Data on Amateur Radio Operating Habits

Most active hams know many other radio hams and we think we have a handle on what ham radio activity is occurring. But our look into the hobby is limited by who we hang out with and the sources of information we consume. Also, we can see that the ham population is aging which is going to have a significant effect on amateur radio activity but we may not have any reliable data.

In general, the amateur radio community lacks publicly available data on amateur radio operating habits and demographics.  So I was excited to see the Operating Patterns Among Canadian Amateurs authored by my friend Frank Howell, K4FMH. This report analyzes the survey of Canadian hams done by Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) in 2021. Frank is a Real Researcher, so he applies generally accepted statistical techniques to aid in understanding the data. I would have preferred a study of US radio amateurs, but it seems reasonable that the operating habits of Canadian hams would be similar to US hams (and perhaps a good proxy for other developed nations). Anyway, it is the data we have and it is probably useful. I encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself, but I’ll comment on three findings from the report that strike me as significant.

Digital is really popular

The figure below is a chart that shows the popularity of different operating activities. No surprise, Casual Operating and Traditional Voice Modes score very high. But number three is Digital Modes, almost as high as Traditional Voice Modes. Depending on your operating habits, you may be thinking “well,of course, digital is very popular” but others may think “really, people like doing that?” The report also points out that digital operation is correlated with age, with younger hams using digital more than older folks.

Ham careers can start at any age

Another interesting finding is that the classic stereotype of “young person discovers radio and pursues it as a lifelong hobby” is not universal. The report shows that people enter the hobby at a variety of ages and then pursue it with varying intensity. Quoting the report:

Thus, these data illustrate that our conventional image of the amateur who gets licensed early in life and maintains that hobby activity throughout is largely a stereotype. Although it is one based upon real-world examples who fit it ideally.

I see this when teaching Technician license classes. The ages of our students typically span a wide range, including youth, but many of them are over 40 years old, entering the hobby later in life. In addition, we have quite a few students around retirement age (60 or so) looking for an activity to engage in during retirement.

The ham population is aging

You are probably thinking: duh, of course it is aging. The report puts some numbers on it, comparing it to the general population in Canada (see figure below).

Clearly, the ham population is over-represented in the age groups above 50 years. Often, the conventional thinking is “we have to get the kids involved,” which is a worthy thing to do. However, the report warns us that this won’t be enough:

This pattern has two clear implications for amateur radio in Canada. One is that the age groups of 60-80 years of age, now dominating amateur radio as the RAC Survey suggests, will simply disappear as they age-out to infirmity or becoming Silent Keys. Yet, their non-ham radio peers are scheduled to grow in number. (A recruitment focus on late-in-life hams is a clear policy for RAC to consider.) A second implication is that teens will be a relatively scarce recruitment commodity in terms of the age pyramid. There will simply not be enough of them to replace those Baby Boomers now dominating the hobby, regardless of the recruitment resources directed toward them.

This is not a call to give up on recruiting youth:

This should not be misconstrued to suggest that it would be a waste of time to expose young people to amateur radio as a recruitment method.

More to consider

This post highlights three findings that I found to be interesting. There is much more information included in this report and I encourage you to read and ponder it. I’d certainly like to see more of this kind of work published, especially for the ham population in the US, Europe and Japan. I find the demographic analysis compelling, indicating that we will see a decline in the number of radio hams in the next decade or so. We can probably reduce this decline but not stop it (my opinion, worth at least what you paid for it.). Perhaps the way to think about the challenge is to focus on having a smaller but more vibrant and active amateur radio community in the future.

These are my thoughts for today.
What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR

The post Data on Amateur Radio Operating Habits appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

One Response to “Data on Amateur Radio Operating Habits”

  • Jerry. KK4GMU:

    I see two patterns emerging that show promise for amateur radio:

    Interest in radio for emergency communications as increasing world threats dominate the news cycle. This isn’t exclusively ham-related, but spread across most types of radios and frequencies. An important role of Hams is to highlight the fragility of the newer internet and cellular technology and emphasize the fact that radio communications is comparatively bullet proof when the SHTF.

    Interest in the merging of radio and internet. This takes the form of DMR and other digital forms integrated with internet and cellular systems.

    But as new communication technologies evolve, amateur radio will need to do some fairly rapid transitioning to stay relevant and visible.

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