That downward “ham radio” trend line

There’s an interesting discussion ongoing on some of the amateur radio blogs (including this one) about how an analysis of the number of searches in Google using the term “ham radio” is trending. No doubt about it, if you simply look at the graph, it shows the hobby I love so much–and that I fully credit for getting me into a career in media–is trending more and more southward:

This could mean a number of things:

— People are getting their info about ham radio in other ways besides searching for that specific term on Google.
— They are searching for info on the hobby using other keywords, such as “amateur radio.”
— Nowadays, people search initially for information on a subject and then, if they find what they seek, they bookmark it/make it a favorite and don’t search anymore on Google.
— As we have gotten more sophisticated in how we use the search engines–often merely using the address bar in our browsers to type in odd terms that more closely match what we are seeking–the big, all-inclusive search terms are not used so often.
— Interest really is declining.

You know what my heart tells me. Licensing backs me up in that belief. We have more licensed amateurs in the country now than ever before in the 100-year history of the hobby. My sense is that the hobby is vibrant and growing, and, before you slap on me me that “rose-colored glasses” brand, be aware that I am pretty good at looking at things such as reliable research data realistically.

On the other hand, I still believe it behooves those of us active in the hobby, those who want to see it continue to grow, expand, and become even more exciting and diverse, to be evangelistic about it. We have to do what we can to recruit potential hams into our little “cult of the airwaves.”

That was one reason I wrote the book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO. I want people to understand that the hobby can be much more than sitting in a basement sending Morse code or trying futilely to hit repeaters with a handheld and a rubber-ducky antenna. As with most technology, our avocation has dramatically changed, and for the better. It offers so much to younger people who have grown up with cable, satellites, computers, and smart phones. True, those folks might think amateur radio is still what their weird uncle used to do in his back room with all that spittin’ and sparkin’ radio junk. We need to make them more aware of what the hobby is these days. And make sure they know that it absolutely can lead to a career in a technical field, including computers, communications, engineering, meteorology, media and more.

We won’t panic about that trend line. We will continue to do what we should be able to do best: COMMUNICATE!

Don Keith N4KC

Don Keith, N4KC, is a regular contributor to and writes from Alabama, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “That downward “ham radio” trend line”

  • Nick N6OL:

    I completely agree about getting young people into the hobby. One thing the numbers don’t tell us is WHO (ie, what demographic) is getting all these new licenses. I volunteer as a VE every-other month, and for the most part we see very few young people, or indeed very few people under 40. It could be that it’s the “boomers” retiring and taking up the hobby, which is great too, but we need to interest young people for the long-term health of the hobby.

    I’m often the youngest person at ham clubs and events, and I’m 37.

    I think digital modes and transmitter hunts may be of particular interest to kids who are keen on math and science and computers already… but we also have the much bigger problem that too few kids are getting into math and science and computers. We have to keep trying though.

  • Rex - WD0AJG:

    Strange that you post this today. I just commented on my blog, hell we all have them and I have no one reading mine, yesterday that in the October issue of QST the list of “silent keys” was almost 2 pages long!… I have never seen a list that long. That indicates to me, that the average age of the Amatuer community is going up even with the increase in number. Not really a good thing in my mind. The issue then becomes how to focus a growth in young people?


  • Don N4KC:

    Nick and Rex, I’ve noticed those things as well. Of course, if we have more people in the hobby and if it continues to grow, there will obviously be more SKs.

    But your point is the one I’m trying to make–here, on my blog, in my new book, in the work our local club’s non-profit arm does to promote the hobby, and more. Young people are accustomed to being “sold.” They see a pitch coming a mile away. But they are also receptive to info that they see will help them or entertain them. That’s the sweet spot.

    Telling them how stupid they are because they don’t have to learn the code or know how to build a transceiver from scratch to get a license won’t resonate. Showing them how really cool many aspects of our hobby can be will! Telling them they aren’t real hams because they don’t enjoy the same things we do will chase them away. Showing them how this hobby can help them explore possibilities for a lifetime career will draw them in by the thousands.

    Don N4KC

  • David W7DAO:

    Its true we have more hams than before, but is the hobby growing. I did an analysis of the numbers and the best I could figure out when you factor in birth and death rates is that our hobby is at zero population growth. The ARRL pushes hard on creating young hams with the goal of increasing the population over the long-term. This may have some impact. Another less developed growth channel is going after people in retirement communities and assisted living situations. Seniors tend to feel more isolated as they get older and this hobby offers people a way to connect on many levels as well as giving them another activity. Think of a communal ham shack in a retirement home or assisted living center and the impact that can have on their quality of life and influence they would have with young relatives. Just saying… 73

  • Don N4KC:

    Good point, David. I think the emphasis is on younger hams for two reasons: it is obvious that we are an aging bunch and we need that new blood, and because we assume–rightly or wrongly–that younger converts will be around a long, long time. Of course, we who have actually been hams for a long time know that we tend to come and go in our interest level when school, career, family, military and other “distractions” come along.

    But I totally agree that retirement communities are prime “hunting grounds” for not-so-new-but-still-vital blood. I believe in fishing where the fish are. I think the waters in our high schools as well as in retirement facilities are teeming with “fish!”

    Don N4KC

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