Traffic Handling

I have started handling traffic for the Philadelphia area. Hams have passed messages like this for over a hundred years. It works like a human powered internet. For a long time it provided a free alternative to commercial telegrams. Now it seems almost obsolete in a world where you can send a message around the world in seconds. So why do we still do it?

I remember after i upgraded to general, around age fourteen. I stumbled upon the Maryland Slow Net. An adult might listen for a while, research what they had heard, and maybe send an email. A kid won’t care, and will just send their call. I did exactly that. Despite the fact I had no idea what I stumbled into, and despite the fact that I live in Pennsylvania, they acted very friendly to me. They took me off frequency and kindly explained to me how a traffic net works. They began training me, and sent me some information in the mail, which my Mom had to read since I can’t see. Sadly I got out of the hobby when I went off to college.

When I got back into ham radio in 2019, I remembered the people and groups which treated me well, and the ones which didn’t. Getting on 80 meters (3.5 MHz) took some work, but I considered it well worth it. I knew I wanted to get back into traffic handling. Most traffic nets happen on 80 meters because the band offers reliable regional communication.

Two years ago, I took a class in traffic handling offered by the Pennsylvania Traffic Net. I learned exactly what I needed to know to check in and handle a radiogram, though it would take practice. Last year my brother put up a stealth end-fed antenna, which improved my performance on 80 meters. My friend Dan, W4GMN, swapped my AFCI breakers for regular ones. They did not like 80 meters, and would constantly trip. Now I could finally get on air.

Ham radio has so many wonderful facets, but a few months ago I started checking into the Pennsylvania Traffic net regularly. It meets on 3585 kHz at 07:00 PM local time. I practiced by copying the traffic sent on the net, and began an email dialog with Roger, N3GE, and Tom, KC8T. They answered all my questions, and finally I felt ready.

On may 20, I received my first message from Tom:

All messages are good practice including this one. 73.

73 means good luck and best regards. I made an error, but after another email exchange I knew what I did wrong

That night I also copied my first non-practice message. It congratulated a ham on his license upgrade. It had a wrong telephone number, so I couldn’t deliver it. I notified Roger, who sent a copy in the postal mail.

A few days later I copied another message. It welcomed a new ham to the hobby. The message came from Kate, K6HTN. It originated in Pasadena, California. From there it made its way onto the regional and state net, up to the national net, down to the eastern regional net, down to the 3 area net (area 3 includes Pennsylvania), then down to the Pennsylvania Traffic Net, where I coppied it using Morse Code.

Nervously I dialed the phone number, prepared to hand deliver this message of welcome over the human powered internet. I asked for the person by name.

“Well, I am his father.”

came the reply.

“Oh! Is he a young ham? I got my license when I was twelve!”

I had to repeat myself, probably because I felt so nervous and excited. The message asked for a reply, so he suggested texting it to him, and he would pass it onto his son. I immediately did. I haven’t heard back. I hope I didn’t freak out his father too badly. I remember getting similar messages and my Mom calling me to the phone.

On May 24 I sent message number 1 thanking Kate for my first QSP (relay). Since then I have exchanged a few messages with friends, and continue my training

As for why we still do it, I can think of a few reasons. Most importantly, it can still provide a way to send messages when all else fails. That last happened after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Additionally, it makes a great way to welcome new hams to the hobby. I can also tell I will have fun sending out radiograms to friends and random contacts. I recently heard a guy in a Philly row home who returned to the hobby after ten years. I sent him one to say hi and welcome him back. I could relate.

I like handling traffic in the Philadelphia area. Perhaps I will deliver a message to you one day.