Meh

No doubt you’ve seen the recent ARRL proposal to increase Technician HF privileges and the expected ensuing online debate over it.  In general I’m not opposed to the proposal, however I find myself indifferent. As others have pontificated, it’s not much of a hurdle these days to upgrade to General to acquire more privileges.  I was very supportive of the code test elimination and various changes over the years that have simplified licensing.  However, to some extent I think we’re at a point of diminishing returns with benefits from licensing changes and privilege increases.  There’s perhaps one specific area I see the ARRL-proposed changes increasing on air activity: FT8.  If Techs are given HF digital privileges on lower bands, I suspect we’ll see a lot of Techs end up there, and stay there, like a lot of Techs do today with 2 meter repeaters, unfortunately.  With new radio amateur recruiting, participation, and retention, where should our focus be, what are the real stumbling blocks, and where is the opportunity?  It’s not privileges.  In thinking about the ARRL proposal, I’m kind of left thinking, “Meh.”

We need to look where the bulk of amateur technology hobbyist activity is today.  It’s the Maker movement.  These are intelligent, innovative, and inquisitive people who would be a great asset in amateur radio.  It’s often been said that amateur radio and its perhaps dated technology can’t compete with the Internet, Xboxes, and cell phones.  That may apply to your grandkids, but with Makers it’s not an issue.  Makers enjoy playing with retro technology, like Nixie tubes, for example.  They like building stuff and experimenting.  They also like cutting edge technology, like satellites.  Amateur radio has the perfect blend of retro and modern technology, and it has the opportunity to take Makers beyond the typical Maker fare of microcontrollers, single board computers, 3D printing, and robotics.  Unlike “preppers” coming into the hobby for a specific application for their own purposes, Makers will be active and contributing participants and arguably are more likely to advance the radio art, as amateur radio was intended to do.  But we need to have a culture that welcomes them, on their turf, and their venues, not just ours.

The Maker movement is a potential goldmine for amateur radio, one that needs to tapped, right now.  This goes beyond having an amateur radio display at a Maker Faire stocked with pamphlets.  If we really want to increase participation and new licensee retention, we need to pull out all the stops and target this demographic with technology, exhibitions, publications, and venues that tie amateur radio into their curiosities, interests, and projects.  We need to be seen as innovators, not preservationists or on air retirement communities.  There needs to be cultural change within amateur radio.  While more kilohertz for newcomers is nice, and fairly easy to implement, it’s not going to get sizable returns in participation and retention.  Targeting Makers will.

This article originally appeared on Radio Artisan.

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com.

15 Responses to “Meh”

  • Barron AK1F:

    Great perspective,well thought through.

  • Ron Peterson:

    Why not just make it no test so all the lazy slobs can destroy the bands! It’s all going digital anyway,because digital requires no work! I’m an analog man,cw, voice is my choice!This is just to help manufacturers make money on product sales…Try building your own gear for a change,that’s what it used to be about!

  • Goody K3NG:

    Ron, I think one thing you’ll see with Makers is that by their very nature as Makers they will build their own amateur radio gear. However, a culture that is unwelcoming, complains of newcomer entitlement, or expresses mode bigotry will be a big turn off to this segment and quickly turn them away. This culture needs to change. It’s one reason we’re struggling with participation and retention, in my opinion.

  • Jeff, KE9V:

    I’m still confused by the logic. The ARRL wants to attract younger people into ham radio and they think giving them HF phone privileges on 75 meters will do that? Might as well give them a years supply of Geritol and a 25% off coupon at the senior center cafe…

    This sort of thinking is from a previous millennia. It lacks imagination or even a shred of forward-thinking. Prospective young hams aren’t chomping at the bit to get on HF phone. Only someone over 60 and a ham for the last thirty years can believe that HF phone privileges are the secret “jewels” of the hobby that everyone wants but only the “chosen” can have.

    Good grief.

  • Phil ZL2OWL:

    Very well said Anthony – agree with you 100%. Challenges very much the same – albeit smaller scale – down here in ZL-land. Evolve or die is the rule. Watching you folks with interest. Thanks.

  • jerry w5kaw:

    well everyone said when CW was dropped the bands would go bad well strangely that didn’t happen back in 2007 but now everyone is panicking just like the 22 ammo run that happped for several years and now 22 ammo is back on the shelves lol! so here’s my feelings for what their worth I say we make it to where we have a Hf license and tech license and simplify the whole thing and be done with it!

  • jeff n1kdo:

    I believe the ARRL BOD is trying to solve the new-ham attrition problem.

    When I go to my amateur radio club’s meeting, there is an upside-down bell curve of the number of hams (y-axis) vs. years of amateur radio experience (x-axis). There are lots of people licensed less than 2 years, and lots of people licensed for more than 10 years. Not so many in the middle. There is a huge attrition problem for fresh hams, and I believe this pattern happens regardless of the license level attained by the newbies.

    I think that a lot of this comes from boredom with our hobby, and I don’t believe we share a boring hobby. I think the newbies don’t get exposed to all the interesting facets that are available to them. I also think once you get past programming your HT, or installing a VHF rig in your car, things get more difficult, quickly. We (as the collection of longer-term operators) need to elmer more, to mentor more, and I don’t just mean on a personal, individual level.

    I think that ARRL should give a *free* one- or two-year membership to freshly licensed amateurs. Many new hams don’t join, and I don’t think they know what they are missing. The same is true for radio clubs. Give free membership for a year or two to new hams, and assign them a (willing) elmer.

    I also think that it would be a good thing for local clubs to have post-licensing boot camps, special meetings with special agendas for new hams. Perhaps this curriculum could be organized on a national level, or at least presentations could be shared among clubs. You’re licensed — now what? If we want to keep new hams in the hobby we need to work to keep them in the hobby. Giving technicians privileges on that sewer we call 75 meters is not going to help.

  • Ross KG5OED:

    If it gets more young people in amateur radio, so be it. Nothing else seems to work. 72/73`s

  • Dan K9WRP:

    I can’t help but hear an echo of conversations that are taking place at golf courses, yacht clubs, and other venues of activities that are seeing a gradual “graying” of their memberships. I got into ham radio fifty-seven years ago, and I still love HF and CW as well as a couple of two meter nets I participate in. I’ve embraced the new technology in the form of digital radios, EchoLink, etc. but I have no skills for building the current generation of technology. (I still fondly remember those big variable capacitors, coils, glowing tubes, Heathkits — but I don’t want to go back to those.) I don’t have any answers: we all know that younger people are addicted to their iPhones and video games. Tweaking the licensing regulations and other things at the margin may bring in a few more hams, and they probably won’t do any long term harm….but I have few illusions that they will lead to a huge influx of new hams.

  • kd0ngs:

    ARRL proposal to increase Technician HF privileges on the surface sounds good at the same time I have reservations. If Techs are given HF digital privileges on lower bands, why go after a general or extra license? May be with limiting the power to 100 wts and 2years to get a general or Extra license.

  • Craig N1SFT:

    I’m one of those who took No code Tech back in the 90’s, and then life happened, I kept the callsign, but VHF repeaters soon bored me, so I ended up taking a 17 year “break” from the hobby. I’ve now been studying for the general upgrade, I’ve purchased my first HF rig, and I’m re-engaging the hobby.

    5WPM scared me off back in college. Turns out all I needed was to be in my forties and take it seriously.

    Youth is lost on the young. By opening up some of the HF bands to techs will not be the worst thing. It will probably result in more no code techs like me into upgrading.

  • Craig - N7LB:

    Those that are truly interested in complete HF privileges will work to obtain them, those that are not will keep asking for more privileges with no additional work. It’s been that way for decades.

    The current level of “testing” is nearly an open book test, yet we still hear from a few that it’s still too difficult, but more power, bands, etc. will somehow magically make the hobby grow faster than it already is.

    I’m not 100% against giving a few additional incentives to the current level of Tech class license holders, but they should (IMHO) be very targeted incentives, not merely giving them entire HF band privileges.

    If you want more activity on 160, give them the 1.800-1.810 digital portion of the 160m band plan, want more on 80m, give them the 3.570-3.600 digital portion of the 80m band, want more on 60m or 30m, the same idea, etc., etc. Limit them to 100 watts using digital modes only, and let’s see if the “makers” jump all over their ability to use HF as a “Tech Plus” ticket.

    Sadly, I don’t believe the targeted increase will be that huge, as incentive licensing has been tried before without great results. Those that want everything for nothing will still complain it’s not enough while the manufacturers will envision huge sales numbers from the new HF hams that think of the HF bands as the holy grail of CB radio.

  • Goody K3NG:

    Craig, the ARRL proposal isn’t going to attract Makers, it’s targeting the “exclusively on 2 meters” crowd, in my opinion. I don’t think this is necessarily wrong, I just tend to doubt it will result in higher new amateur retention. What we have today is incentive licensing as you get more privileges with each upgrade. It can be argued this proposed Tech privilege increase is actually a disincentive to upgrade. A 10 watt digital modes only license with CW thrown in for good measure and low power 2m and 440 satellite privileges would be a big hit with Makers, if it was coupled with the right training, testing, and retention program.

  • walt n5eqy:

    Each generation has its own view of technology. When i was a kid, FM radio was such a cut above the noisy AM radio that it was like magic, then TV broke into the average consumers lives, what a change that was. However i still listened to the SW radio in my G’ma’s home and marveled at people talking to each other in the AM mode. Then i went thru the CB phase, it was all we could afford and was really a good addition to our family business. However that turned to krap in a few years and went by the wayside, then came war and i wound up drafted. So i fell into a world wide org of technicians and ham radio ops. Didn’t think i would live long enough to learn morse, but made it after 6 months of wrestling with it and got that Novice ticket in WN7 land (Oregon) then the conditional WA7 and later the general, learning as i went and ham radio followed me as we lived in 7 different states 3 foreign nations and ham licenses in all those places. Unfortunantly I never made it into the world of programming and digital programming. Too late for me now as i have a dose of alzheimers, but sure would love to do those things. We must look to the changes in our culture and our technology and cater to those who will make bigger and better changes than we ever could with analog tech. I still love it (analog) and fumble along best i can with digital HF comms. Learn or perish.

  • Wesley KG4YPE:

    I don’t like what’s going on with the ARRL these days I don’t want to see ham radio end up like cb radio I was happy when the code was dropped in 07 but changing where a tech can is not right I’m still a tech and wanting to upgrade to have that privilege they are letting anyone who can get a tech license most come fromantic the silly band and they DON’T GET IT what hamradio is all about keep it as is don’t make it so idiots can go places where they don’t understand what’s going on or piss someone off when they don’t understand the term Gentleman agreement I don’t mind going through the process of getting my General license we need make a stand on this issue ARRL has gotten DUMB over the years and doing STUPID things for the amateur community that’s my rant for the day

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