Archive for the ‘arrl’ Category

HR2.0 – ARRL West Gulf Division Candidate Interviews 9/28/2019

I had the privilege of recording an interview meeting between the two candidates running for ARRL West Gulf Division Director, in Houston this past weekend.  We were able to livestream the event on Facebook, but the YouTube livestreaming ports were blocked at the meeting location.  However, I did also record the meeting to disk and was able to clean-up the audio a bit, and now the raw video footage has been posted to my YouTube channel.

For those in Texas and Oklahoma who are interested in your ARRL Leadership, please see the video below.  The session is 2-hours long, but some good questions were asked and answered, and I think both candidates gave a good idea of their vision for leadership inside of the League for the West Gulf Division.

Here are the website links for the candidates also:

N5AUS’ Election Page:
W5MJ’s Election Page:


Ready, SET, Go! No, It’s a Drill…

Today started early, about 5:30am or so, getting email, RSS feeds, and social media perused, worked or avoided so I could communicate on behalf of the Mississippi Section ARES Simulated Emergency Exercise (S.E.T.) from 9am-9pm. I won’t work the entire 12 hours but I did assist our RACES Director, Mike N5DU operate the MS Emergency Management Agency’s EOC Radio Room. A few other hams, like Todd K5TDD, Bob KG5ZDZ, and Jim K0UPW (newly relocated from State of Washington) also came by to assist.

Mike N5DU has a RACES Team that he is growing, putting together continual training for those who can be deployed to other emergency zones around the country and those who will remain local (like me) to operate either at the MEMA Command Center or sheltered in-place at their QTH. It’s always a growth process as volunteer hams come and go, tire of EmComm, or leave our midst due to health reasons. But it takes organized, thoughtful, and diligent leaders like N5DU to keep the ball rolling.

K4FMH (left) assisting Mike N5DU at Communications Center, MEMA

MEMA has grown in it’s technical capability since the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Our team working the SET today got a tour of the Command Center when integral state agencies, non-government organizations, and selected others have designated “seats” in front of PCs on the floor of the Command Center. The facility meets federal security standards specified by FEMA, Homeland Security, and other relevant regulations.

Our THIS IS A DRILL scenario today was at sudden, significant seismic activity at the New Madrid Fault in Northeast Arkansas. It is pronounced New Maaa-drid, unlike the city in Spain, commonly pronounced Ma-DRID. I texted our Section’s Emergency Coordinator, Robert KC5IMN, the correct pronunciation to relieve him of future abuse at the hands of Emergency Coordinator’s near Memphis!

New Madrid Fault Zone

We had a good response and participation during the first four hours with one-hour shifts for net control operators around the state. Steve K5OMK in Starkville did a great job as did the ARES Team in Starkville. They had a lost person beacon chase (successful) in addition to the earthquake activity. I guess that was simulated preparation for the start of Southeastern Conference Football weekends in StarkVegas. Operators in Houston, Vicksburg, and elsewhere worked until we closed the MEMA EOC operation about 12:30pm. They are still at work as I write this blog post. As Assistant Delta Division Director, I’m proud of the work that Malcolm W5XX, Bob KC5IMN, and Mike N5DU have engaged in this annual activity.

The MS Section finished # 1 in ARES Section rankings for the SET in 2018. Whether that ranking continues this year matters not, if we all get more effective, efficient, and engaged in bringing our amateur radio communications game to a higher level. You keep score to motivate teams to get better, not to just win rankings, when lives are on the line. Thank God, it’s just a drill today.

Here’s a gallery of pictures from the MEMA Command Center, Levels of Activation, how this agency is organized into regions, and the radio network operating in the State, called MSWin. A staffer at MEMA today kindly gave us a brief tour.

Bummer: Work Howard Event Canceled

A solid 1960’s saying for disappointing but not tragic events was … bummer! That’s fitting for this announcement from the ARRL with the ICQ Podcast’s endorsement. We’d certainly not want an event, no matter how exciting, to get the W1AW station license in dutch with Part 97. After all, the League should lead by setting examples of following the rules.


“Put Howard to Work” Event Canceled
Earlier this week, ARRL announced that ARRL CEO Howard Michel, WB2ITX, would be on the air at W1AW on Monday, May 13, giving ARRL members a chance to chat with the CEO and get to know him better as a ham. An issue was raised, however, that this event may pose a potential FCC rule violation.

The particular rule is §97.113: “A station is also not allowed to transmit communication in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer.”

Given that ARRL is Michel’s employer and that an effort was made to publicize an event at which members of the organization could chat with the CEO, such an event could be perceived as a benefit to the organization. So, out of an abundance of caution and to avoid any potential violation of FCC rules, or even the appearance of a violation, Michel has decided to cancel plans for the “Put Howard to Work” event.

“I’ve operated W1AW before and will continue to do so in the future,” Michel said. “I hope to meet many of you on the air, but only as part of my regular ham radio activities and not as part of an ARRL-promoted event.”

The “Put Howard to Work!” event was conceived by the ICQ Amateur/Ham Radio Podcast, on which Michel was a guest on March 31. “We are disappointed, of course, at this turn of events but fully understand and endorse ARRL’s decision,” said ICQ Podcast Presenter Frank Howell K4FMH.

Put That ARRL CEO to Work, Would Ya?

In a recent episode of the ICQ Podcast, I had Howard Michel WB2ITX as my interview guest. He’s the CEO of the American Radio Relay League as of late last year. It was important that Howard get interviewed about League matters as he was hired after a brief misfire to replace the legendary CEO David Sumner K1ZZ. As I told ARRL President Rick Roderick in the Q&A session with him a year or so ago at the Mississippi Section Convention in Jackson, MS, “You guys made a mistake in hiring someone from Wall Street to be CEO of a membership non-profit organization. Don’t make one again.” My Division Director, David Norris K5UZ, was seated in the row in front of me, nodded his head and turned to give me a knowing look. From my interview with Howard Michel, and from what else I’ve seen coming from him, they did not make a mistake.

One of the strategic matters that this new CEO faces is the common perception that Chief Executives are walled-off from the organization’s customers or just come out of their catacombs to glad-hand, smile, and ask for something.

Indeed, if you listen to my interview with him here, I think you’ll find that he has a clear but not tight-fisted vision for making the Headquarters more customer service oriented, inclusive, and modern in it’s business operations. This should yield better service experiences for members. Perhaps equally important, it may attract new members to the League as the 150,000 or so current members pale by comparison to the 750,000 licensed hams in the U.S.

One of the strategic matters that this new CEO faces is the common perception that Chief Executives are walled-off from the organization’s customers or just come out of their catacombs to glad-hand, smile, and ask for something. As error prone as this perception is, there is enough of an everyday reality that validates it to the rank-and-file customer base to make it the default mental setting, so to speak. In addition, there’s the “We’re the ARRL. And You’re Not!” barrier (apologies to the comedian Chevy Chase of Saturday Night Live fame).

As I was listening to Howard respond to my questions, I was pondering these matters. It hit me that it might be informative for all involved if there were opportunities to interact with Howard as just another ham operator so as to “see” him that way as opposed to a mostly a face with a monthly column in QST or on the pages of the ARRL’s website. An idea was formulated on the spot: get him on the air in a mini-event so as to work Howard on the air at W1AW!

Howard WB2ITX at W1AW
(original photo courtesy of ARRL. Graphic rendering by Frank K4FMH

So I sprang this on him without any real sense of how he would respond by asking a one of my final questions: How’d you like to make some news? I proposed that we set up a date and time to appear on W1AW’s station on 20 meters and let the ICQ Podcast team promote it as a joint mini-event where hams could “put the CEO to work” by working WB2ITX on the air. He immediately caught the humorous pun in this and agreed enthusiastically.

Please put May 13, 2019 at 2:00pm Eastern Time on your calendars. Tune your antennas, rigs, and amplifiers (if you have them) to 14.254+/- and put that CEO to work! Howard promises a special QSL card from the League HQ for worked contacts.

About That (Expletive) ARRL Proposal to Give Technicians The Whole World

It is my observation that by enabling someone a taste of what can be accomplished on HF (shortwave) spectrum, especially using one of the newer digital modes, that someone has an opportunity for inspiration, perhaps enough to catch the HF fever that is required to move that someone from entry-level to experienced, skilled expert. Right now, the regulations limit the Technician-level license holder to digital operation only on bands that barely propagate (if at all!) during the weak solar cycles. It is a far stretch to postulate that having privileges on dead bands will inspire exploration and tempt the operator to upgrade to a higher license class.

I believe that Technician-class priveledges should be expanded so that entry-level amateur radio operators can get a practical taste of effectively-propagating HF signals on lower frequencies than those frequencies currently available to them for digital operation. And, the allowed mode on these subbands should include digital modes. This “would encourage a sustained interest in Amateur Radio and encourage further development of knowledge and operating skills,” a concept already proven by General-class operators that get enough of a taste that they then pursue the Amateur Extra license.

Comments to me are below the following video section. I also include my response.

In the following video, I share my opinion regarding the ARRL asking the FCC to grant more operating privileges across the many amateur radio allocations on shortwave (HF, or, High Frequencies). The video is my brief takeaway of ARRL’s petition: What is the issue, as a whole, and what the ARRL is addressing–the lack of desire by most current Techs to upgrade. The logic of my perspective concludes that if you give them a taste of lower-shortwave propagation and excitement, then they will want to upgrade. This logic is already proven as applicable by the fact that the General class exists. All this proposal will do is allow the tech to experience what could be very attractive. Just like for the General.

The next two videos are addendums to the first video:

I made a few technical mistakes in the first video. The last video contains corrections and further comments.

Comments Received, and My Response

I have received many responses–some in opposition, some in support. Here are example contrarian responses along with my reply:

[Dear] Tomas David Hood[:] Something for absolutely nothing has never taught anyone anything good, but to want another free lunch. 35 multiple guess easy questions was all that was asked to get general class privileges, but that’s just too hard for the current class. Something for nothing is what sell today, and the ARRL, and probably half the country thinks socialism is the way to reach the new hams I guess. But the ARRL will never get another dime from me. You want a trophy or additional privileges, Get them as everyone else did,, Work for them, study, just a little is all that was asked. Remember, If it didn’t cost anything, it probably isn’t worth anything!

If they are not willing to take a simple test, and yet they want to upgrade, then yes they are the same as saying that we are asking too much, but would participate, you are suggesting, as long as it didn’t require any work or effort on their part, Its a shame.. And I am embarrassed on their behalf… Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could pass that test, but she would probably agree with you, that people are asking them to be smart and study, and that’s somehow probably racist and just over the line for you.

At this point the ARRL should just say, we are not protecting the spectrum, but about selling the ham radio spectrum to the highest bidders. In this case, they be;live that will be the techs who will purchase HF gear, and of course, the ARRL will benefit hugely from the equipment makers desire to market to the group.

My response is:

What the heck is wrong with selling radios?

But, seriously, which of the many Technicians say that they want to upgrade? That’s the point: the majority of Technician-class amateur radio operators are not upgrading. They get on VHF and above, and are stationary, with few realizing that there’s so much more than the aspect of the hobby evident in their local community.

With little to no exposure to other aspects of the hobby, the typical ham in the current ham-radio culture settles for what is presented by local mentors. Weather spotting, DMR, etc.

Because they have current HF privileges that have so little practical use (CW only on lower frequencies; voice on 10 meters which doesn’t propagate well during this period of no sunspot activity…), they see no incentive to delve into what appears like a waste of time.

The proposal is not giving away the farm. It simply adds a small slice on a limited set of HF bands (but where a signal has a better chance of propagation), allowing for Technician-class operators to get a real sense of the potential waiting for them if they pursue the General.

Then, once upgraded to General, they get even more exposure, and hopefully, see why it is great to be an Amateur Extra.

Tomas David Hood what’s wrong with selling radios. Nothing at all, but if I removed the test that drivers take to show they understand the rules and how to drive, then I can sell more cars and more insurance to poor drivers. Do you or anyone else think that’s a good idea. A few tech’s putting their hands on the plate of those high voltage amps, and maybe, just maybe, someone will believe me when I say some basic testing should be required for HF privileges. Now, all they will have is a cereal box license in my book, and in the opinion of many of my friends, so it;s not just me. If I am wrong, then there are a lot of people that are wrong like me, and they will fight for there hobby. I am a ARRL VE, but I will never test another Ham if this goes through, and I will spend the rest of my days making sure any newcomers realize what the ARRL did to what once was a good hobby, and how a few people didn’t seem to understand why giving away free privileges is always bad for our society, and always bad for our hobby.

Actually I have a real case study that is local,, and yes the guy doid put his hand on the plate, and yes he hit the floor.. and yes, after I found out he was ok,, I think it’s plenty funny,, Yes, they need to study more than that.


Your argument that Technician-class operators will kill themselves because the test is so easy that they will end up electrocuting themselves is yet another Red Herring. Technicians play with dangerous VHF, UHF, SHF equipment, with ominous dangerous aspects deserving respect. If you really think that the General test is the difference between life and death, why even worry? The number of technicians will be nicely reduced to a more acceptable, comfortable number.

I’ve seen Amateur Extra-class operators do the same sort of dangerous, life-threatening stunts.

The issue you are highlighting is a different problem that must be solved separately from the idea of creating a more practical incentive; all tests should be improved in such a way as to foster greater technical knowledge and awareness of all aspects of the hobby.

Better mentoring. Less us-vs-them. More education. More community. All of these should be explored and enhanced. Solve the problem, instead of ostracizing. And, realize that this proposed change is NOT a dumbing-down maneuver to give away the ham radio hobby to the unclean.

Is Your QST App on iOS Busted? Ours is too…

UPDATE 3.25.2019 I received an e-mail from Bob Interbitzen NQ1R at ARRL that the “fixed” updated QST app from PageSuite, Version 5.1, is now available at the Apple App Store. He posted a note on the ARRL website here. It updated on my iPad as usual and I was able to download the April QST issue. I had to download all of the back issues (I’d previously deleted the app trying to see if that would fix the issue to no avail as described below.) The larger issue regarding the reliability of the custom QST app remains.

Oh, at least 15 years or so ago, a university team in the UK came up with an electronic ink (e-ink) technology for an 8″x11″ format thin tablet for office use. It was going to revolutionize photocopying by reducing the need for it. Recall when corporate (and university!) meetings would be held after burning down the photocopier with reams and reams of memos, white papers, and so forth? The team in England had a budding product that would just nip that in the bud. Except, it never got released. It just wasn’t ready for market. The team went back to the drawing board and disappeared from the marketplace.
Is your QST app busted? Ours is, too!
A few years later, Apple released the iPad line of products which accomplished nearly the same thing. Many corporate and other large organization’s ship documents and memoranda prior to a conference room meeting out to the teams involved by email or intranet. But the eDocument tablet like the iPad has also changed commercial publishing in the print media — newspapers, magazines, and books. Amazingly so! Still, I have a rack in my attic that is almost full of past copies of QST, Monitoring Times, CQ Magazine, and a few others. I am about to dump them all but will likely just donate them to hams at club meetings rather than literally send them to the dump. I actually read those magazines on my iPad (the MT successor is only available by downloadable PDF.) And, I’ve dropped my subscriptions to the other ARRL specialty magazines in favor of paying the $25 or so for an annual DVD of them. I catch up either at my workbench PC or my desktop PC after they arrive each February or thereabouts. If you’re a subscriber to the ARRL’s flagship magazine, QST, you are no doubt aware of the push the League has had on shifting the receipt of your monthly magazine to digital-only by opting-out of the color print copy. (I love, by the way, the new layout changes, Steve Ford!). They advertise it as a Go Green! initiative. It will no doubt help the bottom line on the publishing books for QST but it’s odd that the specialty magazines don’t also come digitally except as on that DVD I mentioned above. But that’s another matter.
eDocuments to the rescue!
A few weeks ago, Apple pushed out it’s regular iOS updates which I installed on both my iPad and iPhone. No sweat. Within a few days, I had updated 100+ apps on my iOS devices. (OK, ok. I have a few apps…) All worked fine. I culled a few as I decided I had a better app to do that task. When I received my usual e-mail from the ARRL that the shiny new April 2019 issue of QST was now available, I immediately downloaded it. Except when I did, the QST app crashed. Hmm. I repeated this cycle over a dozen times. Deleting it and the database and reinstalling from the app store (like we were told to do in March of last year by the League’s website.) Still crashed. I felt like the old guy on Modern Family who mutters, “ah geez,” all the time. So I asked about 50 hams a few nights later at a club meeting were they having problems. Of the 30 or so who said they read QST via an Apple device, most had the exact same problem that I did: complete app crash! Reading various Forums on ham radio will turn up similar complaints with some saying that’s why they haven’t renewed their membership. That shouldn’t be viewed as someone being Mr. or Ms Cranky Pants. The QST magazine is, after all, the premier outlet for the League. So I wrote a negative review on the iTunes store, thinking that the Support folks who read that page would realize that the app has hit the fan, so to speak. While I was in iTunes, I read a lot of the previous reviews of the QST app. The average rating out of 5 is 2.3 for this iOS app. That’s really not good. The date of the negative reviews go back several years. I have an Android tablet that I use to both test WiFi dead zones and link to some Bluetooth devices on my workbench but I never read QST on it. Nonetheless, I checked the Android Play store to see if it’s just an issue with Apple’s Development Kit (SDK). Nope. The average rating for the Android version of the QST app is only 2.5 out of 5, just a tad higher than the one for iOS. So it’s not just the operating platform that is plaguing this app. See the reviews for yourself at the respective links shown here:
Reviews of app in iTunes: And Android (Google Play):
I wrote Bob Interbitzen, NQ1R, the Marketing Director for the ARRL, about the issue. He rightly asked me what make/model/iOS version I was using. I sent that from the Settings menu. His first response was, well, that’s an old iPad from back in 2016. It is. And it was the biggest fastest iPad Pro Apple offered then. Apply still fully supports it. And I read my CQ Magazine (and others) on the Zinio app just fine and dandy. I also read a ton of books and magazines in both my Kindle app and Apple Books app with nary a hitch. So, it really, really couldn’t legitimately be the old “you need a new computer” response. To Bob’s credit, this caused him to research the issue more deeply. Moreover, he said in his e-mail back to me, “I appreciate your concern for this matter. I can assure you it is receiving a priority level of our attention.” I can hardly complain about the communications from the League in response to my report of being blocked out of the digital access that they’ve encouraged subscribers to shift to. (I myself have not opted-out at this point. And, am glad that I haven’t.) In reality, the League has hired a large commercial eDocument company based in the UK, PageSuite, to customize an app for the League’s QST magazine. They do a lot of business and have a US corporate presence in Boston. They provide the software for the host of the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times newspapers, for instance, and they are fine sites to read, IMHO. PageSuite is launching a new app, called “New Edition,” in which they say “Our new ‘Edition’ solution offers publishers new ways to generate revenue and grow digital audiences.” So the vendor chosen by the ARRL is one that is doing a lot of business. They must have software engineers and coders who are knowledgeable about both iOS and Android (as well as web) platforms, no? The League posted a note to QST subscribers about the issue with the iOS version of the app crashing as Bob took time off for Spring Break. This was dated March 3, 2019:
He also sent me a follow-up message by e-mail that updated the technical issue:
While the bug issue with the new version of the app was the initial problem, this has now become a policy problem. Apple has changed the way they consider QST. The app developer had the fix coded last month, but Apple will not let them upload it. We have investigated all options with both the developer and Apple — including appeals to Apple, largely to assure them that QST is a membership journal and not simply a magazine subscription. A new version of the app meeting Apple’s change in terms is being readied. We have our sights set on a weeks-long (not months) resolution. Additional information will be posted to ARRL News, found on the ARRL website home page and”. Bob Interbitzen, NQ1R, ARRL Marketing Director e-mail to K4FMH
OK, so now the issue is post-app crashing (for those developers with the app in the SDK) and at the feet of Apple’s iTunes App Store management. The developer (PageSuite) is most certainly a member of the Apple SDK community. This provides such developers with prior versions of iOS releases ahead of when Apple releases it to users. So technically astute developers have the versions of hardware that Apple says their iOS supports (including my 2016 iPad Pro), the new iOS software candidate, and their own QST app code. Well, they should, at least. Everyday, all day activity for development teams. Perhaps. I’ll get to that in a moment. Apple’s management rules for publication are something that the ARRL can’t really negotiate or deal with. It’s the contracted vendor’s turf and, frankly, their obligation to handle. Or, it should be under the terms of the contract with the League. But another issue in PageSuite’s app for ARRL’s delivery of the digital QST is that the app just crashes. When this happens, there is a report automatically generated. This is called, not surprisingly, a “crash analytic report” and the user is given a chance to have it submitted back through the Apple iOS system, ultimately, to developers. However, it is another step in the development process which costs time and, therefore, money. Without it, app Devs are Somewhat Out of Luck (SOL). It’s explained here (emphasis mine):
When an application crashes, a report called “crash report” is created. This will help understand what the problem is and where is it coming from. This will state the condition causing the iOS application to stop without prior warning. Most iOS app developers fail to implement this function during their iOS app development, and when there are no crash reports attached to an iOS app closing unexpectedly, there is little or nothing that one can do to solve the problem. So, it would be wise for an iOS app developer to implement crash analytic to the application during its development to help the application function the best possible way. With this in place, other causes of crashing in iPhone application can be reasonably reduced or stopped.
Cutting to the chase on this, Bob’s done everything that I could expect him to do. I’ve been in software development, funded software development, designed award-winning software licensing models in the GIS industry, and so forth and so on. Bob’s got a difficult challenge here. Especially, since the public reviews have stated repeated and consistent negative issues with PageSuite’s QST app on both the Android and iOS platform since 2014, or for at least five years. It cannot be that PageSuite’s personnel is incompetent, although they do not follow the implementation of a crash report system which is “best practices” from Apple’s point of view. They’re too large and have too many production-driven clients to be incompetent. But what it may well be is that the ARRL’s custom app to just download and digitally manage the rights (DRM) to QST is not a big enough client to warrant the labor devoted to an issue in order to resolve it in a timely fashion. Back in the late 1990s, I was a respective $100,000 customer to ESRI and ERDAS and a $50,000 customer to RSINC annually, all GIS and remote sensing software vendors, on behalf of NASA and the State of Mississippi. Would my contacts at each vendor take my call? Every time! I’m a $100 a year customer to ESRI now as an individual consumer. Will they take my call? No. But I can post a question on their Forum for such small fry customers. That’s just the economics of software support. Is this the situation that the ARRL is in with the QST app produced by PageSuite? Is it that they are just not a big enough fish to get the right technical talent to keep the QST app on either platform working reliably? I do not know for sure but it would be consistent with the observable performance record and the corporate profile of PageSuite. I will close with this. The issues regarding the digital QST app over past five years or so are analogous to the Logbook of the World development. Great idea. Largely built or designed in-house (or something equivalent) at first. It was terrible in performance. But, scaled up, using modern IT designs, hardware, and implementation, LoTW now has over 1 billion QSOs in it’s database. It’s bigger, better and faster. And, the League is taking on business from the CQ Communications, Inc. line of contests! That improvement came about because of the heat that the Division Directors (Board members) received from the membership community. Bear that in mind. Moreover, the Zinio platform is where CQ Magazine has disseminated their digital version, DRM and all, with very few technical issues over the past several years that I’ve been a subscriber. (I had one subscription where my electronic payment wasn’t added to my current account but resulted in a “new” account such that I could not get my back issues. A phone call to Hicksville NY fixed that.) Thus, it just isn’t that getting magazine issues out to subscribed customers is that big of a deal these days. Others, like Apple Books and Kindle, do it at volumes a few magnitudes larger than the QST subscriber base. The Board of Directors, along with the President and CEO, should schedule a review of the contract with PageSuite at the next meeting. I am not pushing Zinio as an option but PageSuite has just not performed. As CEO Michel has gone on record with, adding value to the ARRL member is the mission of the day. Here, the member is not getting value added but value subtracted. This is especially the case for those members who responded positively to the Go Green! call by the League to opt-out of the printed version of the QST magazine. I’m sure they’ll get the April 2019 issue, eventually. But it’s been over a month and only a hope by Bob Interbitzen of a “weeks-long” hiatus that it will be resolved then. If this were a paper cut, a band-aid would be a prudent response. But this five-year run of an unreliable app on both the Apple and Android platforms requires stitches to firmly fix the problem, not a band-aid. If this issue reports to the Programs & Services Committee, here are it’s members: Contacting your Division Director and letting him or her know your feelings about this is both your right and responsibility to help the League grow and prosper as our amateur radio organization. As Mr. Spock would’ve said, “It’s only logical!”

Free Shipping for ARRL Members? Not Yet…

Obi Wan Kenobi might have uttered, ‘There’s a positive change in The Force’ these days in Newington. It’s no secret that the ARRL has been suffering from the transition of a career long Chief Officer (Dave Sumner) to a new CEO who can effectively lead the non-profit corporation, also a public charity, which declared a $20.5M net asset figure to the IRS for 2017. The failed interim CEO, Mr. Gallagher, tried to execute an executive style which he perhaps found successful in the financial world but a flop at a non-profit like the ARRL. His retirement after only a brief period in Newington was perhaps best for all involved. I wish him well as a fellow amateur radio operator. He just proved to not be a good fit as CEO of the League.

Obi Wan Kenobi
You’re Our Only Hope!

The realization by President Roderick and the changing Board of Directors that this executive style could not bring success to this transition in executive leadership at the headquarters in Newington CT resulted in the hiring of Howard Michel WB2ITX. He had been at the similar, but the far larger IEEE organization, which operates sort of like the ARRL for engineers and other technologists in the United States. It’s net asset declaration to the IRS in 2017, by comparison, was $415M! But he has shown in the brief time he’s been CEO in Newington that he understands the difference between management and executives in the non-profit world. More to come in a future blog post on that distinction.

At the recent ARRL Board Meeting, Mr. Michel was able to get approval for what seems to me to be a fundamental change in the organizational structure and, hopefully, the culture which drives the some 100 employees of the American Radio Relay League. While I may write more about these fundamental changes that the new CEO has put into action on February 11, 2019, here is synopsis from the League’s website:

‘The Board received the report of ARRL CEO Howard Michel, WB2ITX, who outlined plans to reorganize and refocus the activities at ARRL Headquarters. Michel said providing better value to membership is a top priority, and he sees value creation and value delivery as key components to long-term membership retention and growth.’

ARRL CEO Howard Michel WB2ITX

Better value to membership? Now, that is a mouthful to us members! The operational details of that value proposition will be what members, including former and potential members, will consider and remember. That is, what is the ARRL actually going to do in order for members to see a greater value in their annual dues? They could be convinced with a quick strategic example: offering free shipping & handling on purchases from the ARRL Store to current League members!

Let’s look at this small but important thing of free shipping and handling. As I discussed with Dan Romanchik KB6NU on the ICQ Podcast this week, he and I both are Amazon Prime members. Our British colleague, Martin Rothwell M0SGL, smiled at this recognition during our recording as he works for Amazon across the Pond. Dan and I both stated that we tend to not buy books and related items directly from the ARRL website because of the stiff shipping and handling fees. Instead, Amazon Prime members get free shipping on most items which Dan and I take advantage of with these purchases. So Amazon realizes the retailer’s profit margin from the sale of ARRL products through the website. The League, however, only reaps the wholesaler’s margin.

To be fair, the League does give a few Members Only discounts of, say, $3, off of a $27 book—if the League publishes the book. (Note that the League also resells RSGB publications so they probably have those price arrangements locked in without much margin to discount.) And, there are periodic discounts sent out to members via postcard or email advertisements. I’ve found that they only amount to relieving me of the net shipping charge. I cannot use any other additional discounts such as the annual Birthday Discount that I get during my birthday month. As a certified ARRL Instructor, I get a discount on some purchases but I cannot use any of these other discounts. All of this complexity adds up to the member just using Amazon Prime or just not buying a book or other product on impulse. The moment of excitement passes.

I’m a retired Editor-in-Chief for Springer Media, a very large scientific publisher based in The Netherlands. I ordered all the textbooks in my college bookstore as a student worker back in the early 1970s. In between, I launched two peer-reviewed scientific journals, edited others, and negotiated publication relationships with several major publishers. I’ve been an editorial consultant to a dozen or more textbook publishing houses. So I come at this from decades of experience in the publishing industry, not just the consumer side of publishing. So let’s look at typical publisher (wholesaler) and book reseller (retailer) relationships. Many hams may not realize the pricing structures in place worldwide on book publishing.

But the ARRL will ‘lose’ money by offering free shipping and handling to members, right? I can certainly hear Marketing Manager Bob Interbitzen NQ1R saying that upon hearing this idea. Perhaps not. They may actually make more money. Amazon is a major bookseller (an understatement if there ever was one). The typical wholesale discount to a retail book seller is 55%. Large retailers might get 60% while the independents buying them for 40% of the stated retail price. Thus, the ARRL sells Amazon and perhaps others these books at a greatly reduced wholesale price but not when the point-of-sale is through the ARRL Store on their website.

“The typical wholesale discount to a retail book seller is 55%.”

I do not know what the ARRL’s financial terms with Amazon or other retailers is. But it is highly unlikely that it differs substantially from these industry norms. After all, amateur radio operators are hardly a significant market for Amazon to break with their acquisition norms for retailing. I wish it were different but it’s not. The actual financial relationship that the League has with it’s retailer on books and other items could be something very, very different. I want to acknowledge that. But, if it is, that’s another issue. Moreover, shouldn’t that information be made known to the membership?

So, if the ARRL could do something to stimulate more direct sales to members from their website, they would recoup the wholesale discount to Amazon on each of those sales, right? What could drive more members away from Amazon (especially Prime members) and back to the League’s Store?

If CEO Howard Michel’s intention is to increase value to League members, giving them free shipping and handling because they are members would do that. And, it would do that in a tangible and visible way to the entire membership of some 150,000 out of the 750,000 or so license holders in the U.S. Trading out the typical 55% wholesale discount to Amazon (and other retailers) to increase the value of membership would actually result in a higher profit margin to the League, all things being equal. Mr. Michel would indeed qualify as the Obi Wan Kenobi of the ARRL should he bring this about. The League should, at least, run honest numbers on this change to see what the financial impact might be on current revenue.

The business of increasing the value of membership in the American Radio Relay League: that would be a good deal. And a good deal for both members and the League itself!”

But it would also be like a lightning strike to ensure that the membership sees and believes that this reorganization of the ARRL Headquarters means business. The business of increasing the value of membership in the American Radio Relay League: that would be a good deal. And a good deal for both members and the League itself!

Will they do this? I don’t know. But your telling CEO Michel and your Division Director that it’s what you want would help get it on their minds. And having the CEO and Board of Directors listening to you hams, whether you’re a current member or not, is definitely a good deal!

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