You never know who’s on the other side’: Amateur radio enthusiasts use old-school tech to connect

When was the last time a total stranger, or even an acquaintance, gave you three minutes — three whole minutes — to share whatever was on your mind?

In the age of social media, we all have bigger and more powerful megaphones than ever. But attention spans are shorter than ever, and the reality is our friends, family and colleagues are likely to doomscroll right past what we’ve shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — especially if it’s a read that takes three minutes or more.

Yet, a group of Puget Sound-area amateur radio enthusiasts are finding a way to be heard — and taking the time to hear each other — using technology that’s more than a century old.

Each day, the Puget Sound Repeater Group, an organization of local ham radio enthusiasts that celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, take to the airwaves for three broadcasts, known as “nets” — once at 9 a.m., again at noon and again at 9 p.m.

PSRG’s membership includes a large contingent of Seattle tech workers — engineers, coders, product designers and more — who share a common preoccupation: Obsessive tinkering with science and technology.

The chats can include more than 50 people. Most are from the Seattle area, but voices can appear from as far away as Europe, South America and Australia.

Ham radio nets can resemble a primitive Discord server or even an America Online chatroom circa 1994. After providing their call sign — a string of letters and numbers that identify them on the air — each participant is given up to three minutes to talk about whatever he or she wants — a recent trip, a new job, what’s happening with the kids or whatever else the day brings.

On Aug. 22, the PSRG hosted its 1,000th consecutive “noon-time net.” Jack Wolfe, who started the local tradition, said the milestone underscores ham radio’s dogged popularity more than 120 years after the first amateur radio broadcast and despite the advent of much more modern means of communication.

In fact, the PSRG’s membership includes a large contingent of Seattle tech workers — engineers, coders, product designers and more — who share a common preoccupation: Obsessive tinkering with science and technology.

“This is a friendly group of kind-of nerds,” said Mike Koss, who joined Microsoft in the early 1980s and was an early member of the team that built Outlook, Microsoft’s flagship email client. Koss also invented Microsoft Sharepoint, one of the first cloud file-sharing drives.

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