Attracting Youth to Ham Radio: Get Out of Their Way!

Amateur radio has a demographic problem. In the U.S., there is a clear belief that members of the hobby are old. And getting older. What that means in actual age distribution just isn’t known. Unfortunately, our “visions of gray” are based not upon accurate scientific measurement but on the assembled impressions we get through our personal “windshields” as we go about our daily travels. It’s standard convention to hear us hams urge everyone in hearing or reading range: we need to get more young people into amateur radio!

But whose amateur radio? The extant one driven by us largely gray-haired middle-aged to geezer-dom adult (men)? Yep, that’s the one generally being referred to in this wisdom. Our collective strategy amounts to getting them to come to “us.” How’s that working out for us? Given that our knickers are a bit tangled up over the issue, I’d say not so good.

Lee Corso, the curmudgeonly ESPN television sports announcer, is famous for his Not So Fast! comment when he questions another view or approach to the featured college football game being broadcast. Our attempts to bring new, young hams to our clubs is, in principle, admirable and understandable. But how is that working? Imagine a hobby dominated by young people. Say, competitive eSports (video games). We geezer-dom adults are approached to come to a teen-driven club, learn about it, and then join to continue to attend each month. How many readers would find that appealing? I’d bet not that many.

Not so fast, says Lee Corso!

My recent interview in Episode 319 of the ICQ Podcast with Graham Brody KD9NTQ illustrates the clear market failure that this singular “come to us” approach has yielded. Graham’s interview suggests that while this is a good outreach program for many young prospective hams, it’s not enough to engage them broadly. And, it simply does not reach the market where the most likely candidates are socially engaged. Instead, Graham says help them get started…and get out of their way!

Graham KD9NTQ started the Illinois Young Ham Club to engage young people to converse about ham radio and grow into the hobby. We should listen to him and learn what one approach is to do what we collectively tell one another must happen. Talk is cheap. The walk, well, is just more effort. I’ll let you listen to my interview with him for the nuances of the details. But here are some bullet points that are take-away strategies.

  • Do encourage young people to get involved with adult-driven ham clubs. But then encourage, sponsor and assist them to create their own youth-driven groups. Get out of their way but be available to help when called upon!
  • Rich environments for exposing young people, both male and female, to amateur radio lie in Maker Spaces and Gamer Groups. Seek out, especially, maker spaces which tend to be advertised in local communities. Clubs should offer to give a demo—not longer than 30 minutes—without a lecture but with an actual demonstration of amateur radio operations.
  • ARRL and RSGB should “tag” youth-driven or youth-oriented clubs in their Find-A-Club databases. Graham found the North Shore ARC in the Find A Club database. The Illinois Young People Ham Club, for instance, should be tagged as a youth club as should any others. ALL ARRL-affiliated clubs should report annually the number of members who are less than 25 years of ago so the League can track them. This should be a bench-mark metric to gauge progress in recruiting youth into amateur radio and the League itself. (To my knowledge, the ARRL is doing nothing released publicly to track youth members or contacts.)
  • ARRL should offer a “build a club” set of actions to help young inquirers to the League start their own club. They will want to engage with others of a similar age range, Graham says, and the League should explicitly foster that activity, perhaps matching them with an existing adult-driven club for assistance. Be there if asked but get out of their way when they are enjoying the hobby! Walking the walk here as the League has already been talking the talk.
  • Should the ARRL and RSGB buy adverts (or give ad swaps) in gaming magazines, promoting ham radio contesting as a greater challenge? Yes! Track the “how did you find out about us” using conventional “use this code” tags in the adverts. If one thinks they’ll just run across QST at their local Barnes & Nobles, they are very sadly mistaken. Graham bumped into ham radio on Youtube!
  • Help them get launched. Get out of their way. They will grow into mid-adulthood and join our extant adult-driven clubs. Plant the seed. And get out of their way!

It is unfortunate that many organizations are heavily imbued with a “not invented here” mindset. That is challenging for outsiders to the inner circle of power to break through. See the thread and comment by W9WHE on eHam.net regarding the ARRL, for instance. There are many other examples of this opinion regarding the League. I suppose similar comments could be made about the RSGB, of which I am also a member. But whether “invented” by the central staff or Board of either organization, this teenager has given us a general road map to reaching young people, both boys and girls, similar to him: interested in technology but had to run across something called “amateur radio” on YouTube rather than the explicit efforts of the League. Quit talking without walking.

Graham’s a leader at age 15 already, just won his Extra license, and clearly has an understanding of many of these issues. We have to resist the conjuring up of all the reasons of why they won’t work from a geezer-dom world view. Well, a guy like me can dream, right?

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

10 Responses to “Attracting Youth to Ham Radio: Get Out of Their Way!”

  • Art WB2WFJ:

    Frank, the young hams club is a great idea. I was recently at the Vermont annual hamfest and the age of most attendees was closer to looking up at the ground than down, and I said something to ARRL regional leadership in attendance. The League does have ideas on growing the hobby with younger hams and, to be frank (no pun intended) the thoughts are interesting but involve newer modes that are often foreign to my generation. How to reach out with these new modes was not mentioned but the idea of getting young people together and sharing our hobby, and doing so through young hams clubs, is a solid idea. Thanks for your thoughts and keep ’em coming.

  • Frank Howell K4FMH:

    Thanks for the kind words and response. Graham’s interview will reveal much more (shameless plug for our podcast!). I appreciate the insight from the Vermont Hamfest, Art.

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Al n11xxx:

    Young people? There are clubs that can’t attract interest from “geezer-dom adults,” but fine business on insulting the very people you want to influence.

    I moved to a new area recently and joined the local club with 40 members. At each meeting the same handful of people show up.

    At one meeting the vice president wondered aloud why more members don’t attend.

    As the new guy, I did not say anything but my first thought was, “Why would they?” They are offering members an overly long business meeting that is hardly compelling much less interesting and nothing more.

    The club repeater is not used at all. I know the names of the people at the meetings but I have no idea what their callsigns are because they never use them on the radio.

  • Frank Howell K4FMH:

    Al (I guess that is your name),

    Thank you for taking the time to post a comment!

    I will admit that I burst out laughing when I read it. You take me to task in my blog post for “offending” the geezerdom adults I’m trying to influence while then proceeding to lambaste a club you attended for how they conduct their meetings and don’t use their repeater. Did you realize the hypocrisy there by chance? I don’t suppose any of the members you’re making fun of would read AmateurRadio.com, would they?

    As someone once said, The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable (or PO’d, depending on who is being quoted). My article may indeed offend some. But as the quote suggests, that tends to come with pushing for effective change. But it’s now about “their” amateur radio as my article said.

    You seemed to be annoyed at the adult-driven club you attended. I understand. No one wants to set through elongated business meetings without a dynamic program to give them something educational. Unless the purpose is simply to meet, usually eat, and visit, oblivious to new members. Those clubs exist but they are FAR FROM BEING ALL ALIKE. There are many active and dynamic clubs but they can change with transitions to poor, ineffective leadership in a couple years’ time. Your choices are to just don’t go to any clubs because you might attend a bad one. Keep searching for a club you think fits you better. Or get engaged and try to help make the ineffective club one that suits your needs. It ain’t dinner theater where you pay for your ticket, order your meal, and have it delivered to your table while you enjoy the show. It takes serving others, too.

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Pierre Berube K9EYE:

    I feel that you should also fo after the youth with disabilities, as a blind ham it is my social media. As long as the rigs are accessable, and Elmers help and explain.

  • Frank Howell K4FMH:

    Pierre,

    That’s something we can all agree on!

    73,

    Frank

  • Al n11xxx:

    Your article did not offend me, Frank.

    And I did not “lambaste” anyone, nor, at 68, am I “annoyed at the adult-driven club.”

    We come early to the meetings and stay late to visit. I wouldn’t call it a community, but rather a small group of friends who can muster the energy and motivation to get together once a month.

  • Frank Howell K4FMH:

    Al,

    Glad to hear that my article did not offend you. But clearly you thought it would offend middle to elderly hams in clubs as you said. I’ve addressed that.

    You could choose a different description other than lambaste, but this statement certainly leads one to conclude that you were dissatisfied at this particular club that you now say you come early to and stay late:

    “As the new guy, I did not say anything but my first thought was, “Why would they?” They are offering members an overly long business meeting that is hardly compelling much less interesting and nothing more.

    The club repeater is not used at all. I know the names of the people at the meetings but I have no idea what their callsigns are because they never use them on the radio.”

    I think it’s the “why would they” phrase that led me to that conclusion, LOL!

    I’m delighted to now learn that you consider yourself a small group of friends in that club!

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Jack KF7UDH:

    The high school that I attended (many, many decades ago) had a ham radio club, complete with a station (W7BPN). Friends of mine were active members, and that’s how I first became interested in ham radio — fascinated, really.

    My life took other directions after that, though, and I did not consider getting into it until just eight years ago. I’ve missed a lot along the way . . .

    Anyway, establishing a relationship with a local high school (or several) might be one way to find younger folks who could be interested, and if a school ham club could result, under the direction of a teacher who is a ham and knows what he or she is doing, that could work out very well, I suspect.

  • Zal VU2DK:

    I personally think—computers & all the modern tech has generated easier ways of communicating & this has changed the way—youngsters think about Ham Radio as a hobby—today, you don’t have to put in any special effort or experiment too much to communicate all over the world & struggle with bad propagation—its all there on your PC,Laptop & Mobile phone ! VHF/UHF has become so very interesting using Echolink & Repeaters all over the globe, so even senior Hams are using it—all very easy why get all involved with clubs & training, etc. Move with the times !!!

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

E-mail 
Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.



Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.


Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

 
We never share your e-mail address.

Please support our generous sponsors who make AmateurRadio.com possible:

KB3IFH QSL Cards

Hip Ham Shirts

Georgia Copper
Expert Linears

morseDX

Ni4L Antennas

Ham-Cram
R&L Electronics

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!


  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor




Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: