Was Ham radio the first true social network? @JeffPulver and I think it was

 In social media

I met up with @JeffPulver again on Monday in New York at the Pivot conference.

He was speaking on a panel at a CMO lunch organised by @JeffreyHayzlett and we chatted afterwards.

On the panel, Jeff mentioned that he was a Ham radio operator. For those Generation Y/ Millennials out there, Ham radio (also known as Amateur radio), describes the use of “designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication.”

Ham radio operators are well known for providing assistance in natural disasters when all other communications have failed.

Jeff mentioned his message to @usairforce during the Haiti earthquake when Doctors Without Borders tweeted they could not land their plane.

@AnnCurry famously tweeted

@usairforce find a way to let Doctors without Borders planes land in Haiti: http://bit.ly/8hYZOK THE most effective at this

which went on to be voted the most powerful tweet of 2010.

Jeff mentioned he retweeted this and was then followed by @USAirforce.

When Jeff mentioned he is a Ham radio operator, I thought back to 1985 when I was at School in Adelaide, and was part of an after-school ham radio club.

The power of global communications became clear when I contacted a US expat in Japan using the 15 metre (21MHz)  band.  I found him by transmitting “CQ DX this is VK5ASP” which translates to “is anyone out there that would like to talk to me, I am in South Australia”.  The Vk5 part of the callsign identifies this.

Later on, I sat for my own amateur radio licence and was granted the callsign VK5ZEZ (I no longer a a licenced amateur radio operator).

After the session at the Pivot conference, Jeff and I remarked that ham/amateur radio is probably one of the first examples of “social” media – when dissected we can see the parallels – namely:

  1. it is a broadcast mechanism – anyone “tuned in” to a specific frequency can hear you
  2. It identifies each person uniquely by a callsign (and tells you where they are in the world by the callsign)

  3. Contains people that are generous and want to help you (this has always been true of ham operators)

  4. It is two way in that one person speaks (transmits) and others listen, then it is your turn to join the conversation

Jeff and I talked about CB radio vs Ham radio and agreed that CB radio was a bit like spam (anyone could buy a transmitter and start talking), however with ham radio, you must be licenced and take a test.  This means that other ham radio operators know that you have a certain level of proficiency and know the “rules” of the community.

So in many ways, not only is Ham radio probably one of the first examples of social media, it also accurately describes a global community.

UPDATE: Since writing this post in 2010, I presented at TEDx London Business School where I spoke about how social networks have changed over the last 2000 years, including the first “iPad”, which was a wax tablet.

Worth a watch below.

Video Thumbnail

While you are here ...

Did you know that Andrew also speaks regularly on topics such as this at conferences and events around the world.

You may wish to view Andrew's extensive speaking portfolio at practicticalfutur.ist.

If you enjoyed this blog post you may like other related posts listed below under You may also like ...

To receive future posts you can subscribe via email or RSS, download the android app, or follow me on twitter @andrewgrill.


Based in London, Practical Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and commentator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.