The Woodlands is an unassuming little corner of Texas. Even locals are likely to fess up to the fact that it’s a somewhat uneventful neighborhood. The Woodlands is what town planners refer to as a “master planned community” — these days, a lot of folks might consider towns like The Woodlands just a little bit too planned out for comfort. The town’s founder, a wealthy oil investor named George P Mitchell, made no secret of wanting The Woodlands to “entice city slickers looking for far-flung suburban quality of life.”
All of this is well and good. Different strokes for different folks as they say! But it sets the scene for something weirdly discordant and surprising about The Woodland’s unassuming suburban persona: its vibrant amateur radio scene.
Is Amateur Radio A Scene, Exactly?
That’s a fair question.
After all, it’d be kind of weird and clunky to describe Twitter as a cultural “scene.” Writing emails isn’t a scene either. It’s just part of the weird communication technology fabric we humans rely on to exchange information with one another.
Amateur radio is a bit different though. It means something — something earthy; anarchic; subversive even. Without wanting to generalize too much, many people who dabble in amateur radio do so because it goes against the grain. It’s a way to talk without being just another cog in the giant machine that is social media. In some odd way, it’s out on the fringes. It’s communication from the periphery of modern society using outdated, anachronistic technology.
The Woodlands, Amateur Radio and Survivalists
Just take a superficial glance at the Woodlands Amateur Radio Club website and you’ll see hints of what I’m referring to. Front and center on the site’s discussion groups page you’ll see one of The Woodlands Club’s main topics of conversation: what to do in an emergency.
The thing about amateur HAM radio is that it’s remarkably robust. If something catastrophic happened, cell phone towers and Internet access will be among the first communication avenues to go.
Amateur radio is decentralized. If the world went to hell, you can rest assured that there’d be a thriving conversation happening across The Woodlands area about what to do next. Put simply, amateur radio is in the top five items any survivalist would have in his or her survival toolkit.
It’s kind of fun to think of this unassuming suburb filled with survivalists who are ready for that day when the sh** hits the fan! Zombie outbreak, nuclear war, mutant alien cockroach infestation — you name it — a solid contingent of folk in The Woodlands are going to be ready.
The Woodlands Sense of Community and Amateur Radio
The other quite surprising characteristic of The Woodlands amateur radio scene is that it’s remarkably outward looking.
When I first stumbled across this club, my assumption would be that it would be a haven for hardcore “tech-minded” types: You know the drill, people who feel more at home in a cramped little workshop than socializing with other humans. After all, amateur radio by its very nature is rather isolated as a hobby. The whole point is that you converse with people you can’t see!
But for all that, The Woodlands Amateur Radio Club is incredibly active. I’m not just talking about meetups with other radio geeks either. The club has subgroups who focus on supporting a wide range of local sporting events in The Woodlands. They also run a range of courses and seminars on how to use radio to keep the local community informed and safe.
It’s something of a mystery how a group of tech-minded introverts could develop such an outward looking and community minded identity, but it’s right there in their mission statement: “To develop our abilities, relationships and resources, so that we can be of help to others within and without our club, in times of plenty and in times of need.”
Kind of cool, huh?!
I Guess It All Boils Down to This…
It’s dumb to make assumptions about people!
Pop culture and social media fill our brains with these ideas about how technology-minded folk aren’t the same as normal people. Similarly, we’re fed this notion that people who plan out how to deal with end of world scenarios live off in a bunker in the desert somewhere.
But The Woodlands is a perfect example of how these stereotypes are … well… to put it bluntly, so much BS.
Geeks care about their community. Survivalists are suburb dwelling people holding down nine to five jobs and living with a mortgage hanging over their heads. They just happen to also have something subversive and odd about them — pretty much like almost every single one of us, if you scratch the surface and look closely enough!
Way back in the early seventies, a wealthy oil baron had a vision for The Woodlands. He wanted it to be a quiet, unassuming haven for “regular city folks.” And he got his wish, I suppose. The Woodlands is that place. However, it’s also more than that. It’s a home for regular people who are anything but when you look a bit closer. Maybe that’s suburbia down to a tee though! You see the white picket fences when you drive past. You see a lot more when you stop and stay a while.