With all the station work going on here I have been mostly inactive this month. First the TH7 had to come down for service, and my only other HF antenna -- 80 meter inverted vee -- was taken down in preparation for the move to the big tower. This became a problem when several attractive DXpeditions appeared on the bands.
Soon after the TH7 was back up, although not well cabled or fed, I had 3C0L in the log on two bands. But I had nothing for the lower bands. As at least an interim measure I decided to resurrect my old multi-band inverted vee and installed it on the Trylon at an apex height of 18 meters. Now I have a resonant antenna for 40, 30 and 17 meters. It isn't a great antenna but good enough to get me by without distracting me from more important tower and antenna work. I'm glad I kept it around. It resonates higher on each band since the interior angle is less than that for which it was originally tuned. I did this to avoid interactions with the TH7 above it.
DXpeditions and DQRM
When it comes to DXpeditions we inevitably need to discuss DQRM. I am well past any feelings of angst or anger when I encounter it. More often it leaves me sad. It's a part of our hobby and a part of the challenge of working rare DX. Like others I work around it with a combination of technology and skill. I leave the anger to others while I go about trying to work the DX.
Deliberate QRM (DQRM) is not a recent phenomenon. It has with us
almost as long as amateur radio has existed. Indeed it is not restricted
to our hobby, with DQRM too frequently on various commercial, police
and other services dependent on radio communications. By DQRM I am
restricting the definition to non-commercial interference, not the kind
where governments and commercial interests get involved as a matter of
(bad) policy. It affects not only DXpeditions but also contests and
perhaps most perniciously on emergency traffic.
This post is not about dealing with DQRM when it occurs. There are many ways of doing that, good and bad. My own approach is to ignore it. Although DQRM affects my enjoyment of my amateur radio pursuits I often have a greater worry about the health and mental well-being of the perpetrators. It makes me sad, not angry.
Acting out against the perpetrators, whether on the air or pounding on the shack table, achieves little except perhaps to relieve stress. A better approach is to better understand who these people are and what motivates them. Put aside the hate and the anger for a moment to consider that the perpetrators of DQRM are as human as you and also have wants and needs. It is not a short term solution but if followed through can eventually have a positive impact.
DQRM hits close to home
Once in my life as a ham I was well acquainted with a couple of DQRM perpetrators. I didn't know it was them until they were caught by some dedicated ham sleuths and subsequently busted by the authorities. It was horrifying. Since I knew them well many friends asked me how this could have happened. I had no good answer, and that bothered me.
Perhaps I was too young at the time to understand this type of behaviour and to recognize the human traits that drive it. Immaturity undoubtedly played a role; we were all young at the time. With maturity I can retrospectively begin to understand.
I won't give any details even though these fellows are sadly long dead. It serves no purpose. Those who know me from that time will know the names, call signs and circumstances.
While I mentioned immaturity as a contributing cause that is a wholly unsatisfactory explanation. It permitted the DQRM to begin and continue due to poor judgment but was itself not the underlying cause. It was a toxic mix of disrespect for others and a disdain of operating interests that were far different from their own.
Some of the disrespect was the ordinary kind that young adults feel toward the previous generation as they begin to make their own way in the world. It is the rare family home where this doesn't occur. Unfortunately I've found that many adults are adults in age only, never shaking off their youthful arrogance, impulsiveness and reactionary disrespect for others. They grow older but not wiser. Look around and I think you can find examples among those you know.
Combine that immature attitude with impunity and trouble can begin to brew. Most people, even adolescents, will not cross the line, or perhaps only dip a toe across when they have these feelings. There were no inhibitions at all in those central to my story. Some of that was driven by unfortunate circumstances in their own homes which I won't get into.
They dared each other and crossed the line arm in arm with smiles on their faces. The DQRM went on for some time despite knowing that they were being hunted and that the hunters were closing in. It became a challenge to them to evade capture. In their minds it was little different than driving over the speed limit when the police announce a campaign against speeding. They didn't care, fearing neither consequences nor the impact they were having on others.
There was no escaping the consequences. They were assessed fines and withdrawal of operating privileges for a time. To the best of my knowledge they did not re-offend after regaining their licenses. I am less certain that they truly learned their lesson, only that they felt foolish to be so incautious at what they were doing. That is, they regretted getting caught, not what they did.
When someone behaves in a manner that affects us negatively or of which we disapprove, regardless of the law, it is easy to slip into easy explanations and stereotypes. Looking deeper into what the DQRMer is thinking is difficult and messy. They may not know either. Ultimately the reason they do it is because they enjoy it or because they enjoy the reaction of others.
Usually there is no evil intent, just righteousness. They disapprove of the activity and feel justified to take matters into their own hands. They can't leave others to enjoy their choice of operating activity.
Even this is inadequate. Most of us have these feelings in certain circumstances and we do not lash out. If we do it is episodic rather than an obsession. For example, imagine you are in a pleasant QSO with a friend that is rudely interrupted by the appearance down the band of a rare one who says he's listening up 5 to 20 kHz. You may stand your ground for a time, perhaps go so far as to try to get the others to QSY or briefly DQRM the DX. Two wrongs don't make a right, and in any case it doesn't work. Better to (correctly) abhor what occurred and QSY. The DQRM doesn't recur.
Instead let's restrict our DQRM appraisal to the serial perpetrator. The ones who listen for the DXpeditions, super-station contests or individuals they simply dislike and wage a recurrent campaign of DQRM. They either dislike the person or the activity and use that as justification for their actions. They understand what they are doing is wrong, or at least illegal, so it is the rare DQRMer who identifies. The same technology that makes finding the rare ones easy is used by them, so when they are motivated they are difficult to avoid.
The role of unhappiness
I became a ham as part of the great wave of baby boomers, so we were all young. What used to be called the "generation gap" in the 1960s applied to hams as well. And we were active! Being young and having many ham friends of the same age meant there was bound to be trouble. I got into my own share of it but never DQRM or similar operating misbehaviour. That line I never crossed. I can't say whether it was good sense or just good luck considering some of the bad company I kept.
The vast majority of hams today are older. That is, our generation grew older and fewer young people joined the hobby. Youthful exuberance and bad judgment are no longer significant factors causing DQRM. We have to look elsewhere for explanations.
Unhappiness is one. While some people are perpetually unhappy everyone goes through unhappy phases in their lives. It's the human condition. Unhappiness often spurs us into action to change our lives to either remove the cause or to undertake activities that can make us happy again.
Isolation is a common cause of unhappiness. We're social creatures and need companionship. What far too many people discover is that isolation creeps up on you as you enter your senior years. Many of my older friends have discovered this unfortunate fact of life. The children are gone and even the grandchildren no longer look forward to visits. They have other interests and responsibilities. Retirement quickly separates you from long relationships with coworkers and customers. Friends and family members of similar age relax and then withdraw from many social activities or become infirm and finally die. Marriages often end. The trend of single person homes is growing in North America at least.
Curmudgeonly behaviour is one outcome, as is a desire to connect with others or to be simply noticed. The reason for being noticed doesn't have be a good one. Indeed misbehaviour can be an excellent path to immediate and widespread notice. For hams DQRM beckons.
Old people tend not to care what others think of them. There is a passing similarity in behaviour to teenagers despite the underlying cause being very different. It is like a forest in a drought, vulnerable to a single spark. They may not care about the pain they cause or possible consequences to themselves. Indeed they may see it as harmless fun and laugh at the reaction of others. Some people like poking an anthill with a stick just to watch the ants scurry about. It can be a welcome distraction from the terminal unhappiness they feel.
There are technical solutions to DQRM, including deep data analysis and DF (direction finding). DF, which can be terribly difficult on HF, has worked well for many on VHF and UHF. Underfunded regulatory and enforcement authorities will do the latter but rarely the former. For the most part hams are on their own for HF DQRM. Successes are elusive yet do occur. Most initiatives fail when initial enthusiasm falls victim to the difficulty and time involved.
Psychological remedies can have more immediate results. It can take substantial discipline. These include ignoring the DQRM, thus denying the need for notice, operating technique and even strategic avoidance. Idle speculation of what motivates the perpetrators may prove interesting for a time, if unfruitful.
Data is better than speculation. Our desire to dislike the DQRM perpetrator often leads us to false conclusions. They are unlikely to conform to the evil caricatures we tend to gravitate towards. Often they are sad and lonely hams that in other circumstances would elicit pity rather than scorn.
Consider my discourse on unhappiness above and the impacts of age and isolation. Most people who have been involved in any activity or pursuit for most of their lives grow at least a little weary of it. Hams become less active or settle into ruts of repetitive and unfulfilling activities.
I can think of numerous examples of HF operators with great stations who appear to spend most of their time making endless short QSOs. They're active yet I doubt whether there is any true enjoyment involved. They've won contests or achieved DXCC Honor Roll and are running out of motivations to operate while having more time to operate than ever before due to their age and isolation. But they aren't causing DQRM.
On FM you probably can name several calls of those who always seem to be near the rig and ready to answer anyone willing to chat. Call them directly and they invariably answer. There is some utility to it since when help is needed there is someone listening and ready to respond. But are they enjoying themselves or filling the hours of their lives?
These are benign if sad examples. I seem immune since I left the hobby for many years only returning when the time was right for me. My enthusiasm was refreshed. Hopefully it will last. Some of my contemporaries who never stopped operating are now becoming fatigued and questioning the point of it all. Some become inactive. Yet there are others who are as enthused with the hobby as when they were first licensed decades ago. Most are somewhere in between these extremes.
When fatigue, age and isolation come together in select individuals we see a turn to curmudgeonly behaviour and among those a few who will lash out. Whether this is a common cause of DQRM I cannot say. Among those who are caught this is a not uncommon reason. Mostly, as I said earlier, these examples come from VHF/UHF FM rather than HF due to the relative difficulty of finding them. I have to think that HF is the same despite the paucity of data. Anecdotes are not data so I could be wrong.
I ask you to follow along with me to imagine a scene. An elderly ham sits at the controls of a very good station. Plaques are on the wall celebrating a lifetime of operating achievements. He's alone and has been for years. He believes there is little to look forward to in the hobby or in life. Unlike some others he sees no point in working stations for no clear objective.
He tunes the band or has an eye on a Telnet window. Rare DX appears. He listens to the pile-up, the mad pursuit of a new one by countless hams. He envies their enthusiasm, a commodity he depleted a long time ago. He worked this country dozens of times and on every band and mode, the first time decades back. There's no point to calling that he can see. Yet he has a good station and is a skilled operator with nothing better to do if should tune away or turn off the rig. He may hear calls in the pile-up of those he knows but has not spoken to them for years. He feels annoyed and wronged by that negligence. He honestly doesn't notice that connection is a two-way street and he is equally to blame for the silence.
He stares at the rig. What will he do?
In rare cases you know that he will turn to DQRM. Although his identity will remain undiscovered he will be noticed, spoken to (shouted at) and message boards will fill with comments expressing disgust and irritation. He has found a scapegoat for his unhappiness and a way to hit back and even become enthusiastic about operating again, even if it's for a dreadful purpose. Evil can be enjoyable.
Do you know such a ham? I don't mean a DQRMer. I do mean a elderly and accomplished ham who has seems to have gone inactive and doesn't show up to club meetings. You know he is alone. Perhaps a phone call or a visit would be a good idea. Hams like this have stories to tell and few to tell them to. They want connection yet are too proud to reach out or are not comfortable doing so.
Hams who have active connections to their peers are less likely to turn to evil. Of course few do in any case. Reaching out to one or two can enrich you and him. The cloud over their heads blows away, for at least a little while. The few who are prone to evil are less likely to act on it when they know and like the person behind only one call in the pile-up. Maybe they'll even reach for the key to call the DX to try and beat out their friend.
If we're lucky we will be old one day, and when it comes we may be alone. Wouldn't it be nice if someone reached out to you in that situation? Happy hams don't DQRM. Reach out and maybe, just maybe, there will be less DQRM on the bands.