This is how we need to talk up amateur radio.

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to

11 Responses to “This.”

  • Todd KD0TLS:

    This is just more of the “hams are the elite” narrative that tells 99% of the population that there’s no place for them there. We are not all engineers and Nobel Prize-winning physicists, yet this is the audience that is being pitched to with this article.

    The reality is this: Communication has become ridiculously easy, both globally and locally. It’s not the 1930’s any more. The internet and cell phones have made communication universal and simple. The advantage of ham radio is that you can communicate with people that *you don’t already know*, not that you can communicate long distances or with arcane techniques.

    There’s certainly a place for the “elite” in ham radio; it’s just a lousy marketing angle for the growth of the hobby. I get the idea, more and more, that hams are more interested in keeping people out than bringing people in. Or, more accurately, that hams are willing to scare away many if it means that a handful of the “elite” can be welcomed.

  • Jason VE3MAL:

    > The advantage of ham radio is that you can communicate with people that *you don’t already know*, not that you can communicate long distances or with arcane techniques.

    Really? There are a myriad of ways to communicate with people you don’t already know on the internet (I’m doing it right now). I would hazard to guess that *most* of the communication on the internet, text for sure, but perhaps VOIP and video as well, is between people who don’t already know each other. It would be tough to encapsulate what draws all hams to the hobby, but I would guess it would be more related to the science and tech. than any inability to contact strangers on the internet.

  • Jason VE3MAL:

    Also, note that the audience for hackaday is not the type of people who would be scared off by talk of esoteric or “arcane” technologies. They are not your run-of-the-mill tech-phobic audience by any stretch.

  • KC7ZXY:

    I kindly disagree with Todd KD0TLS’s assessment of the article. There is no talk of elitism or of keeping people out. The article is encouraging a potentially new audience to consider the fun and unmeasurable benefits to be gained by joining the world of ham radio. He speaks of a “strong tradition of mutual support” where “newcomers are welcome and more experienced hams volunteer to serve as mentors”. Those are not the words of elitism or exclusion.

    Like KD0TLS said, “This is not the 1930’s any more.” …and I would add that there is so much more to ham radio than just communicating with people you don’t already know. That is certainly a wonderful and valuable aspect of ham radio and should not be diminished. However, it is only a small part of the world of experimentation and learning to be discovered and experienced. The benefits are incalcuable.

    To be certain, you can buy a cellphone and talk to someone on the other side of the planet without using so-called “arcane” techniques. But as an analogy, you don’t have to get a fishing license, assemble tackle, and spend time with someone who can help you learn how to fish when you can just buy a fish sandwich at McDonald’s. It should be noted that cellphones and the internet employ these selfsame “arcane” technologies. Why not encourage people to understand how it all works and explore the history of electronics and communications?

    I applaud the author (Bill Meara M0HBR/N2CQR) of the original article for asking a *new* audience to consider the benefits of ham radio. That article is a great example of being inclusive and communicating with people you don’t already know. Nice work, Bill!

    73 KC7ZXY

  • Don N4KC:

    I, too, disagree with Todd, and I absolutely love the article. I come from a long career in marketing. The first thing you have to do when marketing a multi-targeted product…such as amateur radio, a “product” that offers many different things to many different “consumers”…is to develop a compelling and precisely honed message for each of those targets.

    As noted, this article is on a web site that is all about esoteric technical topics for “build it yourself” advocates. Talking about being able to communicate across time zones is of little interest to these guys. On the other hand, that “communicate” message might resonate well for folks who simply want something more challenging than Facebook or Twitter, something in which they might learn more than just how to post and share.

    Fish where the fish are! If we want to tweak some interest–and that is all we can hope to do for people who are pelted with hundreds of thousands of messages a day: get somebody intrigued enough so they want to find out more–then plant the seeds in soil that can best support and nourish what you hope to grow.

    Don N4KC
    (Author of the new book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES:

  • I occasionally read hiking and bicycling magazines, and probably 95% of the adventures and equipment they showcase are too “elite” for me to do in my lifetime. However, it encourages me to get out and bike and hike. While most of us will never attain elite accomplishments, those who do inspire us to participate and do the most we can do. I think it’s the same with this write up. It’s certainly better than most of the amateur radio promotion we see, which usually centers around preservation of an old hobby and is written more with radio amateurs in mind than the target audience. Notice the author didn’t mention Morse code at all.

    Amateur radio essentially missed the boat with open source and later the whole WiFi revolution. With the maker movement, we have another opportunity to seize both of these initiatives/technologies, and pick up some very intelligent can-do people.


  • Joe KB3PHL:

    As I read through some of the comments at the end of the article, I got the impression that some of these people have a kind of rebellious &/or anarchist point of view toward the Ham Radio hobby. Quite a few of the comments were about not liking the rules about IDing or any of the rules governing the frequencies that your allowed to be on, etc. etc. There was one comment stating that the FCC shouldn’t have any control of the frequency spectrum. I don’t think we would want to attract the kind of people that would rebel against the rules & procedures of Amateur Radio either.

    Joe KB3PHL

  • Joe, I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, however I wouldn’t paint the hacker and maker communities with a broad brush and say all or even a majority of the people in these communities are like that. And as we often see on the Internet, the most reckless and least intelligent people are often the most vocal. One other thing I’ll mention is often the only exposure these people have had to wireless in any technical capacity has been 802.11 WiFi, which is essentially a wild west free-for-all. But as we know it has limited range and depending on the application, limited capabilities. It’s up to us to introduce them to licensed spectrum and the wide range of frequencies, modes, and capabilities. I think when they get the big picture, they will ultimately understand why identification and regulation is a must.

  • Joe KB3PHL:

    Anthony, of course I don’t think that all of the hacker and maker community have that point of view as I am myself interested in microcontrollers like Arduino and the Raspberry Pi computer and the various other electronics of the hacker & maker community. I do agree with you that we need to educate them about the licensed world of the Ham Radio spectrum.

    Joe KB3PHL

  • Todd KD0TLS:

    Jason wrote: “There are a myriad of ways to communicate with people you don’t already know on the internet”

    Yeah, I’m not saying ham radio is the *exclusive* means to do that, am I? I said that is the advantage that ham radio has. Sure, I can pick up my cell phone and start randomly dialing to ask strangers if they are up for a chat, but that’s a little creepy.

    Don wrote: “to develop a compelling and precisely honed message for each of those targets.”

    Yep. My issue was with the statement “This is how we need to talk up amateur radio”, as if this were some kind of *general* marketing approach. Targeting the “elite” won’t work on the “non-elite”. As a marketing person, you must know the danger of using contradictory messages.

    KC7ZXY wrote: “Those are not the words of elitism or exclusion.” No, those are the words of delusion. Kind of like the “fleet” of ham satellites. There’s really only two reliable sats. The rest are non-functional, part-time, or one-way CW beacons. I’ve been a ham since October – one of those new people that this article would attract. There is no “mutual support”. There’s a higher percentage of surly, socially-inept, “get offa my lawn” bozos out there than you find in the general public. I’ve devoted a blog to it. Are there good people out there? Yes, absolutely. But to bill the hobby as some kind support network is deceptive.
    I found a quarter on the ground when I walked through the park two days ago. Would it be deceptive of me to portray walking as a great money-making opportunity? Sure it would. Finding supportive, helpful people on ham radio is more of a pleasant surprise than it is a reason to get into the hobby.

    It’s very telling that the people criticising me have to resort to straw man arguments. I clearly said that there’s a place for the “elite” in ham radio. This is a decent appeal to the “elite”, but a lousy marketing angle for the rest of the population. Ham radio is already known as “geeky” to non-hams. I’m not sure why reinforcing that image is seen as particularly brilliant or innovative. It’s more likely to lead to disappointment when the “non-elite” find that there’s no place for them in the hobby.

    Ham radio *is* attracting people. It just isn’t *holding on to them*. Much of that is due to the deceptive ‘marketing’ of the hobby, and another considerable portion is due to the personalities of the people that new hams find. When you make an appeal aimed at “socially awkward” people, as the article does, don’t be surprised when these same people drive away the rest. You can’t have it both ways, and we seem all too eager to be willing to drive away the many in order to attract the few.

  • “Ham radio is already known as “geeky” to non-hams. I’m not sure why reinforcing that image is seen as particularly brilliant or innovative.”

    Perhaps because this particular article is directed at geeks? I wouldn’t call it particularly innovative or brilliant (those are your words), but it’s appropriately worded for the target audience which is something a lot of radio amateurs have difficulty doing.

    “It’s more likely to lead to disappointment when the “non-elite” find that there’s no place for them in the hobby.”

    That’s quite simply not true. If you regularly read this site you know that merely making an HF contact with a dipole strung between two trees once in a awhile is something a lot of hams do, and write and talk about. It’s often all many hams do. It’s hardly elite, but a common activity and folks still find enjoyment in it.

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