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Omaha Magazine

Hamming it Up

Feb 18, 2015 08:00AM ● By James Walmsley
If there’s a technological/jargon gap widening between Baby Boomers and Millennials, it may have little to do with textspeak and Internet gobbledygook.

These days, anyone with at least a flip phone or a dial-up connection probably understands “LOL” and “BRB.” No, perhaps the true remaining esotericists are falling back into the middle of last century. They call themselves “hams” (which just might be old school for “noobs”) and they use such retro terms as, “HIHI,” “88,” and “QTH?”


“We’re not doing a particularly good job at recruiting young people,” says Bill True. He’s 68 years old and is the secretary of the Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club (AARC). True, or WA9ASD, as he is known over shortwave radio transmissions, is an amateur radio enthusiast who doesn’t mind translating Morse code abbreviations for new-fashioned fuddy-duddies, nor recalibrating the habits of Millennials like myself.

“Always say the No. 0 as ‘zero,’ not ‘oh,’” he scolds over a scalding cup of 5 p.m. decaf.

“Oh,” I reply indulgently. “I’m not so in tune with the ways of ham radio, I suppose.”

“You aren’t?” He asks dryly with the hint of a smile. “We have classes for that.”

The AARC, according to its website, has been helping ham wannabes attain their amateur radio licenses since at least 1945, educating them in electrical principles, regulations, and types of equipment. And since the end of World War II, full-fledged hams have been using their powers for forces of good.

During last October’s Market to Market Relay running event, the AARC teamed up with Lincoln’s amateur radio club to provide communications along the 78-mile route. The club has also lent its services to the CROP Hunger Walk, the MS Walk, and the Omaha Marathon.

In more dire circumstances, hams can be a community’s last line of communication.

“Ham radio is still relevant because it provides a communications resource in the event of an emergency,” True says. “This is true around the world.”

The amateur radio advocate cites the horrific Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011 that turned cell phone towers into piles of scrap metal. During the disaster, hams used point-to-point communication in assisting the direction of emergency services amid the wreckage.

But ham radio has plenty of room for fun and games, too. True, who built his own radio around the age of 14, and who has contacted other hams as far off as Eastern Europe, hopes future generations will be able to reconcile amateur radio with neverending advancements in communication.

“Ham radio is fun—to me, it’s fun,” he says. “After every class that I teach, I always ask, ‘Are we having fun yet?’ Because that’s what this is about. It’s a hobby. It’s a way to enjoy yourself.”

Oh, and for those Millennials keeping track who are not so hip to their parents’ and grandparents’ patois: “HIHI” is a way to express laughter, “88” means “love and kisses,” and “QTH?” translates to “What is your location?”