It's a Ham, Ham, Ham, Ham World

By Nadia Alvarado

What is a "ham"? Besides a delicious meat, over-actors and the adorable piggy bank from Toy Story, I never gave much thought to the word, but that was before the Greg's Corner story about Radio Shack. About 25% of the Jameco customers that emailed us about that story mentioned hams and "ham radio" – also known as amateur radio.

Ham World I knew ham radio existed and roughly what it was, and I've met people who have licenses and call names, but my curiosity about this particular electronics hobby had never been piqued before. I wanted to learn a little bit more about ham radio and research whether the term was an acronym (HAM radio).

As a word smith, it's my job to make sure content is as accurate as possible, so questions like "is it ‘Ham’ or ‘HAM’?" really do bother me. With the question continuing to nag me, I consulted my trusty AP Stylebook and Merriam-Webster dictionary. Neither reference source answered my questions, so I moved my investigation to the online world of amateur radio.

After doing searches and sifting through ham radio forums and articles, I was surprised by two things: conflicting explanations about ham or HAM, and how popular and active the ham radio community is. I decided to turn to the experts at the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) for definitive answers.

ARRL concisely explains the history of ham radio and confirmed ham is not an acronym. Ham is defined as an amateur radio operator, without any negative connotation, but that wasn't always the case.

Long story short, back when commercial operators were landline telegraphers they often became frustrated with amateur operators for creating radio interference. They would call the amateur operators "hams" – a derogatory term that meant they were poor operators. Whether the amateurs knew ham was an intended insult or not, they took ownership of it and for decades have used it to refer to each other.

Clicking around the ARRL website, I was impressed with the level of knowledge and dedication hams have for their hobby, which often extends into volunteerism and public service. I've worked in hospital incident command centers and know how valuable radio operators can be at times of crisis, but it wasn't until I started my research that I put together that those same operators were hams.

Now that I know the ham radio origin story, I want to learn more about the hams in the Jameco community:
    • What items do you buy from Jameco for your ham radio hobby?
    • Are you building your own ham radios or fixing up ones you've had forever?
    • Are there any products Jameco doesn't currently carry but you think we should?
Post your answers on Jameco's community forum and start a dialogue with your fellow hams.
Nadia Alvarado has a master's degree in Journalism from Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree in Economics from San Diego State University. Her interests include comedy, comic books, board games, movies and watching too much TV.