Are American Amateurs Different?

I’ve noticed two things in recent years, and I’m not sure if it’s just me or I’m really on to something different with American radio amateurs.  The first observation is that there seems to be more “homebrewing” or construction of equipment outside of the US.  This isn’t to say there isn’t homebrewing within the US, far from it.  Obviously there is an active and vibrant QRP community in the US.  But as a general trend, there seems to me to be more equipment construction and “rolling your own” in other countries.  I’ve noticed with the number of inquires and feedback emails I receive for my open source amateur radio hardware projects, foreign amateurs outnumber US amateurs by a ratio of 10 to 1.  Most are in Europe, however I’ve heard from amateurs in India, Japan, Australia, and other countries outside of Europe.  I think US amateurs spend a lot of money on the hobby, but there seems to be more of a buy it and operate mentality where DX amateurs tend to be more frugal and more apt to construct things.

My second observation is that US amateurs seem more down about the future of amateur radio, in general, than foreign counterparts.  US amateurs tend to complain about the state of the hobby, ARRL, the FCC, code tests, incentive licensing, young people, etc.  US amateurs tend to be more negative online.  They’re much more apt to bring up partisan politics in QSOs and online, and they often make mental leaps connecting the perceived decline of amateur radio and the social and political climate in the US.

These are just observations, and I have no scientific data to back this up.  I’m especially curious about what radio amateurs outside of the US observe with those in their countries. Is the US unique in some regard with attitudes about amateur radio?  Do you feel there’s more low-level technical experimentation outside the US?  Is this all just my perception and not reality?

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to

12 Responses to “Are American Amateurs Different?”

  • Bill. AB9QU:

    I would love to build stuff. My hands shake and I am doing good just
    To put on a pl259. Maybe they build more in other countries because
    Of cost. Just guessing. I sure don’t know. 73 Bill ab9qu

  • Andrew, W8FI:

    I think in the case of the homebrewing and QRP communities, this may have to do with global location. It is harder to get DX from the US since we have just 3 large countries on this continent. In Europe, five watts will certainly yield you countries from all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. My first several years into HF operating was with an 817. It was fun, but it was hard. Americans tend to lead themselves into busy lives and QRP does not provide the means to make DX contacts quickly. If you’re into the excitement and challenge, as I was, then that’s great, but it’s definitely not for everyone, especially DX chasing US hams.

  • Richard KWØU:

    Not sure about the homebrew part, but this is a difficult time in America and, speaking very broadly, I think a lot of people have lost the expectation of a better future. It’s not talked about by politicians or the mainstream media very much, but there does seem to be a sense of national decline. (And no, it didn’t start with this or the last administration, though it may have been accelerating for over a decade.)

    And yes, the polarization of the country hasn’t helped; most people are towards the middle, but the loudest yelling and name calling is from those on either end making reasoned compromise much more difficult. (And it doesn’t help that more folks are getting their “facts” from those with similar opinions rather than investigating what is actually going on.) And perhaps if the active DXing ham population is getting older there’s an expected depression too (“In my day it was better….)

    Anyway, if these observations are correct, it’s no surprise that amateur radio would be part of the downbeat in mood. If everything’s falling apart, then the hobby must be too.

  • Marty AG3EK:

    If you look at discretionary income levels for the world’s countries, you’ll see that the US is in first place and the average American has a good 30% more discretionary income than the country that came in 2nd place- Switzerland. If you exclude the top 10 countries, we have almost double the discretionary income.

    That’s one of the reasons why people in other countries tend to make their own everything (not just ham radio equipment and antennas) and repair what breaks instead of replacing it.

  • John K0EBC:

    Richard is certainly on the right track.
    Our educational system has become one which prepares students to take standardized tests, not to analyze or think for themselves. Science and math in schools offer nothing more than regurgitating the textbook and not giving students the desire to learn and do more. This isn’t a recent problem. I turn crimson after reading poorly written emails from my daughter’s teachers.
    As a VE, I am part of another problem with Amateur Radio. Many HAMs today get licensed just to use their VHF and UHF privileges to operate radios in Search and Rescue operations. They have no idea of the wonderful and interesting paths being offered. In the many years I’ve been in this hobby, there are very few technical subjects I haven’t experimented with.

    Oops. It’s time to get off of my soap box.

    John K0EBC

  • Colin GW3WSU:

    I get the same perception

    of Hams in the UK I’m afraid.It seems to be world wide!

    73, Colin GW3WSU.

  • Martin HB9LEK:

    There is a certainly a worldwide trend towards ‘power socket amateurs’. But our hobby has so many facets to offer that there is certainly room for everybody. I see it as a normal evolution, not as a threat!

  • Fred- AE2DX:

    I have enjoyed building all sorts of electronic projects but the source of electronic parts is such that in order to build something I will first have to look in countless suppliers out of area to get the parts whereas before their were electronic parts paces all over. Even the once popular radio shack stores used to be a good place for small parts but not now their electronic parts supply is very limited. Even trying to salvage parts from used electronic gadgets is just about impossible to do because the new recycling at most land fills, I remember years ago being able to pickup broken and thrown out electronics but now they wont let you touch it or remove anything.

  • k8gu:

    Everybody sees a little bit different perspective on this and I’ll toss in a couple of more factors:

    Time. Homebrewing takes time and that’s in short supply for many of us. When I talk to my European ham friend peers, they have two times as much paid time off as I do (and I’m quite lucky compared to many).

    Economics. Not only might U.S. amateurs have a bit more disposible income and a bit less time, imported commercial electronics in some countries are taxed at much higher rates. A radio that might sell in the U.S. for 1200 USD is often 1400 EUR, which is a nontrivial difference.

    Like some of the other commenters, I have bemoaned the devolution of amateur radio in the U.S. from a technical hobby to a communication hobby to a “when SHTF” hobby. What’s left after that? Keep on homebrewing. Keep on operating CW. Keep on Elmering. Keep on enticing and training the next generation of scientists and engineers. Keep on (or get back to?) bringing people together. Keep on doing cool things, Amateur Radio.

  • Peter kg5wy:

    Don’t have to justify it. Your observations are TRUE.

  • Thaire Bryant. W2APF:

    Our numbers continue to grow in the US, not so in Europe. In Germany, for example, the number of amateurs has declined each year for at least the last three.

  • Andy KD4UKW:

    I agree with just about all that was said above. I try not to get into political disputes online, though I have strong opinions. [I just deleted a paragraph I had written about the American political climate.]

    One thing I would add is that many countries levy astronomical duties on imported electronic goods. Purchasing commercial rigs from the likes of Yaesu / Icom might already be a financial stretch. Add hundreds of dollars in potential tariffs, and the only economical choice for many is to homebrew.

    Marty is right on the money (pun intended) about discretionary income. In the USA we have a high discretionary income and a very low effective tax rate, compared to other industrialized countries.

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