Social Distancing: Nothing new to us radio geeks

by Victor Rodriguez

Photo by Victor Rodriguez

Let’s face it: COVID-19 is certainly disrupting “business as usual” across the planet. It’s hurting economies, and of greater concern, hurting people.

Besides washing our hands frequently and not touching our faces, one of the most effective means of slowing/halting the spread of the Coronavirus is by exercising social distancing.

Simply staying home, and if you must go out, keeping your distance from others, makes sense––and since contact between people is how the virus spreads, it will help slow the spread of it. Many in our radio community are older now, so we want to be sure they are not subject to the lung damage or hospitalization (or worse) that can come from contracting the highly-contagious virus, especially among those over 65 or those with other health issues.

But there’s an adjustment we have to make to do this.  All around us, large gatherings are being canceled, universities and schools and suspending in-person classes, and business are closing their doors. Many governments and companies are making their employees telecommute from home. Airlines are cancelling flights and some country-to-country travel has even been banned. This is temporary, but nonetheless these are changes to which we must adapt.

Covid-19 global cases (Source: Johns Hopkins University)

Cancellations due to the coronavirus have even hit our radio world: almost every radio convention and gathering on the horizon has been cancelled or rescheduled for a later date. I was looking forward to attending and presenting at my first Ozarkcon QRP conference in early April, but it, too, has been canceled. To help keep track of event cancellations, the ARRL has even created a dedicated page to list all of the canceled ham radio events.

One very conspicuous omission (at time of posting) is the 2020 Hamvention in Xenia, Ohio. I suspect it will eventually cancel as well along with all of the various associated meetings held in conjunction with Hamvention. Frankly, even if Hamvention does manage to weather the COVID-19-prevention closures, I would expect attendance to be dismal this year. [Update: Hamvention cancelled several hours after this post was published]

Part of the Hamvention Food Court area.

Hamvention attracts a large group of international attendees and vendors and the average age of those at Hamvention is Covid-19’s target demographic (60+). True, it’s two months out yet, but most large vendors have to make flight plans now while things are very much in flux. We’ll see how it all plays out in the coming days.

But why temporary social distancing and exercising a little preparedness triggers some individuals to go to extremes or (worse) try to profit from the panic, I’ll never know.  I have been witness to some pretty wacky behaviors recently, like the couple I saw Thursday who were buying twenty jugs of Chlorine Bleach. Since a simple 10% bleach solution is recommended for virus disinfection, unless they own an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an algae overgrowth, or are trying to disinfect an entire hospital, what could they want with so much of it?

Social DX

Meanwhile, social distancing, for us radio geeks, is less a form of restriction and isolation or  than it is an opportunity. 

Those of you who know me well know that I can be quite talkative when I’m with others, especially those who share my love of radio. Many might even assume I’m an extrovert.  But if anything, I’m perhaps a socially-comfortable introvert. And in truth, it’s easy for me to adjust to staying in.  Like so many SWLs, I enjoy the chance to escape to my radio to tune out the fuss…and tune in the world. A cheerful chat, or listen, over a distance, is my idea of a good time. This is true”social DXing,” if you ask me!

For the next few weeks, here’s what my Social DX Bucket List includes (completed items have a strike through)…

  • Clean the sticky residue off the rest of my radios
  • Explore Weather Fax a bit more
  • Activate and chase a few parks in the Parks On The Air program
  • Tinker with my uBITX V6 code
  • Learn more Linux command line
  • Chase more HF pirates (since many of them will also have more free time!)
  • Take my recently-acquired Eton E1 to the field
  • And perhaps add a few ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) to the logs
  • Deploy a loop on ground (LOG) antenna
  • Make a CW only Parks On The Air activation
  • Start piecing together a QRP EME station

Yes, I definitely welcome a little social DX!

Are you under quarantine or self-imposed social distancing to avoid COVID-19? What are your plans during this time? Please comment!

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41 thoughts on “Social Distancing: Nothing new to us radio geeks

  1. Anthony

    Mine is a question . My 2 shortwave radios are Grundig Yachtboy 400 PE and a Tecsun Pl880. I used to love to listen back in the late 80s on my older units and I know not too much on nowadays. I haven’t heard anything but VOA . Any advice is so appreciated ! Regards Anthony

  2. Mario

    All great comments. We radio buffs have a great hobby during this pandemic, but other hobbies such as reading, cooking, gardening, playing an instrument, writing, DIY home projects, exercise, spring cleaning, devoting more time to pets and love ones,or a simple ride in the car around the neighborhood to name several can help to pass the time.

    As for the effect of corona on ham radio, what with all the cancellations of hamfests, club meetings and charitable events I wonder if more ops will get on the air to fill the void. Here, 2m is dead generally but that may change so it’s time to dust off the HT and plug in the charger. And will swap nets make a comeback, who knows?

    Also wonder if CB will see an uptick in popularity as it was one of the early forms of social media.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Good points, Mario! Last night I tuned around the 75MB and it was chock-full of signals. So many times as I scanned the bands I heard ops say, “well, looks like I’m going to get a lot more radio time now!”

      It’s true that with more time on our hands, it’ll be a great time to DX.

      It would be interesting to see if this revitalizes the 2M band even if only temporarily.


  3. jack dully

    Thanks,Thomas it’s a lot to ponder ! Looks like you did a great job in de-gunking your Eton E-1. I’m sure you will really like the unscheduled down time, getting familiar with it.Enjoy !!

  4. Mark Fahey

    I was REALLY surprised when reviewing the last week’s analytics for the Radio Seribatu three stations web streams yesterday.

    Italy has overtaken Indonesia (our home country) in listenership over the past 7 days. Yesterday I saw over 650 listeners listening to us (split over our three stations) at the single point in time I just happened to look. Its seems people (media junkies) stuck inside are tuning around for sure!

    1. Mark Fahey

      Opps I intended to say …

      Yesterday I saw over 650 listeners (FROM ITALY ALONE) listening to us (split over our three stations) at the single point in time I just happened to look

        1. Andrew

          Yesterday or maybe the day before the news channel of the national TV in italy sent out a notice about the website, I suspect that a lot of people decided to give it a spin and probably liked what they heard on Radio Seribatu 🙂

  5. Michael Black

    Abkut fifty years ago I got “The Year When Stardust Fell” by Raymond F. Jones out of the library. A One of the Winston juvenile.SF series. The tail of a comet causes metal to fuze together, so cars stop working, as do motors and generators.

    The usual “blame the scientists” and the mob going for the stored food. The main character is a teenager, a ham, so ham radio keeps the scientists in contact, those with foresight arranging things to have power.

    I liked it as a kid, I got a copy last year and it still holdsup. It, and some of the other Winston books, afe available as ebooks. Though Raymond Jones “Son of the Stars” (another ham, meeting an alien who crashes n earth),also in the series, doesn’t seem available.

    1. Laurence N.

      Ok. Obviously that plot start is a little contrived, but I’m already wondering how, if the author intended to have amateur radio be a useful thing in that situation, the clear plotholes were left unacknowledged. If such a disaster happened, no transceivers would operate because they couldn’t be powered–generators are down as you stated, and batteries are also essentially metal sandwiches. Not to mention that a lot of components in a transceiver wouldn’t survive the devil-in-the-machine comet either. And when an author so blatantly ignores the facts of their universe, I lose my suspense of disbelief for the plot.
      The issue goes further, though. I’ve seen far too many arguments that use situations such as this to state the benefits of amateur radio or shortwave broadcasting. In general terms, the situations are extreme, contrived, and very very unlikely. The problem with those scenarios is that it makes the people interested in these hobbies sound a little ridiculous. I am one of a relatively rare group, a young shortwave listener, and I have tried with very frequent failure to explain why I enjoy it to my contemporaries and convince them to try it as well. Some have been referred to this very site, but two who I suggested to read the articles also read the comments and later informed me that the general hobbyist is intent on proving their hobby worthwhile regardless of how much they have to make up or assume to do so, and therefore that the hobby doesn’t seem worth preserving (one friend phrased it this way: “If it’s so useful in so many situations, they wouldn’t have to argue to keep it alive?”). I don’t mean to accuse you particularly or any other commentor here of doing this–in general, I believe most of the people here to be level-headed and intelligent about what parts of our interests are beneficial and which parts are just fun. Still, if we are to try to convince my generation to join the hobby, if only to keep the stations broadcasting, we might want to consider this.

  6. John B

    This is a pretty brilliant observation …. yeah, we radio geeks are the BEST at social distancing. Thanks for the good laugh… it’s much needed.

    I’m using this time (combined with being newly retired) to do some stuff I had no time to do, when working a 55 hour week.

    * Learning a little command line Linux (enough to bop around the file structure and edit with Nano)
    * Configured a Pi on the network
    * Enabled a RTL/SDR with the PI to do HF on my local LAN
    * Selling some of the e-flotsam around the house
    * Plan for launching a pico-balloon w/WSPR

  7. Fred Waterer

    Self-Isolation is probably easier for most of us. It goes with the territory. I was an only child. I love radio and books. So I’m not all that stressed about staying out of the way. Chances are we as SWLs and Hams are pretty well informed. We have access to news from affected places like China, Iran, Spain and others. Radio is always a vital link to news and information…and it can be an escape from it as well, as needed.

  8. Steve Allen

    Great observations Thomas. I’ve heard so many OPs on the air saying in regard to the virus outbreak “great, I’ll just stay home and play radio”. Here in NE Tennessee things are still relatively calm, but today when we went to Ingle’s grocery store they were even sold out of TP. This whole issue is a much needed wake up call to the masses to not take their existence for granted. We are looking forward to “social distancing” in the National Forest.

    73 de KZ4TN


    Great post: I might just am broadcast band dx again….My Realistic TRF am portable radio awaits me. I also own a late model and modified Sony 2010….Be safe everybody.

  10. Dan-VR2HF

    Great thoughts and comments, Thomas. I’ll be doing some of my work at factories in China via Skype video starting this week. Should be an interesting experiment letting other hands do what I normally do while I watch.

    Hamvention is quite the opposite of social distancing. Really a kind of social immersion at the highest level. Even more so than most sporting events. If it is cancelled, maybe we need a Hamvention Contest that weekend. To get points you have to rag chew for at least 5 minutes!

  11. Bob Raymond

    I’m staying home as much as possible, working on software projects and antennas! The peace and quiet of my home office/radio room/back yard appeals to me — whether or not there’s a virus going around. Be safe, stay safe.

  12. John Figliozzi

    “Socially comfortable introvert” … I like (and likely also resemble) that characterization. Our children convinced us that we should “maintain social distance” from their kids — our grandchildren — to ensure our own health. We initially resisted but have had to yield to the logic of the situation. We feel fine, but are on higher end of our 60s — and the idea that social distancing might prevent a “hospital apocalypse” and save lives does resonate. If we look back and conclude we overreacted, so be it. In any event, you’re dead nuts right about the fact that it is much less a sacrifice for us radio geeks. In that regard, using the time wisely here as well. Wash your damn hands!

    1. Thomas Post author

      Your kids are right, John. It feels so odd to distance yourself from those you love, but grandchildren are a pretty east vector for bugs like this. Just keep in mind that it’ll be temporary.

  13. Daniele

    Hello! Couldn’t agree more with you!
    I am from Florence-Italy and these days I am taking the opportuity to enjoy reading, relaxing and…tune in the world.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Thomas Post author

      And you’re really in the thick of it, Daniele. Good on you for maximizing your radio time! Funny, but I’ve worked more Italian stations this weekend than anything else on the ham bands. No doubt, it’s a great–safe–social outlet. 🙂

  14. Dan

    Yes, it is interesting isn’t it that this kind of a bio-social disaster gives us more time to enjoy our hobby — provided we are not standing on lines waiting for paper products!

    1. Thomas Post author

      Exactly. Odd that radio often benefits from disruption. It’s so durable in that regard! Just like when the power goes out in the neighborhood…first thing we do it light up all of our radios and benefit from the lack of RFI!


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