Ham Radio's Technical Culture

From Inside Technology

Ham Radio's Technical Culture

By Kristen Haring

A history of ham radio culture: how ham radio enthusiasts formed identity and community through their technical hobby, from the 1930s through the Cold War.





A history of ham radio culture: how ham radio enthusiasts formed identity and community through their technical hobby, from the 1930s through the Cold War.

Decades before the Internet, ham radio provided instantaneous, global, person-to-person communication. Hundreds of thousands of amateur radio operators—a predominantly male, middle- and upper-class group known as "hams"—built and operated two-way radios for recreation in mid twentieth century America. In Ham Radio's Technical Culture, Kristen Haring examines why so many men adopted the technical hobby of ham radio from the 1930s through 1970s and how the pastime helped them form identity and community.

Ham radio required solitary tinkering with sophisticated electronics equipment, often isolated from domestic activities in a "radio shack," yet the hobby thrived on fraternal interaction. Conversations on the air grew into friendships, and hams gathered in clubs or met informally for "eyeball contacts." Within this community, hobbyists developed distinct values and practices with regard to radio, creating a particular "technical culture." Outsiders viewed amateur radio operators with a mixture of awe and suspicion, impressed by hams' mastery of powerful technology but uneasy about their contact with foreigners, especially during periods of political tension.

Drawing on a wealth of personal accounts found in radio magazines and newsletters and from technical manuals, trade journals, and government documents, Haring describes how ham radio culture rippled through hobbyists' lives. She explains why hi-tech employers recruited hams and why electronics manufacturers catered to these specialty customers. She discusses hams' position within the military and civil defense during World War II and the Cold War as well as the effect of the hobby on family dynamics. By considering ham radio in the context of other technical hobbies—model building, photography, high-fidelity audio, and similar leisure pursuits—Haring highlights the shared experiences of technical hobbyists. She shows that tinkerers influenced attitudes toward technology beyond hobby communities, enriching the general technical culture by posing a vital counterpoint.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262083553 238 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 30 illus.


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262582766 238 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 30 illus.


  • ...an insightful historical exploration into the emergence and continued viability of ham radio over the course of the past eight decades.

    Amanda R. Keeler

    Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies

  • Chapters dealing with the historical relationships between manufacturers of radio equipment and amateurs (in which Haring includes an examination of the significance of the kit building phenomenon upon the development of Amateur Radio); the role played by amateurs within technical professions in what Haring calls a 'complicated hybrid identity' that pitted professional affiliation against amateur individualism; and the ways in which Amateur Radio fought for and preserved its place in American society during the Cold War and Vietnamall are well worth the reading for the fascinating historical picture they present.

    Gil McElroy

    QST magazine

  • Drawing on archive material, Haring composes an account as interesting to the historian of technology as to the cultural geographer with interests in concepts of home, leisure, masculinity and technology...Haring succinctly captures the hidden world of the radio ham, adding a charming dimension to cultural geography's current fascination with more advanced scientific and technical cultures.

    Hilary Geoghegan

    Cultural Geographies

  • Haring provides a fascinating interpretation of ham radio as 'a socially sanctioned escape' for men within the home.

    Douglas Craig

    Technology and Culture

  • In this engaging study, [Haring] has constructed the story of a particular (and peculiar) technology and the cultish, fraternity-like following that sustained it for decades.

    Reena Jana


  • Kristen Haring has written a valentine to the ham radio community.... [The book] situates radio hobbyists not only in the technological realm but within the worlds of work and home, as consumers and as contributors to civil defense.

    Michele Hilmes

    The Wilson Quarterly

  • This book will help us better understand ourselves.

    William Klykylo (WA8FOZ)

    CQ Magazine

  • With its detailed and interesting analysis of the interaction between technical cultures and technical identities, [this book] makes an important contribution to technology studies. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in the complicated interactions between technology, culture, and society.

    Sungook Hong



  • Although approximately one million Americans operated ham radios in the course of the 20th century, very little has been written about this thriving technical culture in our midst. Kristen Haring offers a deeply sympathetic history of this under-appreciated technical community and their role in contributing to American advances in science and technology, especially the electronics industry. In the process she reveals how technical tinkering has defined manhood in the United States and has powerfully constituted 'technical identities' with often utopian, even, at times, revolutionary, notions about the social uses of technology.

    Susan Douglas

    Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan, and author of Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination

  • Kristen Haring has constructed an engaging account of ham radio culture in mid-twentieth-century America. In so doing, she illuminates how people assign meaning to and identify with technologies of all kinds, thus her book will be of value to all students of technological culture.

    Emily Thompson

    Professor of History, Princeton University