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Staying active in Amateur Radio



Blog post category: Personal opinion

I keep hearing about how many HAMs are licensed but inactive. Some, we are told become licensed, get an HT, get on air for a few days, get bored and go quiet. Others, even old-timers, seem to be frustrated by over-bearing HOAs who will not let them put up antennas. And then there are those who are frustrated by the low point in the solar cycle and have decided that it's not worth the effort.

What is the proposed solution? I may be wrong, but it seems to me as though the large membership organizations in most countries are focussing on contesting. It seems as though contests are the best way, or so they think, to get on air. There is a second effort: digital. While some castigate FT-8 and the like, others say it brings younger operators into the fold.

The point is, I meet people regularly, usually because they see my call sign on some piece of apparel, who tell me that they are HAMs. They rattle off their callsign and then tell me that they've been inactive for x years. When I ask why, they actually don't have an answer. "I don't know, I've just not had time," is a common answer. I ask if it was money; not really they answer. Was it antenna restrictions? Some yes, most no. Was it just a lack of time? For some yes, for most no. So what is it? What is keeping people off the air and, more importantly, how do we get them back on?

Believe it or not, some HAMs, some of the active ones, are happier this way. They like the idea of fewer operators - more space on the bands for them. But most HAMs do want more participation. They realize that activity is what will keep the hobby alive, what will keep manufacturers interested in building modern tools, and what will keep people on-air to answer their CQ.

Where am I going with this? Do I have the magic bullet?

It may not be the magic bullet, but I do have what I believe to be a catalyst to growth. Amateur radio has become unexciting. Look at most online retailers. Look at Yaesu's website, ICOM's too. They're stale. The printed catalogs that come from the few large retailers look like a page out of a Radio Shack catalog from the sixties. Go to a hamfest or even Hamvention and you overwhelmingly see older people buying older gear in a building that is usually cramped, definitely not bright and lively.

I'm hoping that we can bring some color back into HAM. I think we need some excitement. And, believe me, it's doable. Many industries have fallen into a mothball state before, only to come back stronger and better than ever. Motorcycles in the 60s were, let's be frank, dull. Then something happened in the mid-eighties. The Suzuki Katana and the Kawasaki Ninja came out. There was the Interceptor and the Venture. Even Harley and BMW got fun. Accessory manufacturers followed suit. Helmets became fun again. Shoei and Arai came out with lively colors and new shapes. If you have time, go see some of the motorcycle retail sites out there. I'm not endorsing them, but check out Revzilla. Fun and informational, high-production value videos, modern web design, and a dose of fun and enthusiasm.

In an era of computer generated graphics, the Avengers and 4K TV, I think we can do better. I think we can make the hobby exciting again. Think about it, we send signals around the world. That's pretty cool! Let's make it cool! When I tell people that I spoke to someone in Melbourne from D.C., while in my car, and I emphasize that I am doing so without a 'network', it sinks in. They get it. Wow, really?

In coming posts I will try to elaborate on my ideas but basically, what I am saying, is that amateur radio needs a dose of modernity. SDR is a step in the right direction. Those scopes, in addition to being great operating tools, look like fun.

We need to 'swiffer' amateur radio 😁


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Hmmm…  A very big, very pertinent issue.  And one actually present in many “hobbies” in our country right now.  People are doing more these days, but not necessarily doing more with “traditional” hobbies.  And when it comes to communicating, smart phones and tablets are the way of the world now. 

I have been licensed for 25 years and for a while was fairly inactive.  I don’t recall what kicked me in the butt to get back into it, but I’m very glad I did.  Things have changed!  And these changes are probably part of the cause for many becoming less involved in ham radio. 

Take digital modes for example.  For both voice and data, we now have multiple modes available.  For those wanting to experiment, there’s always something to play with and learn about.  Similar but not the same as experimenting with antenna design and construction or building a radio from parts.  For a more seasoned ham, it is very different and may be a challenge of no interest.  For a newbie, it can be frustrating to figure out the possibilities.  Either way, a setback potentially leading to setting it down and doing something else with life.

Clearly there is something in ham radio for almost everyone.  But figuring out what it is for any individual to get them going and keep them involved is the challenge.  When I got started clubs and elmers were abundant.  Nets, drills, and activities were consistently available.  My interest was, and still is, emergency communications.  An elmer saw that and introduced me to ARES/RACES and activities before I even had my license.  Today I see much more old-timers cliques that are set in a particular way.  Clubs, nets, and activities are dwindling.  To find a group with similar interest, open to including a newbie (or outsider), and visibly willing to teach is challenging.  When I decided to learn about DMR, it took a bunch of searching on the internet to learn and then the groups I found to ask questions and learn more were actually on the air nowhere near me.  Much more challenging than when I started with ham radio 25 years ago.

Tie all of that to the belief that the internet, smart phones, and tablets are the meaning of life.  Yes, I can chat with anyone in the world and I can google the meaning of life (42) from my smart phone.  But even with public outcry each time a disaster interferes with cellular service, the need for alternate/backup communications is not actively addressed until it is a public outcry, and then only while it is in response to the outcry.  While my primary interest is not talking around the world by radio, I have enough interest in it to accept others that do and participate in their activities.  But many are focused on their “only way” to do ham radio.

These issues taint many things, most HR folks have similar issues.  How to recruit and retain the right people for the right reasons is an ongoing challenge.  How to stimulate a person with an appropriately fitting responsibility or task is the challenge of many supervisors.  I don’t have the solution, but I will continue to do my best to be involved, learn more, include those with any potential interest, and try to stimulate the amateur radio hobby that I enjoy and will be there when all else fails.

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You make several excellent points! Many of them I had not considered. Now, of course, the question is: what do we do about it? Or perhaps, can we do something about it? My answer was to create this Community. I felt that there was no place online that has 'successfully' incited conversation and collaboration. Will I succeed? Or rather, will 'we' succeed, because I am not alone in this venture. There are partners and there are members.

But beyond this Community, what needs/can be done? Most certainly, we will not stem the tide of digital development. The ham panorama will continue its race towards fracture.

My personal solution is clubs and places to operate. I have many ideas, actually I have specific ideas, but to make them a reality requires both a large community (hence this project) and some funding. Once we've grown to critical mass I will knock on some doors to see if there is buy-in with my vision. In the meantime, all we can do is spread the word that there are many tens/hundreds of thousands of us worldwide who really love this hobby/practice and intend to nurture it incessantly.

Thanks so much for posting such a comprehensive and well-thought response!!

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You've definitely taken a large step with this community.  I jumped onboard this early because I see its potential...

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