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Friday, June 27, 2008

The ARRL Radiogram: A Dead Medium? Is This True?

For an untold number of decades here in Albany, there had been a nightly Capital District Repeater Net held at 6:30PM on the local 146.94 machine. The net's sole task was to generate or forward text messages in the form of something referred to as an American Radio Relay League Radiogram, which looked and functioned very much like a Western Union Telegram.
While the WU telegram was a commercially available paid product, the Radiogram was a non-commercial no-cost service provided by amateur radio operators in many localities.

The basic idea is to either verbally recite the message over the air or to send the same via CW or Morse code from the originating location to the point of destination. Since such messages might be forwarded over line of sight VHF pathways, there could be many steps along the way before the message arrives to whom it is intended. For that reason, there is a fairly strict message format to insure content integrity.

The CDRN expired due largely to a lack of interest and the eventual death of some of the major players. In response, the Troy Amateur Radio Association decided to pick up the gauntlet to preserve and carry on the assignment. The TARA group, perhaps recognizing that the amateur radio hobby may be in a long slow tailspin of its own, has being doing everything it can to keep interest in ham radio peaked in the region.

The club has sponsored RTTYandPSK31 contests, does a big Field Day each year, is heavy on public service and has recently resuscitated the old net with a slightly revised moniker: The Capital District Traffic Net.

Not being a traffic person, most of what I hear in message content seems insignificant, something that could be more easily done over a land line, cellphone or by e-mail. However I also recognize that what is going on is a daily message handling training exercise. This training would hopefully insure readiness to act in the event of emergency.

But then I came across this document which can been found at Dead Media:
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Dead medium: The Amateur Radio Relay League Radiogram
From: From: jort@teleport.com
(Dan Howland)
Source(s): QST Magazine ("Devoted Entirely to Amateur Radio"), February, 1932 == Advertisement
"A.R.R.L. FORMS FOR THE AMATEUR
"Official A.R.R.L. Message Blanks Most convenient form. Designed by the Communications Department of the A.R.R.L. Well printed on good bond paper. Size 8" x 7". Put up in pads of 100 sheets. One pad postpaid for 35" or three pads for $1.00.
"Message Delivery Cards Neatest, simplest way to deliver a message to a near-by town. On U.S. stamped postals, 2" each. On plain cards (for Canada, etc.) 1" each, postpaid."
(((Printed at the the bottom of the Radiogram is the following:)))
"THIS MESSAGE WAS TRANSMITTED FREE OF CHARGE BY AMATEUR RADIO STATIONS OF THE AMERICAN RADIO LEAGUE. ANSWER WILL BE SENT FREE BY FILING AT THIS STATION."
(((It appears that amateur radio enthusiasts received and relayed messages as a point of honor. Was this something people did rather than go to Western Union? Was it cheaper to ask a radio geek to send out your message and hope it would eventually get there? Or was it a service offered by amateurs for people trapped in the boondocks == off exploring forbidden temples or some such? (The Kon Tiki crew, for example, relayed their position to stateside amateur radio hams.)
(((Is this still done? Does anyone know anything more about these radio relay postcards? The articles in this magazine are so filled with radio jargon and 30s slang that it's hard to understand anything but the ads. Sample from page 27: "A Squirt who used too much of what we used to call 'Lake Erie Swing' or sent with a slobbery fist or cluttered up the air with too many CQ's... was called upon by a committee, the chairman of which... exhibited and explained the workings of an instrument known as an *Uggerumph.*" == Dan)))
(((bruces remarks: the crystal-set zealots of the Amateur Radio Relay League seem to have been spiritual ancestors of the Internet. How does one classify these ARRL networked postcards in the media spectrum? Are they "mail," "radio," or "person-to-person ham narrowcasting?" Perhaps Radio Relay postcards are best understood as a dead precursor of email.)))
Dan Howland (jort@teleport.com)
Journal of Ride Theory,
P.O. Box 2044
Portland, OR 97208-2044

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So, is this true? Is the ARRL Radiogram truly as dead as this fellow says? Is sending messages in this fashion as outmoded as the original Nintendo monochrome Game Boy?

The answer is out there...somewhere.

1 comment:

Ken's Corner said...

Dec 2,2009
Hi Bill,
Very interesting article as always. It surprises me that no one has commented one your article sooner.

Yes, in some ways the C.D.T.N.Net is primarily a training net to prepare people for emergencies and to hone their message handling skills, but it does a lot of good with health and welfare traffic, general greetings and other messages. I am proud to say that our net is one of the most active nets in the region. Last night's net ran 55 minutes. You might think it is un-necessary, but I strongly disagree that this a "DEAD MEDIUM".

Our Net Manager and Asst. Net Manager are quite active in the regional net traffic systems, also.

In fact George Burns - W2SFD has just implemented a new Digital Net Control Station in the regional digital traffic system. This will speed up the passage of message handling in the network when conventional means are not available.(i.e. band conditions, etc..) Likewise, you do not have to wait until the next net to pass traffic.

Message handling may not be for everyone, just like CW or digital or other modes, but for those of us that do public service, emergency services (ARES/RACES, etc) message handling is useful and necessary tool.

73
Ken Davis - KB2KFV