The Generational Ham Philosophy: Measured by What you Give, not by What you Have

I’ve heard it from many new hams, and I’ve experienced it myself; the generosity of experienced hams when it comes to equipment and time can be overwhelming. It can feel like you’re taking advantage of these hams when you take items they’re offering for free or for a deep discount. But it’s all part of what I’ve decided to name the “Generational Ham Philosophy.”

These Hams that have been in the hobby for a while have undoubtedly collected quite a few radios, antennas, and other accessories. As a matter of fact, a large part of their collection was probably gifted to them or sold at a low price, just like they’re offering to you. This philosophy of giving is somewhat engrained into the ham radio hobby; it’s in its DNA.

Amateur radio is very much an “others” focused hobby. What makes the hobby fun is talking with other people all around the world, country, state, and even in your local neighborhood. It’s all rewarding, and it’s because you’re literally connecting with these people. Ham radio can also be outreach-focused depending on what avenues of the hobby you venture down.

This “other” focused nature is part of what pushes hams to share their knowledge and equipment with other new hams. They want other people to connect with. They want to grow the network! Most hams aren’t primarily focused on making money or becoming famous, they just want to have fun! Part of what’s fun about the hobby is the culture of giving so engrained into it!

What to Do as a New Ham

So you’re new to the hobby and you’re unsure how to navigate the generosity of others as you step into the hobby. What do you do? Well, don’t be afraid to take these hams up on some of their offers. It might feel like you’re taking advantage of them, but there are some steps I’ve learned to help make sure you aren’t!

  1. Only take what you can and will use!
    • When a ham offers you a shiny piece of equipment to you, it can be tempting to say yes to everything! But try to resist the knee-jerk reaction and consider whether you are really going to use what they’re offering. Do you already have something like it? If so, do you have a good use for two? Be honest about it. If you’re not sure, tell them you’ll give it a try and ask if they’d like it back if you don’t use it.
  2. Consider if another ham you know could use it more.
    • Just because you can use something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should! Do you know another new ham that could use the item more than you? If so, consider suggesting the owner give it to them since they need it more. Maybe they’ll still want you to have it, and that’s probably okay as long as you’re upfront. Don’t get too stuck on this, though: there’s a difference between know that some ham somewhere can probably use something more than you can, and knowing a specific person in need.
  3. Remember to do the same once you’re lucky enough to do so.
    • Like I said earlier, a lot of experienced hams got a significant portion of their collection just like you are now. That is, from a more experienced operator. Just like they passed it on, remember to do the same in the future when the opportunity arises. Maybe that will happen in a few weeks, maybe it’ll be a few years, but when the time does come remember to pass on the generosity that got you into the hobby.
  4. Avoid selling what you got for free.
    • If you dropped $1,000 on a new HF rig a couple years back but you’re wanting to upgrade to something more, that’s an excellent candidate to sell to fellow hams for a good price. There might also be situations where you got some diamond in the rough at Hamfest which you’ve fixed up and want to sell for a profit. Go for it! But, avoid selling things that other hams gave you to use. If you don’t need it anymore, consider giving it back or passing it on to another new ham.
  5. Be thankful, earnest, and communicative.
    • Don’t take the generosity of other hams for granted. Make sure you are appreciative and show that appreciation! These hams could likely sell what they’ve got on eBay for a good price, but they’ve decided to fuel your learning instead. Keep this communication after you take whatever it is you have, too. Have you learned something new thanks to this gift? Share it with it’s previous owner! Did you fix something up or complete a collection? Share that too!
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as long as you’re willing to work!
    • If you’re having a hard time with a piece of ham gear that was gifted to you or sold for a good price – don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Odds are, the previous owner know a thing or two about the unit and they might be able to give some advice. Make sure to be clear that you’re still thankful and happy with it, and that you’re excited to work on fixing whatever problem it is and to learn (unless you really feel like you got ripped off).
  7. Don’t expect it.
    • Don’t expect anyone to give you something just because your new, or just because they have what you need. Come at it from an open perspective. Another tip for you: share your issue, not your solution. Let’s say for example that you need a power supply for using your radio inside, don’t just straight up ask if anyone has a power supply and expect a good deal or a donation. Communicate that you’re in need of a power supply and ask for advice and suggestions. If you’re on a budget, communicate that! Someone might have a better solution for you, or, someone might straight up have a power supply they want to give away. If nobody is really able or willing to help you, don’t hold it against them.

How to Give to New Hams

So you’re a Ham with a basement full of untouched equipment, and you’re on-board with this philosophy. How do you give to new hams in a helpful way?

  1. Don’t overwhelm a newbie.
    • If someone is just getting into amateur radio, odds are they don’t have much experience with the technology they’re now using. Don’t give too big a project or task to a new ham without being willing and able to help them get going! Got a rig that needs repair? Let your club know that you’re giving a new ham a project and that they might need some help from the community. Above all else, make sure you’re not leaving this new person hanging without a lifeline (or the knowledge of said lifeline)!
  2. Newer / higher-end isn’t always better!
    • While some new hams might want to hop right into the best-of-the-best equipment, theres’ something to be said about growing into the latest tech. Don’t be afraid to give a new ham that old Icom that you used to use with no bells and whistles. The simpler the radio is, the easier it will be for this new ham to master it! Help them work their way up to their next rig and to understand what a radio’s controls and settings do!
  3. Be patient.
    • Newer hams, especially younger ones, can get a little gung-ho as they hop into the hobby. Be patient as they make assumptions and mistakes, and help them to learn what they need to learn at their own pace. They’ll learn to be patient too over time, especially with a good example.
  4. Conversation over documentation.
    • When a new ham is struggling to understand something, conversation often works much better than documentation. This isn’t always true – some students learn better from books than they can hands on – but generally speaking, the best thing you can do is talk face-to-face with a new ham, preferably around the equipment you’re discussing. Encourage questions and humility.
  5. If you don’t know – don’t pretend you do!
    • One of the most harmful things you can do to a new ham is teach them wrong information. Make sure you understand the limits of your knowledge. Not knowing the answer to a question is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our areas of expertise and our blind-spots of knowledge. It can actually be very helpful to show your lack of knowledge in some areas; it can help a new ham feel more comfortable as they learn and can make it less intimidating to ask questions. In fact, it can be kind of exciting to have a question that stumps someone more experienced than you!
  6. The worst thing your equipment can do is collect dust.
    • If you have equipment that you don’t really use, consider donating it to a new ham! The worst radio is a radio you don’t use, and it might be the best radio for someone else just getting into the hobby! Pass this philosophy on with the items you give away. Tell the new owners to give it away (or give it back, if you prefer) if they don’t use it!
  7. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
    • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for how a new ham uses what you give them. Tell them if you don’t want them to sell it. Tell them if you don’t want them to give it to another ham, or if you do! You can tell them that if they don’t feel like they need it at some point to give it back to you. You can also loan items. Have a ham try out a new rig for a month to see if they like it. Loan an antenna until they build their own. Just make sure you clearly communicate your expectations, and hold them to it!

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