What’s Wrong With the ARRL?

Every so often a blog posting takes on the topic of “the ARRL needs to change.” A recent one came from Dan KB6NU, referencing some worthwhile ideas he has encountered via Rotary International. (I like Dan’s blog and read it fairly consistently.) Whenever I see this kind of article, my brain immediately thinks:

The ARRL is the worst US national amateur radio organization, except when compared to all others.

Yeah, its easy to criticize the ARRL, but it is the only game in town in terms of a national organization. And they do a lot of good for amateur radio and probably don’t get sufficient credit for that. (I should point out that Dan is very clear that he just wants to see the ARRL improve, especially in attracting new hams. I believe him and I share that motivation.)

It is hard being the ARRL.

Amateur radio is not really one hobby, it is a collection of hobbies and activities. We’ve got CW-enthusiasts, QRP folks, Emcomm volunteers, HF contesters, VHF contesters, tinkerers, 75m AM operators, repeater operators and on and on and on. Because the ARRL is a member-driven organization, it tries to balance these competing interests. Just listen to the random-vector criticism that spews forth: the ARRL is too focused on QRP, doesn’t do enough for QRP, only cares about HF, doesn’t do enough for HF, is against new digital modes, is always promoting new digital modes, thinks CW is the only way to go, gave us the No Code license, hung on to the Morse Code requirement too long. This list goes on and on. It really is impossible to keep everyone happy.

Like every large organization that I belong to, the ARRL is not perfect. But the good it does clearly outweighs the stuff I don’t like, so I enthusiastically support it. Said another way, I get enough benefit out of the membership to justify the dues. The key benefits for me are: QST magazine, Logbook of the World, contests, awards and representation with the FCC. QST is clearly the biggest benefit of membership and many people just view the membership fee as a magazine subscription.

A huge threat to an organization with such a print franchise is the shift from print to new media (video, web, blogs, podcasts, social). The ARRL web site has a lot of good information and most of the bugs have been worked out of the major redesign of a few years ago. They have a basic presence on twitter and podcasts. The ARRL has a youtube channel but the content is weak. At the same time, other people are putting out some good video content. Look at what HamNation, HamRadioNow, HamRadioSchool.com are doing.

The ARRL is a long-lived institution and like most long-lived institutions they tend to be grounded in the past and are a bit old school in nature. Attracting newly licensed radio amateurs, especially Techs, is the big challenge for the ARRL. I don’t know what market research the ARRL does but I suggest they establish on on-going program that gets inside the heads of newer licensees and potential hams to understand how they view the ARRL. This requires an ongoing investment that is coupled to strategy. I’ve seen marketing pros do focus groups, interviews, surveys, etc. that bring customer needs to the surface so an organization can respond to changes that attract new customers members.

If you are an ARRL member, what can you do to change things? Your avenue to make your views known is via your Division Director, so I suggest you reach out to him or her. (Contact information is listed in the front of every QST.) Don’t be surprised if your voice is mixed in with a whole bunch of other people’s views…kind of like Congress :-)

If you are not a member and spend a substantial amount of time having fun messing around with radios, I encourage you to join the ARRL. You might like it.

That’s my view, what’s yours?

73, Bob K0NR

The post What’s Wrong With the ARRL? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

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

8 Responses to “What’s Wrong With the ARRL?”

  • Don N4KC:


    Very well done commentary and thank you for posting it. I totally agree with your thoughts. Except for one thing: QST may be the most visible key benefit of being a League member but it is not the most important. The efforts our national organization makes in support of the hobby–from local antenna zoning to ITU spectrum allotment, from filings before the FCC to helping a single ham with RFI issues–rank up top for me.

    When I hear someone dogging the League, I usually ask them the last time they took their concerns to their SM or Director. That is when they typically say, “Aw, I quit the ARRL forty years ago when they did this or that that I didn’t support.”

    Of course, when I hear folks say QST isn’t worth the cost of membership, I point out–just as you did–that the magazine is only a small part of what the League is all about. Oh, and I ask them what they would like to see in the publication that isn’t in there already. Usually the answer is, “Less of stuff I am not interested in and more of the stuff I am.”

    Just no pleasing some people!


    Don N4KC

  • Mark W4MMR:

    I think the ARRL’s scope is best defined on this page: http://www.arrl.org/about-arrl# within which it notes that public service, advocacy, education, technology, and membership are the basis of its organizational mission.

    I am not so sure that it is their mission to recruit new hams – that is our job as practitioners in the hobby. The ARRL noted that they advocate through a strong member base which I take to mean that interest in the hobby and then membership occurs through interpersonal relationships with ARRL members in some way. In other words, a ham introduces the hobby to someone that they are in contact with.

    The ARRL to me is an organization that protects our interests as Don noted and also facilitates the activity of amateur radio through offering services such as LotW, the VE program, a journal, teacher education to support the sciences, and other planned services.

    Doing marketing homogeneous focus groups, member surveys, and all of that are excellent ideas. Like you, I think that perhaps getting a better read of the constituency could be a good thing for the organization and perhaps will shake out some ideas that could augment the services that the ARRL provides to the membership and/or potential interested people.

    I remember that when I was in my early teens, the CB thing was a big deal to us. Talking to others at some distance off the landline was absolutely exciting and I think most of us share that feeling and maybe even yearn to feel it again. I went to the library to get some information on CB radio in general and found QST and CQ and after perusing those periodicals, I remember thinking what the heck were these magazines all about? The magazines were not youngster friendly in any way and therefore I placed them back and forgot about them. The magazine content did not connect with me – too much of a journal.

    You know that journals represent the literature about some specific item of interest and promote the conversation about these items therefore QST continues the conversation for those that are involved practitioners. It is not designed as a tool for recruiting as it disseminates technical information that moves the literature and thus the hobby forward.

    Back to the library – I was into assembling electronic kits at the time of this research trip, but I did not see substance in what I read in QST or CQ that piqued my interest in the hobby (Art Linkletter had no effect either). My point is that peer networks are an important factor in whether one gets involved in a complex interest like amateur radio and it is our mission or onus to introduce others to amateur radio that may have a spark of interest. To ask the ARRL to recruit seems to be beyond the scope of their mission because they cannot tailor their approach better than we can when we are dealing with people. The hobby cannot be sold to anyone, it has to be introduced through a focused effort by us and then through these efforts, we can wait to see if we reached someone or not.

    Mark, W4MMR

  • peter kg5wy:

    Noooo Comment.

  • Goody K3NG:

    Good article. I’ve often said the good news is amateur radio is what it is today because of ARRL. The bad news is it’s what it is today because of ARRL. But it’s the best we got and they do a good job considering the wide breadth of interests and people they serve. People who don’t support them because of one issue or experience are foolish. I use the words “they” and “them”, but we are all truly ARRL.

  • Paul, KE5WMA:

    You can’t change it if you are not a member.
    I don’t think the cost of membership it too high. Have you priced the dues of the IEEE or other professional organizations?

  • David:

    ARRL is the life support system for Amateur Radio. Cohesion of all Amateur Radio Operators to work with the FCC is critical to keeping our frequency bands and maintaining some type of mainline discipline. It is up to all Amateur Radio support clubs and businesses to promote the hobby. Study the history of Amateur Radio and you will see that the requirements to obtain a license has been greatly reduced. Compared to a other government licenses, obtaining a radio license is simple. Join the ARRL and support the radio hobby.

  • Curtis, K5CLM:

    the ARRL does so much for us and for the hobby in general that most people just don’t realize. Not only are they our voice to the FCC, but they provide training materials, news and information that is available to members and non members alike. If you are not a member, guess what, they still fight for you as a hobbyist! They are kind of like a parent and the average hobbyist are the teenager kids…we may not like them, or have a disagreement with them, but no matter what we do to them, they are going to still fight for us!

    If you as a hobbyist doesn’t like something that they do, speak up! If you don’t say anything, how are they to know that there is something wrong. That being said, there is a lot of voices saying different things so we may not always have the turn out that we want to, but you can’t please everyone.

    73 de Curtis, K5CLM


    “Have you priced the dues of the IEEE or other professional organizations?”


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