Later this year, the North American QRP CW Club will celebrate its twelfth year of existence. Birthed during a prolific period when many small ham radio groups coalesced into online radio clubs, the NAQCC has become one of the most successful of the litter.
There’s good reason why this club has continued to thrive where others have faded — you simply won’t find a more active or enthusiastic group of wireless telegraphers on the planet.
The timing was impeccable as interest in QRP activity was peaking in the amateur radio world around the time of the club’s formation. But you would be wrong to assume that the rapid rise of the NAQCC was merely a “fad” as sustained growth in the intervening years have proven.
John Shannon, K3WWP co-founded the organization (along with Tom Mitchell, WY3H) and was its guiding light over the first decade.
Shannon’s resume as a QRP CW operator is polished and he easily straddles the two centuries of our hobby – old school ham radio on the one hand, embracing the Internet as an effective means for spreading his minimalist view of amateur radio on the other.
The many activities of the NAQCC keep members as busy as they want to be on the air. That’s by design. While the NAQCC maintains a wealth of online resources to help new operators in the metamorphosis from beginner to seasoned operator, there’s an understanding among members that they should be on the air, not online — and to that end, the club doesn’t maintain a discussion-type mailing list.
On-air activities include regional nets, sprints, and challenges – like collecting letters from worked call signs to spell keywords. Special operating events are frequent and interesting, many of them taking place outdoors.
On a local level, there are seven chapters around the United States and overseas. These provide opportunity for fellowship, sometimes over coffee, breakfast or sharing a hamfest table.
This seems vital to the success of the organization given that it was created and exists in a virtual world. There’s no club headquarters, office, or paid staff. Its global presence and outreach exists by radio, the Internet, postal mail, and through local chapters.
When asked about those club activities he most enjoys, John Smithson, N8ZYA, Vice-President of the organization, said his favorite activity is the monthly challenges. He likes puzzles and the challenges are “much like doing the crosswords in the morning newspaper” – except it takes place via radio.
A particularly effective tool employed by the club is its monthly newsletter the NAQCC News. It appears as a PDF the first of each and every month. Trust me, this isn’t one of those clubs that publishes a “monthly” newsletter a few times each year as is common in our hobby.
Composed, edited, and published by club President Paul Huff, N8XMS, the publication shows up month after month, chocked full of club news, information, and member articles. It’s well-written and a joy to consume at a leisurely pace. The latest edition (April 2016) tips the scales at 49 pages – it’s more like a magazine than a newsletter.
Co-founders K3WWP and WY3H have since retired and moved on from their leadership roles. By all appearances, that transition has been smooth and seamless, a credit to the founders. There are plenty of reasons why such a change might threaten the continuation of any organization, but this has not been the case for the NAQCC.
Grounded on strong fundamentals and an abundance of enthusiasm, the future looks bright for this specialty club, and the legacy of John Shannon, K3WWP seems firmly cemented in this chapter of amateur radio history.
With over 8,000 members in all 50 states, 9 VE provinces, and 101 countries, the NAQCC might be be for you – if you’re seeking fun, new adventure, friendship, or something to rekindle the magic of radio.
Take a look at this video montage for a complete overview of the club and its activities.
Membership is free, and I’ve no doubt you will be welcomed with open arms.
It’s tempting to say that amateur radio is about to close the book on its best year ever.
The number of licensees is up, attendance at Dayton Hamvention was up, participation in contests and other on-the-air operating events is up, the number of ARRL members is up too. The League has spent much of the year promoting the Amateur Radio Parity Act in Washington and is seeing real progress on that front.
When it comes to publicity, ham radio is HOT. Not a day goes by without a news item about our activities appearing in major publications — we’ve finally figure out how to proselytize our service!
Yes, it’s been a very good year for ham radio and it’s certainly nice to savor this moment…
Now let’s look at the work that lies ahead in the New Year…
Amateur radio has weathered all kinds of storms, and there seems no immediate threat to our service. Of course, that might have been said by almost any US ham radio enthusiast on December 6, 1941 too. Still, our position seems as secure as it can as we face another year. But just like owning a home, our hobby requires constant maintenance and attention if we want it to be a secure dwelling that lasts a long time.
There’s always room for improvement, but I’ve compiled here a list of just three things that I believe to be the most vexing to the amateur radio service. These three things present a clear and present danger to our continued growth and enjoyment of the radio hobby.
Intentional Interference to DXpeditions
Whether you enjoy it or not, DXing is the crown jewel of amateur radio. There’s nothing else that we do that captures the imagination of fellow hobbyists and the unwashed masses, the way a DXpedition can. The human spirit craves adventure, like climbing into a boat to cross dangerous stretches of ocean only to arrive at some of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet, for the sole purpose of handing out contacts to home-bound hams half a world away.
It is exhilaration squared!
But sadly, there are a few around the globe who derive pleasure from interfering with the activities from these exotic locales. And it’s enough of a problem to erode the patience of even stalwart DXers to continue the practice. After all, major DXpeditions require untold hours of planning and preparation. Large sums of money must be raised and passage on planes and boats booked. Permission must be obtained from whatever country pretends to be in charge of some rock in the ocean. And having cleared those hurtles and being completely at the mercy of HF propagation, to beat all those odds only to be foiled by some idiot intent on jamming the operation — who wouldn’t throw in the towel?
With no hope of convincing all of the mentally disturbed people around the planet who own transmitters to cut it out, the big operations are turning to technology for a solution. Maybe it will work or maybe it will become such a hassle that we all just give up in despair?
This is a big problem not only because we could lose an integral activity inside the hobby, but if a handful of radio terrorists can so easily ruin a DXpedition, then it’s fair to question the value of our service during an actual emergency.
And yes, these same mentally ill terrorists jam those communications too.
We’re Losing Ground in the Brain Game
Life on this planet is driven by technology yet shockingly few of its inhabitants have a clue about how anything works. I’m purposely trying to avoid the phrase, “the dumbing down of amateur radio”, because it might offend, but I believe it captures the essence of a festering problem. Our hobby is based on radio which in turn, is based on electronics. The days of new radio discoveries made by teenage radio hams burning the midnight oil in their basement laboratories is long past. But there needs to be at least a modicum of knowledge to keep this thing moving forward.
I don’t believe this trend was caused by changes in amateur radio licensing methodology. Eliminating the code requirement didn’t suddenly make people ignorant. Rather, it mirrors the trend of the general populace who now carry more technology in their shirt pocket than we took to the Moon in 1969 and yet have no clue how any of it works — or harbor any interest in finding out.
Fortunately, radio has advanced to the point where high-quality equipment can be purchased ready to use. We no longer have to build our stations from parts salvaged from a junked television chassis. Not all of us will have the knowledge or wizardry to design advanced electronic circuits or develop cutting edge software. But all of us have the ability to understand antennas, radio propagation, to learn how to properly check into a net, pass traffic, or prepare for emergency communications.
If the sum of your radio knowledge is how to work the push-to-talk button and chew the fat with your buddies, you might have an amateur radio license, but you’re not a radio ham.
Local clubs could take the lead here. We need a “no ham left behind” training policy. It is virtually impossible to run out of ideas for club meetings. Sessions on how to build a dipole, soldering, how and when to best use radio filters, repairing a rotor, working a satellite with a handheld, how to call CQ, how to work DX — including a lesson on split operation. The list is endless once you fully buy into the notion that every radio ham needs to know a hundred things and needs to be curious enough to learn a thousand more.
It’s no coincidence that Apple has become the most valuable corporation on the planet by selling high-tech gadgets that “just work”. That attitude may work (for a season) in the outside world, but the contagion of not knowing and not caring to learn technical things is a certain slow death for amateur radio.
Declining Activity and Interest
I’ve saved our biggest problem for last. While amateur radio licensing may be on the upswing in the United States, interest in our hobby continues to wane. We’ve gotten really good at getting “them” in the door, but we’re downright lousy when it comes to inspiring “them” to take advantage of all this hobby offers.
All of us use the excuse of not having ‘enough time’ to do all the things we would like to do. But that’s something of a cop out. The number of hours in a day, week, month or year haven’t changed from one generation to the next. What we choose to do during those hours is subject to change. It’s an attention deficit problem. During those times I’ve become very passionate about a particular activity, I’ve managed to pursue it almost without limit. Admit it, you have too.
Over 700,000 licensees in the FCC database yet only about one-third of those are actually “active”.
350,000 Technician licensees are floating out there yet one of the biggest complaints in all of hamdom is that thousands of repeaters sit silent and unused. When the random stranger does break squelch, no one answers his call.
Full participation isn’t realistic. There are doubtless thousands who continue to hold a license yet now reside in a nursing home or senior living facility without access to radio. Some are young and busy with career or starting a family. Others have taken time off to pursue a degree or specialized training. Since licenses are issued for ten years with a grace period before cancellation, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that thousands of licensees are dead — their call signs not yet purged from the database.
Approach the data any way you like, it’s a major problem.
We’re going to have to discover new methods for getting hams motivated and activated. Sorry, the old ways are no longer valid. Just coming up with a new contest, for instance, won’t cut it because our lifestyle arrangements are considerably different in this new century. We’re more mobile, constantly on the move. Few of us under 60 years of age want to be quarantined in a radio “shack” for an entire weekend.
(I predict two-hour sprints will completely replace contest weekends in the coming decade).
The ARRL may have a hit on its hands with the upcoming National Parks on the Air event where they’ve combined the opportunity to operate from the trail with online ‘leaderboards’ to encourage further participation. I don’t know if this was intentional or merely leftover serendipity from their hugely successful Centennial QSO Party but it’s brilliant and we need more like it.
The decline in solar activity certainly won’t help motivate HF operators so we’re going to have to think outside the box. More VHF/UHF activities, six meters, and I’m hopefully optimistic that we will soon see a lot more ham radio activity in space — given the many new planned transponders and even a geo-synchronous payload.
Rekindling the flame for many who have lost interest and become radio inactive won’t be easy but it should become our top priority. In fact, I would suggest that clubs who are too busy cranking out new licensees to focus on this problem — are actually hurting the amateur radio service.
We don’t need more licensees. We need more active hams. Chew on that and see what you can come up with because, we need a solution and we need it fairly soon.
Ham club newsletters exist in abundance. Most to inform members about upcoming events or to celebrate recently concluded activities with words and pictures. But there are those that serve a much larger audience — with timely advice and stories that cover the broader spectrum of amateur radio.
The September edition is another good one. I’m reading ‘Adding an Amplifier to a Low Power Contest Station’ by Al Dewey, K0AD.
An there’s plenty more where that came from. Don’t miss it.
Tagged: dx, newsletter, tcdxa
Steve Weinert, K9ZW did a nice job sharing his take on comments from keynote speaker and ex-FCC General Counsel Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH from the W9DXCC convention.
Riley spoke about the need for compassion, even for those who intentionally disrupt our communications, and hinted that many disturbed individuals are veterans dealing with mental health issues. Given his previous position, he doubtless speaks from experience.
The vulnerabilities from our dependence on networked systems and the concern this is causing lawmakers fretting about a ‘Digital Pearl Harbor’ was another topic covered by Hollingsworth.
Stop by Steve’s blog and check out both thought-provoking posts.
Charming audio interview with Chuck Adams, K7QO on a recent QSO Today podcast. Chuck’s infectious enthusiasm for the hobby, CW, and especially his austere approach to getting on the air will delight many, especially dedicated low-power enthusiasts.
Don’t miss it and be sure to visit the program Web site as there are many links referenced from the interview. This episode highlights precisely why Eric Guth, 4Z1UG and his program are firmly affixed at the top of the ham radio podcast pile.
2014 was a stellar year for amateur radio. The year-long celebration of the ARRL Centennial was nothing short of fantastic. The QSO Party and the summer convention were major successes. Our hobby has never received so much attention by popular media. For one entire year, ham radio became the ‘Kardashian’s’ of the hobby world. The ARRL deserves most of the credit for their hard work and vision in promoting our hobby while working tirelessly to foster future growth and protect the valuable resources we enjoy.
Amateur Radio and electronics are woven tightly together and 2014 was without doubt the Year of the Raspberry Pi and everyone jumped on the bandwagon, including radio enthusiasts. It wasn’t difficult to find numerous ways to put these credit-card sized, $35 computers to work in the shack — replacing desktop computers employed for dedicated functions. The trajectory of this trend is nearly vertical and we can expect to see even more interesting uses from it in the coming New Year.
The HF bands cooperated with the major DX operations in 2014. In fact, what appears to be a double-peak in this current solar cycle created some real excitement — about the same time the experts declared us to be on the backside of decent and headed toward minimum. I’m amazed by the courage of operations like FT5ZM that moved forward with their plans despite predictions of less than great band conditions, and brought joy (and QSL’s!) to DXers everywhere.
Logbook of the World adoption picked up steam in 2014. The online service has now crossed 100 million confirmations and the number of users could cross 100,000 in the New Year.
Operators on the International Space Station delighted the world with SSTV transmissions in late 2014 reminding the entire planet that amateur radio still has a shack in space!
Amateur Radio really took to social media in 2014. Facebook and Twitter being the primary beneficiaries of Maxim’s progeny. The ARRL Facebook page has nearly 50K “likes” while its main Twitter account has over 20K followers. Yes, we’ve been tweeting up a storm and the @CallSign label appears on almost everything #HamRadio these days. This won’t last forever, Internet time moves fast and things change in a heartbeat online. Still, these forms of social media are continuing to expand and amateur radio seems firmly affixed for the ride.
Every year it seems we lose more of the old guard, passings that leave us feeling a little off-balance in our mission. 2014 was no different in that regard. Though many of our giants have left us, their work and inspiration continues — in us. That’s the point. The tasks that we undertake and share today, are passed along to tomorrow.
It’s been that way with our passion since the basement experimenters first began to decode the secrets of radio, and passed them along to the next generation of basement experimenters in order to perfect the art and science of radio.
And that work continues into another new year — a new century — a new millennium for amateur radio.
Nostalgia is a wonderful place of retreat to warm and nourish your soul but those are chapters in a book already read. RIGHT NOW is infinitely more exciting because we don’t know what will come next, but we get to write the next chapter!
Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: history
The ARRL Board of Directors has signed off on a plan to create the ARRL Library, an online repository of instructional and educational material — including submissions from members. The intent is to create shared resources for ARRL members and clubs, in support of their mission to “promote and advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio”.
Initially, curators will be looking for PowerPoint presentations on a wide variety of topics. According to their announcement, “if there’s a topic related to Amateur Radio that you feel would make a good club presentation — technical, instructional, historical, operating — you name it, you are welcome to create the presentation and submit it for consideration”.
Audio and video will be added at a later date.
In addition to these, the ARRL will also be accepting oral histories. Recording the stories for all time of the adventures of amateur radio enthusiasts.
It seems an ambitious project that’s loaded with potential. The new library is slated to go live online sometime in January 2K15 at this URL: http://arrl.org/library
Read all about the project on page 80 in the January edition of QST Magazine.
Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: arrl