Age Patterns in Operating Activities Among Canadian Amateurs

Results from the RAC Survey 2021

In a previous blog post, I showed the popularity of some 39 specific operating activities among Canadian hams using the national RAC Survey 2021. There were very small age differences in the average total number of activities. However, there are indeed clear age patterns in specific operating activities. This article presents those patterns as well as in the overall themes of operating.1 There are telling distinctions in these age-related operating preferences, ones that will likely follow the hobby over the next few decades.

Age Group Patterns in Specific Activities. Age differences occur in the adoption of some of the newest technologies emerging in the hobby. It is not surprising to the reader that this was by younger hams. Conversely, some long-standing activities with traditional appeal hold lower levels of engagement by younger amateurs. The line charts in Figure 1 compare a set of traditional activities with more recently-emerging ones, like digital data modes, that have become much talked about in the hobby. These represent some key age patterns in the RAC Survey of 2021.

Using traditional voice modes, whether SSB, AM or FM, has been a staple of ham radio for decades as has the original transmission mode, CW. Both are used at lower rates among young Canadian hams while they reach their respective zenith among the most senior group. Comparing this top panel with that on the bottom, there is a corollary with digital modes and mobile or portable operations. Younger hams say they do these activities at higher rates than older hams. The trend, like the comparable ones in the top panel, are mostly continuous and downward.

Chasing DX becomes more appealing during middle age and continues until senior status. The same is true for HF rag-chewing. These two activities may well typify many senior hams to the extent that these survey results reflect the country’s population of amateurs. By sharp contrast, it’s the data modes of all stripes, including satellites (including ARISS), drone operations, and telemetry that have higher participation rates among younger age groups. If it’s portable and digital, these younger hams are more likely to report that they are doing it.

This begs the question of Elmering activity. There is a higher percentage of teens that report this activity of coaching other hams than any other single group. But this age group is a small sample size (n=8) so it’s not a reliable estimate. The more conservative interpretation is that Elmering is mostly for those successively older in age. Peer teaching by young hams, however, is a clearly desirable goal.2 This survey just did not capture it due to the lower response rate among younger hams.

A strikingly age-graded activity is CW operating. Up to the age of 49, CW use is lower than 20 percent, or one-fifth of the full survey respondents. This increase to almost one-third for those in their fifties, and increases to a majority among those eighty or over. While there is anecdotal evidence that CW interest and practice is growing among younger groups in Canada and the U.S., this new data on activity participation casts a pall on any broad generalizations from those “feel-good” media stories. CW operation does appear at-risk of becoming more of a niche activity over the next couple of decades based on these demographic patterns.3

A final traditional activity, the restoration of classic radios, seems very fitting to be something that connects a younger period in life with an older one. This trend is found in the top panel but just not as dramatic as one could expect. It rises past ten percent during the fifties, increasing until the seventies among survey respondents.

Age Patterns in Themes of Operating. Because a number of these activities appear to overlap, such as DXing and Contesting or Public Service and Emergency Communications, I created summaries of homogeneous operating themes from them (see full report for details).  These are illustrated in Table 1.

Because of the concern about age in the amateur radio space, I have constructed line charts by age group for these themes of operating activity in Figure 2. I separated more conventional activities into the left panel and newer activities in the right (except for Mentoring). There are clear age patterns in these graphs. They tend to confirm the age patterns in the individual activities but they give a broader picture to the overall patterns.

Younger hams tend to be engaged in QRP portable activities as well as digital modes more than older operators. They tend to not get involved in competition, in contrast to much social media to the contrary. In addition, younger hams do not report traditional building activities or operations (CW) nearly as much as middle-aged or more senior amateurs. These are important findings for they fly in the face of some contemporary thinking by many in amateur radio.

The activities of competing against other hams as well as traditional experimental work and operations do not go above average activity levels until these hams reach age 50 and above. Traditional activities remain at these levels by age group. Competition tends to trail off after age 80, a result also observed in twenty years of U.S. ARRL Sweepstakes Contest data (Howell and Wright, 2021). They tend to be average or below in QRP portable activities and digital mode operations.

In the right panel of Figure 2, mentoring is something engaged in by all age groups above the average score with the exception of the twenty-year-old group. Younger operators report much higher participation in remote control operations as well as satellite work. Balloon operations are the third above average activity for younger operators. Super HF band work is above average for those from the twenties until the seventies. For the most senior hams, no activity reaches an average score except mentoring.


The findings shown here for younger hams versus those in the older Baby Boomer generation are much talked about in amateur radio. These national survey data from Canada confirm some of those observations but in specific ways. Younger hams are engaged much more in computer-based digital and portable operating activities that are newer developments in the hobby. The converse is true for more senior hams who say they operate in traditional ways but not as much digital or portable. The practice of CW mode is a rather clear example. Only some 15 percent or thereabouts of younger operators use CW while over 40 percent do among senior hams. Note that these are patterns for which some individual exceptions on the margins can also be true but the overall patterns remain. There is a clear age-graded transition afoot in behavioral practices within the amateur radio hobby.

Age-graded activities identify sectors of the hobby that may grow or decline in the future. Advocacy and Elmering can perhaps change those patterns but these baseline data are important to benchmark such future impacts. The irony is that the very activity of Elmering exhibits these same age-graded patterns: senior hams engage more in coaching than do younger hams. Thus, will relative youth reject advice to engage more in traditional operating activities when they themselves tend to embrace newly-emerging ones? Comparisons of the 2021 survey with another in the future will tell the tale of such potential change.


Frank M. Howell and Scott Wright. 2021. “Generational Change in ARRL Contesting: The Pending Demographic Cliff Ahead.” Retrieved at


1. The full report of my analysis, along with data from Statistics Canada and ISED, is published on the website as Operating Patterns Among Canadian Amateurs: Results from the RAC Survey 2021. Please see that report for details of this national survey of Canadian hams.

2. In Appendix B of the full report at, there is a chart (Figure B2) illustrating that participating in organized youth training activities (JOTA, YOTA) kicks in during the late twenties, peaking during middle age. Thus, the youngest hams do not appear to be engaged in peer teaching per se but younger adults do get involved in increasing proportions until their fifties.

3. Evidence from 20 years of the ARRL Sweepstakes Contest participation appears in Howell and Wright (2021). These results show a clear parallel of an incipient CW contesting decline in the ARRL Sweepstakes CW Contest.

Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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