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 😁