Saturday, July 30, 2011

APRS Keyboard QSOs, where did they go?

Many years ago (around 1995 or so), in a land not too far away (Zebulon NC), Jay KQ4MS and I put up the first APRS node east of Charlotte. At that time, we were cut off from the outside world, and used it for our own local keyboard chatting. From time to time, we would have band openings, and could work guys out in the western parts of NC and into Virginia. It was a lot of fun! Some of us had trackers and could see each other moving about, but for the most part we had daily communications via APRS.

The clock spun ahead, and other nodes began to appear on the map. It was awesome, we could easily work folks on the keyboard every night over a 3 state area. Friendships developed, and things improved in the network. Lots of folks were getting interested and wanted to participate in this network of mostly low altitude nodes.

We continued to revolve around the sun, and newer protocols arose that really helped with the unwanted ping-ponging, equipment got better, and lots more hams appeared on the scenes. Many of us had a blast every night, making keyboard contacts all around, even through the I-Gates that were beginning to pop up, and the many HF gateways that would allow us to work folks all over the US via RF APRS.

Sometime shortly after that, a new breed of APRS ops began to emerge that discouraged keyboarding due to the increased overhead on the network. Some of us got blacklisted on nodes and could no longer communicate with each other, and other were publicly chastised on the APRS forums. I closed my APRS station down and moved on to other modes of operation that were fun for me.

I recently got back on APRS, and discovered the crowds that were _all about_ APRS, telling the rest of us "how it should be done", are no longer there. There is a moderate amount of traffic, but a lot of the folks who used to operate APRS are now gone. What a shame, but that is the cycle we so often see on various modes of Ham Radio... AMTOR, SSTV, 2m repeaters, etc... Those of us who have been in the hobby many years have seen this over and over.

I've been sending out a CQ on APRS when I'm in the shack, and have been pleasantly surprised by making keyboard contacts with others who are interested in doing the same thing, once again. The maps aren't as crowded as they once were, but there are still lots of folks who enjoy actually communicating via APRS, even for just a short "hello" and to set up a schedule on a repeater or HF.