in something else, but still being patient. What kind of impact does amateur radio have on your family life? And is that young man interested in ham radio?
Ria: So it's, it's very interesting. My kids are very interested in tech. My son, he spends a lot of time on computer tech but actually, he enjoys a lot of nostalgia with older operating systems. So he plays a game called Progress Bar 95, which basically is a simulation of Windows 95, except you're trying to press to collect blocks in a Windows 95 progress bar. And, but he's obsessed with this, as far as ham radio goes. He and his two sisters, so they're two siblings that weren't in the picture. They like to teach, they like ham radio. They love when I get on the air, they sometimes sit with me and talk. I try to not try to. I have to observe the third party rules, of course, you know, I try to get them involved. I'm trying to get them to study. They're almost 10 years old. So they're a little busy in terms of their schoolwork. But in between we try and I'm hoping to get them licensed soon.
Eric: It seems to be that that would be a good activity to do. If you're social distancing from home anyway, they may be home learning on zoom.
Ria: They used to be virtual school up until the end of last school year. But our school is a private school. So they have smaller classes and they really spaced out the classes so they're able to actually go physically to school.
Eric: Well, that's very cool that they're actually in school during this time. Okay, well, so it sounds to me that you're gonna have to do an extracurricular amateur radio class at the private school.
Ria: I've been trying to do that. So the private school is a parochial school. So I actually volunteer at the school/church, doing their technology on the video side. So I run all their live streams, and all the video production. I might talk to the pastor and see if he's interested in starting a ham radio club. That's one of my goals.
Eric: I interviewed somebody last night, who actually in the 60s and 50s parochial schools, many of them actually had amateur radio clubs with active faculty who were amateur radio operators. So you could actually create a new trend.
Ria: Yeah, so there is one in the same town actually. That's a high school so they're an elementary school and an elementary, middle school, but the high school has an actually functioning amateur radio club run by Joel Wagoner N2IAG. They're pretty good. Yeah, I would definitely say it's possible. I probably look to him for advice since he's local.
Eric: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing amateur radio now?
Ria: Is there just one?
Eric: Well, you can certainly say more than one.
Ria: All right. So I think our biggest challenge right now, our biggest challenge right now, I mean, this is, you know, is the fact that I think we definitely have to do something about the future long term appeal of the hobby, because technology is outpacing us. And you have threats from and actual threats from 5g and other things that will take our spectrum one and two that will move people away from why ham radio is even necessary. So I think we need to definitely move the hobby to a point where ham radio still has something unique to offer. Because I'll go back to Joel Wagoner N2IAG when, when I was regularly talking to him in an amateur radio club, he told me he said ham radio was popular back in his day, because it was a great free way to communicate. And you don't have that anymore because you have the internet. Well, yes. So we have to have something to distinguish ourselves. I think that's our biggest thing. I mean, I would say something obvious, like, you know, we're going to be aging up. I don't think that's necessarily a big problem, that we're going to be aging out because I see a lot of young people getting licensed, but they're getting interested in different things.
Eric: I think maybe one of the problems that we might have is that we have a hard time telling people that I'm now telling people that ham radio is like a big circus. You've got your three rings in the middle, you've got DX, you've got rag chewing, and you've got contesting right in the middle rings. But we have a 1000 sideshows. And we don't really talk about those thousand sideshows in such a way for people that look at ham radio, that they see that it's actually this huge thing. How would we say that to the non-initiated who are even surprised now that ham radio still exists?
Ria: I do think that we definitely need to push, no, push as a bad word. We definitely need to highlight our technical credentials and like and like you said, we are a three ring circus, DX and contesting and rag chewing or some other thing. And we don't show people balloon flights. We don't show people satellites. We don't show people the space station. You know, there was a commercial the other day I saw that actually sent it on to the ARRL board. Somebody on Reddit posted it where there was this little boy in Africa somewhere on earth to Space Station. Can you hear me? And then there was sorry, I'm tearing up a little bit. There was this one. This astronaut is in the space station. Yes, loud and clear. Can you speak Japanese? So there are a number of takeaways from that. So it's not necessarily that we have to abandon DXing. First of all, we have to highlight our things like DX and contesting and traditional amateur activities. But the other thing is that even these traditional activities have benefits beyond what you see on the surface. So you see contesting primarily as a game of RF right? You, you see who has the biggest, baddest signal who can beat everybody in the pileups. Okay, I'm guilty of that sometimes, too. But then you see it, as you know, well, I didn't know this island existed. I didn't know that island existed. And some groups like intrepid DX and such have been doing things like they've been bringing scientific payloads to their DXpeditions. Absolutely cool. We need to be doing more of that. So that's how I think ham radio could definitely improve upon itself.
Eric: Do you think that's the role of the ARRL, at least in America to actually maybe make those either PSA’s or 30 second and 60 second commercials?
Ria: I want to see the ARRL doing it. I don't think it's solely the role of ARRL. I think there is a big community. There are a lot of ham radio YouTubers, you have like Ham Radio Crash Course and Ham Radio 2.0. And these guys are making fantastic videos. Dave Kasler and such. But I don't think it's necessarily only the ARRL. I think the ARRL should have a hand in it. I do think that the ARRL needs to support everybody who's doing it, though, I think that's more of our role.
Eric: You know, I asked a question like that thinking that people still watch commercial television. And I guess maybe they do. On the one hand, although I don't know anybody who does from the standpoint that like we did as kids growing up in America where there were three networks. I'm thinking as you're answering the question that well, where would you put those commercials because everybody's now siloed into smaller silos. So where would you put those that somebody actually might see them.
Ria: So these days, like I mentioned, I worked 10 years in media and I got a good glimpse of what the industry does. I definitely think that our attention spans have gotten shorter. So we're not, we're not going to be placing these on, you know, like a big TV show, I think we have to produce clips that will go viral, you need to have something short that goes viral, and then that, that gets people to click and look. So I think the ARRL has not been doing as good a job as it can with social media. So we need to definitely increase our presence. And this is something I've discussed with the new CEO. I'd imagine you have him sometime, hopefully. But you know, he's very enthusiastic about this. And I'm really happy about and full disclosure, it's one of the big reasons I supported him for his position. I think that's definitely where we got to go.
Eric: Although I guess, as you said, with the YouTubers, and Dave, and a lot of people were making videos on YouTube, putting a certain amount of time just for a spot, we put it on our Facebook page, or our Twitter feed or whatever, that there's a lot of people that follow us, you know, might be friends and family who are not into ham radio, just because they happen to follow us. That actually might be the way to kind of virally show the handy talkie and antenna pointed at the space station. Nobody knows who knows at this moment that there's a repeater on board of the space station, allowing people to talk around the world.
Ria: Yeah, a lot of people think that how the link between the space station and the ground is some NASA secret internet, you know, signal, when in fact that when we do the school contacts as ham radio, I think we need to put to promote that a little more. My point more though, was along the line of if the ARRL is producing something that we could we could definitely have the YouTubers do their thing. And they will keep doing their thing, of course, but I do think the ARRL also needs to be more active and, you know, not only promote content, but also produce its own
Eric: Right branded content, and that there's a national organization in America that actually supports ham radio, correct? Yes. That's 100 years old.
Ria: A hundred and six years?
Eric: Yeah, amazing. Do you have advice for newer returning hams to the hobby?
Ria: So my advice for new returning hams don't get stuck in a box. Don't think that ham radio is just one thing. Don't think that ham radio is the two guys on a repeater who talk to each other and don't bring you into their conversation. Or who probably does talk to you. Explore or find something different, you might find something that you'll get hooked on. At the same time. It's okay to become disinterested now and again. But if you do become disinterested, at least renew the license, it's free of charge for now. And we're hoping to keep it free of charge. Keep the license who knows you might pick it up later on. And that's my advice. Generally, you know, one, keep trying new things. And even if your interest drops off, don't just drop out completely, because you might find it easier later on to pick it back up.
Eric: Well, I think that's great advice. It's the first time I've had bad advice. But I think that's a great idea. Ria, I want to thank you so much for joining me on the QSO Today podcast. With that I want to wish you 73 and I'm sure that we'll talk again.
Ria: Thank you, Eric. It was an honor and 73 to you as well.
Eric: That concludes this episode of QSO Today, I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Ria, please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we discussed, go to www.QSOToday.com and put in N2RJ in the search box at the top of the page. My thanks to ICOM America for its support of the QSO Today podcast, please show your support of ICOM America by clicking on their banner in the show notes pages. You may notice that some of the episodes are transcribed into written text. If you'd like to sponsor this or any other episode into written text, please contact me. Support the QSO Today podcasts by first joining the QSO Today email list by pressing the subscribe buttons on the show notes pages. I will not spam you or share your email address with anyone. Become a listener sponsor monthly or annually by clicking on the sponsor buttons on the show notes pages or use my Amazon link before shopping at Amazon. Amazon gives me a small commission on your purchases while at the same time protecting your privacy. I'm grateful for any way that you show appreciation and support. It makes a big difference as I head towards Episode 400. QSO Today is now available in the I Heart Radio, Spotify, YouTube, and a bunch of other online audio services, including the iTunes Store. Look on the right side of the show notes pages for a listing of these services. You can use the Amazon Echo and say Alicia play the QSO Today podcast from TuneIn. My thanks to Ben Bresky , who edits every single show and allows both this host and my guests to sound brilliant. Thanks, Ben. Until next time, this is Eric 4Z1UG, 73.
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