December 1966 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
When I first as the title of this article, I thought
it was going to be a comical parody on how wives (YLs*) of Ham radio operators (OMs*) viewed their
husbands' hobby. It turned out to be a report on a nationwide survey. Many of wives of Hams
were themselves licensed operators which, at the time, required Morse code proficiency in
addition to radio theory and regulations. In 1966 the average cost of a Ham shack layout was
about $1,000, which is equivalent to $7,518 in 2017 dollars according to the Bureau of Labor
Inflation Calculator. As with most electronics equipment, the quality
and features have evolved significantly in the intervening decades, so you get a lot more
capability for your investment today. If you believe the author presents result honestly,
the general attitude was that wives would rather have their hubbies engaged in an educational
at home or with like-minded men than at a bar or sporting event. A majority also thought that
spending on Ham equipment activities was not at the expense of essential family needs.
BTW, I'm scheduled to take the exam for my Amateur Extra Class license on Saturday, April
8, at the Wattsburg Wireless Association
(of which I am a member) meeting hall. I'm trying to decide
on a new call sign of the
format reserved for this level.
* YL = Young Lady, OM = Old Man
What Wives Think About Ham Radio
By Donald G. Ross. W2JMZ
Have you ever considered the possibility that your
wife may be less than enthusiastic about your ham radio interests?
That she may be negatively inclined towards it because of its costs or the amount of time
you spend at it instead of on family activities? Surely you've heard some XYLs comment unfavorably
on some phase of our hobby, even bitterly at times, and it may have set you to wondering whether
you are keeping ham radio in its proper perspective in your home. If so, you are not alone.
The thought occurred to the writer that it might prove illuminating and beneficial to many
hams to find out generally what wives think about our hobby so that individually we could,
perhaps, better understand the female point of view and thus not lose sight of perspective.
Are the complaints heard isolated examples one would expect of any hobby, or do they represent
a general undercurrent of feminine resentment against amateur radio?
A Survey is Made
The best way of finding out was to conduct a survey of those most qualified to pass judgment
- the wives themselves! A questionnaire was prepared and sent out to wives of hams in every
state in proportion to state population and about equally divided between those living in
metropolitan centers and those from rural areas. Three aspects of ham radio were considered
prime subjects for inquiry, namely: 1. Cost 2. Amount of Operating Time 3. The Content of
The OM's Contacts. The responders were asked to check off one of several statements (ranging
from good to bad) which came closest to representing their views on these major topics. Additional
information was requested such as value of station, whether the OM's antennas disfigured the
home, and how the OM spends his operating time; i.e., rag-chewing, DXing, traffic handling,
emergency communications or experimenting. Each recipient was encouraged to submit any additional
information she wished and to go into detail beyond the scope of the questionnaire proper.
Before the returns began coming in, it was assumed that a goodly percentage of the XYLs
would relish this convenient opportunity to strike back at ham radio if they harbored but
the slightest antagonism, so it was only normal to anticipate a wide diversity of opinion.
It was hoped, however, that the composite opinion would be preponderantly one-sided and not
about equally balanced for and against ham radio, since in the latter case the poll taker's
personal views could tend to color the picture he reports.
Well, fellow OMs, most of you can begin to relax, for you may not have known up to now
just how grateful most wives are that you have and enjoy such a wonderful hobby as amateur
radio! Collectively this is exactly what they say, and they say it with undisguised enthusiasm!
Given their chance to take pot shots at our hobby, they rejected this avenue of reply beyond
doubt and went out of their way, through letters, to praise it highly. Now this is not to
imply that all wives think this way, for a minority do not, and some who praise it today did
not always favor it as they do now. A legitimate problem area exists or can exist in some
households where ham radio is an invisible yet most real "third party" for the wife to contend
Let's take a look in detail at what our wives have to say.
One would think that the monies spent by OMs on gear could be a source of friction in many
households. Probably because of the maturity of most hams, this simply isn't so. The wives
report overwhelmingly that these investments are kept within reasonable bounds, even though
the average station outlay reported is close to $1000 (ranging from $200 to $3000).
Some 86% of them felt the OM spends only what the family can afford and only after other
obligations are met. 10% thought the purchases are kept within reason even though the OM has
a tendency to overlook other obligations at times. Only 4% feel the husband spends more than
the wife believes should be spent, and there was not a single instance (0%) reported where
the OM spends money badly needed for family matters. There just doesn't appear to be an issue
on this aspect of ham radio. The few comments made were all favorable.
Amount of Operating Time
Nearly every hour spent operating in most shacks is time spent outside the circle of the
wife and children. Do they resent this exclusion? Far from it! Only 7% were of the opinion
the OM spends too much time on the air, time that should be spent with the children or on
other worthwhile matters. Some 52% believe the amount of operating time is completely reasonable
and, surprise of all surprises, there were 41% who would not object to more operating. Except
for a special situation covered later there are few wives who feel the OM goes off the deep
end on his operating time. Some comments are:
Missouri - "When an operator's children are young and still at home I
feel that after church activities, lodge meetings, Boy Scout business and other outside obligations
are taken care of, the little extra time left need not be spent with the children. When the
OM is operating its o.k."
Illinois - "I think my husband's ham radio is very interesting, It gives
him a lot of pleasure, and I appreciate having him home so much rather than having him gone
all the time for bowling or some other such activity, I don't always understand what he is
doing, but I enjoy seeing his engrossed enthusiasm when he is building equipment or operating
on the air."
Nebraska - "My dad is retired and also a ham. He cannot afford much, but
put his rig together and has a ball with it. I really love the guy who started this hobby.
My dad spends all his time at it. If it weren't for this hobby, I can't imagine how he'd spend
his time. This way he has no time to think of ever ailing! As for my husband, I would much
rather have him home relaxing and enjoying himself than out in some bar. So if he talks all
evening and is enjoying himself, he could be on all night if he wanted to. Life is too short,
and if this is such a great hobby that a guy likes it enough to really delve into it, he should
be able to."
South Dakota - "I certainly would not object to my husband spending more
time on his set. In fact I wish he could find more time for it. His job is very time consuming
and he is also very active in civic affairs. Our three children and their activities keep
him quite busy, I feel that hamming is a relaxing hobby for him and am very interested in
his contacts. I hope that some day our kids will also become interested."
Content of the OM's Contacts
This portion of the questionnaire dealt with the subject matter of the majority of the
OM's contacts, phone and/or c.w. They were asked whether contacts were usually with stimulating
people on interesting subjects, or did they deal mostly with the subject of ham radio itself
and perhaps seem repetitive and even dull. Here a greater diversity of opinion was noted.
75% thought the contacts interesting, and 25% thought them dull. The written comments did
indicate, however, that probably more than one-quarter of the wives do think the content of
the contacts is less than stimulating. Comments:
Florida - "I do enjoy the contacts with friends and family and the many
friends he has made on the air."
Illinois - "His phone contacts deal mostly with the trivia of ham radio,
yet I get considerable enjoyment from listening."
Ohio - "When our children are in bed in the evening, I join my husband
in his shack and enjoy listening and sometimes talking."
Indiana - "Let's face it - most hams are not very interesting or informed
on anything beyond equipment. Wish someone would invent a noise-squawk silencer for ham rigs,
as I would appreciate less yak-yak about equipment and more rounded conversations."
Ohio - "He has some interesting contacts when the people he contacts are
interesting, but from my experience most hams can only talk about antennas, ham gear, etc.
My husband prefers stimulating conversation but rarely raises anybody who has anything interesting
California - "As far as I'm concerned, the content of his on-the-air conversations
are of no more concern to me than my on-the-phone conversations with my friends are to him.
Personally, I believe hams could all benefit from knowing more about their fellow hams than
just the history of the other fellow's rig."
The great majority of wives (84%) feel that the OM's
antennas do not disfigure the home.
This was borne out further by the nearly complete absence of written comments on the subject.
It appears that those who feel otherwise (16%) do not hold strong contrary views. An explanation
for this may lie in the fact that nearly every home in America has a TV antenna, and one or
two more make little additional difference.
The OM's Interests in Ham Radio
The most popular aspect of amateur radio is rag-chewing, since 80% of the wives indicated
this activity on the part of the OM. Experimenting of one form or another was reported by
64% of the wives. DXing came next at 41%. with traffic handling and emergency communications
work reported by 25% and 23% respectively. Many commented favorably upon the fact their husbands
enjoy building some of their own gear in preference to buying it ready made.
When Ham Radio Can Be a Source of Friction
Ham radio can be a source of friction in some marriages either shortly after the OM obtains
his license or, if already a ham, after the honeymoon is over. This is the period when the
wife receives her first exposure to the hobby, and her reactions can be most antagonistic
if she feels her husband spends too much time hamming and not enough with her. Nearly all
the negative comments received relate to the period of the first few years when the wives
were adjusting to the presence of ham radio in their homes.
Generally it could be stated that the OM is at fault, although it should not be overlooked
either that some wives (bless them) are chronic complainers and others can be as selfish in
their demands as a man can be in his. Not all marriages are happy ones, either. Nevertheless,
some men unquestionably go overboard on radio at the outset. Later some bring hamming into
proper perspective, to the point where the wife then accepts it and often endorses it. The
following excerpts indicate this problem area and the manners in which some wives have responded.
Ohio - "I became interested in the hobby
when my husband did. Then it developed into a disease. For the next two years his hobby was
almost a "hell-on-earth." He was on the air every waking minute during the week and all day
Saturday and Sunday. We never visited friends, attended movies or even left the house in those
two years. His TVI problems irritated the neighbors, made him nervous and almost drove me
insane. Needless to say, what interest I had in the hobby soon faded. Then, after those two
miserable years, he slowed down to a reasonable pace. In fact, he gets on the air only a few
times a month. I would not care if he got on more often as long as he gets his needed sleep
at nights. I know a few hams' wives who have the above problem not only for two years as I
had them, but as a continuous problem."
New York - "My husband is an avid ham. He's worked with young hams, taught
radio classes and been active in a radio club. He works hard to support us and I feel that
any time he can find to "ham it up" is like frosting on a cake - enjoy it. I haven't always
felt this way. I do feel, however, that if a man enjoys his radio to his family then there
has to be something uninteresting in the family, and perhaps mother should look over her demands
on dear old dad."
Ohio - When we were first married ham radio was a constant source of friction
between us. Then I found that 90% of the ham wives had no interest in radio. When my husband
went to see a ham buddy, I went along instead of staying at home mad. I met the wives and
made many good friends. As to resenting my husband's interest in radio, I have just the opposite
reaction. Our nine year old boy seems interested in amateur radio. I encourage it, because
I feel it is one of the best hobbies a man can have. More wives should join in instead of
fighting it. They would find a lot of friends and a lot of fun. ot be hams, but show some
California - "My husband has been a licensed ham since he was 15. So one
might say he is a dyed-in-the-wool operator. For this reason I have come to like amateur radio,
following the well-known adage, 'If you can't fight 'em join 'em.' He is president of a mobile
radio club. It is unique in that it allows the men to pursue their hobby while also being
geared to please family interests at the same time. The meetings are open to women, and we
have potluck dinners preceding many of them. Some wives are paid up members and a few have
been elected to office. maybe if more wives were given the opportunity of belonging to a
group of this kind, there would be fewer bitter wives throughout the country."
It would be well if all husbands gave thought to the amount of time they spend hamming.
Despite the warm approval given by most wives, to the 7% who feel too much time is spent on
radio it can be a very real problem. At least try to learn whether your wife thinks you are
guilty in this respect.
It is evident that most wives are deeply concerned with the matter of their husbands getting
sufficient time to relax and enjoy some sort of hobby. Their hearty approval of ham radio
seems based upon their recognition that most men do work hard to support the family, usually
under pressures far more taxing than those confronting them as housewives and mothers, and
therefore they are most solicitous of the husband's welfare when he is home and away temporarily
from the eroding effects of his job. Wives think of it as a worthwhile hobby, in itself quite
interesting to many of them, but more so in that it keeps the OM by the family hearth and
by its very nature leads to socializing and the establishment of new friendships. Taken in
the overall they, just as their husbands do, find it hard to top. See if you concur in these
observations from these sample comments.
Florida - "My husband has always had what he wants for his ham radio.
He is retired and operates whenever he wants to. I do not object at any time. It has been
a wonderful hobby for him. He has had an ailing heart, so I am grateful that he can enjoy
this. It keeps him happy and contented."
Missouri - "He enjoys his ham contacts very
much. He have made many new friends, some of whom we visit. We have picnics each summer with
a group. Also I attend hamfests with him. We have had servicemen stop by to thank us for phone
patches he ran for them. Hams are a very nice group of people. When we built our home, one
ham got electrical supplies for us at cost, another did the wiring and a third helped finish
the walls. To me, ham radio is not only a hobby for my husband but a wonderful way to make
Washington - "I do enjoy ham radio. We have many friends in California
and have wonderful times at the s.s.b. conventions."
New York - "Since leisure time is at such 3. premium in our house, I must
say I do resent too much time spent on the radio. On the other side of the coin, I'm very
pleased that my husband has such an absorbing and enjoyable hobby, for now and for those retirement
years. He's made many friendships through ham radio. There is a lot to be said for it. Sometimes
the odd jobs don't get done around the house, but life being short as it is - guess I'll worry
less about the house and more about my husband's health and pleasure."
Kansas - "My husband obtained his license at a time when all we had was
32 volt power from a wind charger. He built all his own equipment and continued studying radio.
Later he passed a Civil Service exam and was hired by a government agency. So you see his
profession all started with ham radio. We have made a lot of friends through ham radio. Back
in the '30s we didn't have much to go on, but we had friends around that we would visit every
morning or once a week via radio. Today we meet hams who notice our license plate and stop
to chat with us. I would have liked a license myself except that the code was too much of
a problem for me."
New York - " As you see he has been operating for 32 years and that's
how long we have been married. We have made some very fine friends through ham radio; some
we have met and others (too far away) we hope to meet when we retire and have time to travel.
I think it is a wonderful hobby for any husband, as long as he keeps within the budget and
time of the family's pleasure. My husband has always been pretty considerate and I, therefore,
do not have any complaints against ham radio."
Wisconsin - "After a few years went by I finally accepted this hobby
of his as a member of the family. Now we get along fine. Recently, for the first time, he
put me on the air and I received the biggest thrill of my life to talk to these operators.
Now I am learning the code! My husband is real proud to take me to the hamfest they have here
every so often. He is proud also to tell everyone I am learning the code. Of course, to me,
it's such a thrill to meet the other hams' wives."
There was one letter that came quite close to embodying in its few lines the consensus
opinion of the many wives so kind to submit their thoughts, and about as fine an endorsement
as one could hope for.
Iowa - "I am happy to give you my opinion and reaction to my husband's
ham radio activities. First of all, I want to say that he built a lot of his equipment -
sometimes using 'junk.' I never cease to be amazed at his capabilities along these lines.
I can't remember that I ever resented this hobby, but I do know, as the years pass, I am happier
and more thankful that he has such an interesting (to him) and entertaining way to relax.
I have no interest in radio except for the enjoyment he derives from it. I'm hoping it will
help make his retirement years tolerable."
The evidence shows that by far the majority of ham husbands do keep ham radio in proper
perspective. As a result, their wives have become avid boosters, since they appreciate it
as a source of needed relaxation for their husbands and, frequently, as a source of friends
for themselves as well. Wives directly participating in ham doings have even a higher regard
for it. For a few wives ham radio is not a blessing in the home, but often these problems
work themselves out in time with the application of mutual understanding and common sense
on the part of the husbands. There may be too much chatter on the air about the hobby itself,
but the OM who wants stimulating conversations can get them going without too much difficulty.
In summation, then, wives rate ham radio as the best of hobbies for their sweethearts. Fellows,
be thankful for your good fortune!
To each wife who returned a questionnaire, the author extends his gratitude for permitting
him to put your story into words. Tnx and 88s.
Posted March 24, 2017