The Future of Amateur Radio Is Not In The Numbers.

For close to three decades, ever since the Morse Code requirement for amateur radio was dropped for the Technician license in 1990 and then finally eliminated for all licenses in 2007, there has been a simmering debate about the future of amateur radio and how to make it appealing to young people in a high tech world with a lot of competition for their attention. And for just as long there has been a cheerleading faction that offers up the growing number of licensees as evidence that things are going great, or at least that’s what they publicly claim. I am not nearly so optimistic. The future of amateur radio cannot be built solely on a foundation of numbers. Some hard realities need to be confronted if the future of amateur radio is to be as bright as the cheerleaders want us to believe.

Quantity over quality is a dead end.
There is no dispute that the number of licensed amateurs is indeed growing. What is lost in the statistics is that there is a lot of uncertainty about how many of those licensed amateurs actually participate in or care about the avocation to any meaningful degree.

This blog article from five years ago explains it very well. The TL,DR version: A lot of hams got their tickets for some specific purpose like a Boy Scout merit badge or to be part of a neighborhood watch program, and then left amateur radio when that purpose was fulfilled. The theory also assumes that anyone who is willing to pay for membership in a radio-related group can plausibly be counted as “active” in the hobby. This is a pretty loose assumption, but for now we’ll go with it. The other caveat is that there is no accepted definition of “active ham”.

If we recalculate the formula with today’s numbers, the ratio is still the same: Only about 23% of licensed amateurs are considered active in the hobby; let’s arbitrarily bump that to 30% to include those who are active hams, but not members of a radio club/organization (I place myself in this bucket). I’m willing to bet these admittedly unscientific estimates are close to accurate if not overly generous. From my own experience, there is a lot less enthusiasm for ham radio, even among the hams themselves, than there was back in the 1980’s when I first got my ticket.

I realize anecdotal evidence is not real evidence, but it’s not nothing, either. It calls attention to a completely valid question: If there are a lot more amateurs than there were thirty or so years ago, why is there no surge in traffic on the ham bands, no increase in club memberships, no higher attendance at hamfests, and no participation swell in on-air contests to correspond with the greater number of licensees? Going only by the raw number of issued licenses, the future of amateur radio should be highly visible and self-sustaining.

In 2007 the Morse Code requirement was dropped for all license classes and the written exams were dumbed down to the point that one can now get an Extra ticket with absolutely zero on-air experience and just a few evenings of memorizing test answers. The test pass rate was very high and licensing applications soared. For better or worse, lowering the bar of entry, presumably to cultivate the future of amateur radio, at least on the surface appeared to be achieving its intended result.

This little history lesson leads us to an understanding about why we have a lot more radio licensees but not a lot more radio participants: There are a disproportionate number of individuals who are hams on paper only. They have a valid license and are included in the total, but they don’t do anything beyond being a number. The cheerleading faction is totally ok with this and even boasts about it.

All those ten year term ham tickets issued during the rush of 2007-2009 will soon expire. I predict in the next year or two we will see the net growth of licensees slow down or even recede because the bandwagon-jumpers from a decade ago will not bother to renew.

The future of amateur radio needs action, not math.
Lamenting the events & decisions that got us here is also a dead end. The license changes of 1990 and especially 2007 generated a lot of bitter acrimony that still lingers today (I’ve actually received hate mail). I’m not interested in refighting the civil war. It’s long over & done. I want to work with the system we have and play a part, however small, in ensuring a real future for amateur radio, not one that only brags about numbers and has no real heft behind it.

If young people are the key, then we elders need a plan, a list of things we can actually go out and do, that will make a difference.  I sincerely hope this is a cause every concerned ham can join no matter what side of the civil war they were on.

In no particular order:

Stop hawking EMCOMM. Emergency communications is important, but it’s become a tiresome public relations trope. Ham radio for EMCOMM is overrated now that cellphones and advanced public safety comms systems have nearly 100% uptime, even during stressful situations. I’m not saying EMCOMM is not worthwhile or not relevant, I’m only suggesting that it’s not much of a selling point to bring in new hams, particularly the young.

Focus on data modes & video. Young people like to stare at screens. So give them a screen to stare at! Yeesh, this is such a no-brainer! Data modes & video are the closest thing amateur radio has to the way kids communicate these days. It’s very relatable and an easy fit to the younger generation.

Forget about Morse Code: Much of the aforementioned civil war revolved around the “Know Code vs. No Code” issue. The Know Coders lost. It’s been ten years. Let it go already; move on (cue hate mail). Making stiff proclamations about code’s efficiency and ability to punch through poor band conditions, albeit true, are not a persuasive argument to get young people interested in radio. If you want to operate CW for your own enjoyment & benefit, fine…go for it. But embrace this basic truth: No modern teenager thinks its cool to tippy-tap dots and dashes invented 180-plus years ago .

Promote computer-based projects. Arduino and Raspberry Pi are becoming major players on the amateur radio landscape. Many books & articles have been written on how to incorporate these technologies into radio. Like data modes and video, Arduino & Raspberry Pi are a natural comfort zone for the young and one of the best ways to plant the seeds of the future of amateur radio.

Encourage contesting. This too is a no brainer. Many teens are involved with team sports, so radio contests are inherently attractive to competitive personalities. Kids can be coached to approach radio just as they would for a sport, then have the personal satisfaction of performing their best in an on-air contest. The parallels between radio contests and youth athletics are obvious: Goal-setting, teamwork, fair play, sportsmanship, achievement. Not capitalizing on these similarities would be an appalling missed opportunity.

Promote alternative/off grid energy. Whenever I give a presentation with my portable solar power equipment, I have the undivided attention of every young person there. They absolutely love the idea of zero emission, “free” electricity you can make yourself. The problem is that they are usually far more interested in the solar panels than they are in the ham radio gear. In fact, I could probably not even bring the radios and they’d still stand there and listen to me. Nevertheless, if alternative energy can be used as a bridge to amateur radio, then it’s worth doing. Not everything in radio has to be about radio.

Be more selective. The confluence of lax licensing requirements and inexpensive equipment has attracted people who might not otherwise consider being a ham. A few will seriously pursue the hobby, but the vast majority jump into radio “just for the heck of it” and just as quickly drop away.  This startling piece over on the KB6NU blog lays it all out on the table in a refreshingly blunt tone: “…only about one-half of new hams actually get on the air.”

While I do not endorse being aggressively exclusive or elitist, I also do not believe we should waste our time on casual dabblers who are at high risk to quit without making any sincere effort to be a real ham. Before agreeing to be someone’s Elmer, established amateurs should consider if the person they are being asked to help is even worth the effort to train them. We need motivated individuals who want to be turned into skilled, confidant, and engaged amateur radio operators, and not merely test-passers. By the way, Elmers, this requires a commitment on your part to continue working with new hams after they have initially earned their ticket.

The concept of measuring success by how many people pass a test needs to go away and die. We can’t foresee everyone’s true intentions or control licensing requirements, but we can demand commitment, set high expectations, and mentor only those who show the ability & willingness to be a long term contributor to the future of amateur radio.

What you need to know. 
This list could go on much longer. The focus of this article is attracting and retaining young people, but in truth anyone of any age is a potential good candidate to ensure the future of amateur radio. There are a lot of other ideas out there, but it’s pretty clear to me that the numbers game is a not a viable path forward.

61 thoughts on “The Future of Amateur Radio Is Not In The Numbers.

  1. Don

    GM Chris,
    Just about everything you have said about the intetests of the technically inclined young people of today is true — at least that is what I have seen (I am not a teacher). I also agree with your evaluation of the
    EMCOMM-loaded ranks of ham radio. That evaluation was right on the money!

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Thanks for riding along, Don. I try not to be controversial, but sometimes confronting the unpleasant is the only way to get past it.

  2. DragoSapien

    Again!!!!! Another good read. Your words are just what go’s through my mind all the time. We have the same problem here where im at. The one thing I also notice was the lack of advertisement for ham radio and the new digital modes/Pi systems we do now. If a TV commercial advertisement was to show the new tech in ham radio, it might spark allot of new interest in out younger gen.. If they don’t see or hear about it, they wont ever have any interest in it.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Drago, the ARRL recently started an ad campaign targeting young people. I’m not sure how extensive it is, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ll see where it goes.

  3. Mike Hohmann

    Hi Chris… I’m guilty as charged! There’s just not enough hours in the day or days in the week. There’s just too much going on… and that’s my excuse. And everybody else’s too, I’d guess. My most recent excuse is I need that General ticket. Well, I’m happy to announce I’ve cancelled plans to hike King’s Peak in Utah, what would turn a 3-4 day climb into a two week trip after going through Wyoming high country on the way out to get acclimated to the elevations, and then driving all the way home again. I’m going to spend the 2 weeks studying for the test. Summer is almost over and it’s time to get serious… Do I want to be a Ham OPERATOR or not? I’ll catch you on the air one of these days! Yes I will! 😉

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Mike, I’m not sure what you are pleading guilty to, but nothing in this article should be taken to mean that you’re not a “real” ham unless you devote yourself to radio 24×7. This is a hobby, not a marriage or a religion. Most of us (including me) have full time jobs, families, and more important commitments. I would say anyone who takes the time to read Off Grid Ham is sufficiently dedicated in my book. And by the way, license class is not necessarily an indicator of how “serious” one is. Good luck on that General; we’ll see you out there.

  4. VA7BMJ

    We need to encourage people to become amateur radio operators by stating the benefits of belonging not only to the field but also the organizations across the country. Without the infrastructure usually put up by radio clubs there would be few or no repeaters. What is going to happen in your community when disaster strikes and you have no power or internet or cell use? Amateur radio will continue to work, especially in those communities where amateur radio clubs have repeaters with back up battery use and generators ready to fire up. Look around at recent cries for state of emergencies and you will see amateur radio operators put on notice.

    We had one such scenario here where an entire Island, population 4500, got knocked off the grid by a barge taking out the transmission lines for power, phone and cell towers for over a week. The residents were thrilled that an emergency response team maintained by amateur radio operators became their life line for emergency calls and to assist with getting information to relatives off island of those stuck at home with no power, no phone and no cell.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      VA7MBJ, You do bring up a great point that I did not include in my original article: A lot of the success of amateur radio depends on convincing the non-ham public that they get something out of this too. And although I totally agree that ham radio is a valuable emergency communications tool, I am not convinced that EMCOMM is valuable as a way to attract new hams. The average person, and especially the young, does not think any disaster will happen to them, so getting into ham radio “just in case” is not much of a selling point. To most people, ham radio EMCOMM is like a fire extinguisher: It sits unused in the corner and no one really thinks about it until it’s needed…and most people will never need one.

  5. Pingback: Amateur Radio Involvement | Coastal Ham Radio

  6. randall krippner

    Thanks for another very thoughtful and interesting article. You’ve dealt with a lot of things I’ve thought about myself. I suppose I should be included in the ranks of those who are licensed but who almost never actually get on the air. I enjoy tinkering with equipment, experimenting with antennas and playing with the technology, but not actually talking to people that much. The license is a tool that permits me to legally indulge in what I’m really interested in which is in the technology, propagation, etc. So you’ll only hear me actually on the air very rarely, but I am actually “active” in other ways.

    My wife got her license specifically for emergency communications. The institution where she works got a grant from somewhere to train someone to get licensed so they could use a VHF/UHF rig the facility already had donated years before and had sat gathering dust because no one was licensed to use it. Her only interest in AR is EmCom. She’s in ARES and SkyWarn and that’s pretty much the limit of her interest.

    My oldest son is also licensed, but you won’t hear him on the air very much either because like me, he’s more interested in the technology than he is in actually talking to people. At the moment he’s working on putting together a self contained SSTV system to do remote monitoring. So he’s “active”, yes, but not in a way that anyone would really notice.

    I wonder how many of us “inactive” amateur radio operators are really active, but are active in ways that don’t show up because we aren’t out there contesting or rag chewing or DXing?

    Anyway, thanks again for a great article. I always look forward to your new posts.


    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Randall. As I mentioned, there is no formal definition of “active ham.” Like you, I do very little actual on-air operating. But I do experiment, tinker, show up at ham fests, give public demonstrations, help other amateurs, educate non-amateurs about our hobby, and write articles for Off Grid Ham. And yes, I have a fully functional off grid HF/VHF home station.

      Simply because one does not appear on the air that much does not mean they are not a legitimate contributor to the hobby. In fact, I’ll go one further and say guys like us and your son, who quietly work behind the scenes, probably do more to advance amateur radio than the dude who just sits on a mic and rag chews for hours or only cares about contests. You indirectly made an absolutely correct point: Some of the greatest contributors are the ones you seldom hear on the air. If we define what an “active ham” is solely by on-air time, then we are discounting quality for the sake of quantity and steering right back into the numbers game that I railed against in my article.

      This article was intended to suggest ways to attract and retain hams for the long term; it was not meant to guilt-trip anyone or pick apart others’ motives. Yes, I do think we as amateurs should be a little more selective about who we let into our circle, but anyone who sincerely wants to participate should be welcomed, even of their preferred form of participation is off the beaten path.

  7. Blackthorn

    Once again you written a very thoughtful post that’s very much on the money.
    I could swear you had me in mind.
    New Ham with a shiny new General ticket that got interested because of emergency communications but has gotten on the air exactly once, and that to test a potential new radio.

    Yes, I passed the tests and will pass the Extra soon as well but that only informs me how much I don’t know. Being around comms folk, both in person and on the air is the only remedy for my considerable ignorance.

    The thing is I really do want to have good radio skills for emergency purposes, maybe not exclusively but close. I have about as much interest in collecting contacts for the sake of contacts as I do getting likes on Facebook. I’m not on FB. I don’t need another hobby, I have plenty of those. I do need to have as many useful options for getting information, being in touch and so forth.

    On the other hand I know I have to consistently practice with whatever my equipment is. And with radio that means listening a lot and occasionally talking. And keeping up with technological advances and possibilities. All that adds up to being an involved Ham.

    [Oh, and for those that are into contesting, I say bravo! Get out there and go to it. That’s just not me.]

    I really appreciate the time you take articulating your thoughts. I find your posts valuable and check your site every few days to make sure I don’t miss any.

    So thank you for this one in particular. You’re speaking directly to me.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hello, and thank you very much for your nice comments. First off, you don’t need to keep checking back for new posts…just sign up for an email subscription in the upper right corner of any page on this site and you will get an email alert every time I post a new article.
      If emergency communications is you motivation for getting into ham radio, that’s fine as long as you regularly practice and train. Don’t be one of these pretenders who gets a radio, stuffs it in in a cabinet without bothering to learn how to use it, and waits for the world to implode. A real ham will know what he/she is doing before they need to do it. The first time you use a radio should not be when you really, really, need it!
      Off Grid Ham is not just about alternative energy. It’s also about encouraging hams, old and new, to give their best and get the most out of ham radio. I’m glad you find my website so beneficial and thanks again for your support.

  8. kd1s

    In my case I’ve had my license since 1992. I remember to re-up every 10 years too. But I barely ever turn the radio on. Part of it is the net pretty much destroyed that aspect of communication. Then of course I got my extra when element 1C was still required. If I could do so could lots of other people.

    Plus where I live HF is not an option. So I’m VHF/UHF.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Back in my younger years when I lived in an apartment, I too barely operated HF due to lack of space for an antenna and lack of money for a portable setup. I mostly depended on a 2-meter handheld radio. It wasn’t a lot, but I was still out there doing something. Ham radio is not about being on all the bands all the time, or having the hugest antenna or most powerful amp. It’s about doing the best you can with what you have and participating in some form.

  9. Pete

    Hi guys im a licenced amateur over here in the uk, got my licence in july 2012 on the entry level foundation. And i wonder why i botherd to be honest, the bands are dead 2 mtrs and 70 cms are quiet 85% of the day the repeaters are being abused by non licenced, mic keying iq0s and some licenced opps as well. I would love to move up the food chain to the intermediate and a full licence, but as i see it what benifit would i get out of progression in this dying hobby i really cannot see. The reason for the lack of activity on vhf and uhf these days in my opinion is down to digital modes, they are really screwing up amateur radio with Dstar, Fussion, and Dmr over here in the uk its taking the possible lower level licences off the analogue vhf uhf bands. In fact i put the whole hobbies downfall on past and preasent amateurs, who have by the very nature of the hobby designed these new digital modes that have in fact put the last nail in the radio amateur coffin and destroying the radio hobby.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Pete, I can’t speak for the UK but if ham radio is “dying,” and I do not agree that it is, then it’s probably not due to digital modes. There is something for everyone in ham radio. I hope you find your groove and stick with it.

  10. Kevin Sanders K0KDS

    This is a great read and I wholeheartedly agree with so many of the points described as a 31-year-old ham who’s coming up on his 9th year of licensing. I do feel less enthusiastic about the hobby now than when I started. I don’t know exactly why that is. I could be getting more jaded by hobby politics but I do notice some pretty low-quality operating taking place.

    One point I am conflicted about is “Be more selective.” I have been trying for years to help work on a repeater and/or tower site. I’m one of the younger hams to be in a position to help some of these old-timers with lugging things up to the top floor of a hospital, or do some of the more manual labor while learning how to maintain a repeater and its site. I am motivated to learn, yet when I offer to help and show my eagerness to learn, the repeater site work day comes and goes without an invitation. Sure, I could put up my own repeater, but with how many repeaters sit quietly idle, I don’t see the point in putting up another idle repeater.

    This hobby truly does have some gatekeepers and it disappoints me that I’m showing a willingness to learn but no one wants to let me into their circle so I can learn.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Kevin, I have been licensed since 1982 and have seen a wide range of “hobby politics”. It is easy to be jaded and turned off. I remedied this situation by keeping to myself. I am not a member of any clubs or groups but will participate in club events on an ad hoc basis. I pretty much fly solo and follow my own road. I’m not antisocial and have nothing against clubs/groups, it’s just not the direction I want to go.

      As for being selective, that can be a two way street. If you truly want to learn the craft and are constantly being snubbed, then I would encourage you to move on and find other resources from which to learn (Off Grid Ham is a GREAT resource…hint hint.). Don’t let a few bitter old codgers chase you away from a fulfilling and fun hobby. I can’t explain guys like that other to say that they have always been around and probably always will.

  11. Sam Sumner, W4ZKM

    Good article… I agree with much you have said. However, the quote: “now that cellphones and advanced public safety comms systems have nearly 100% uptime” makes me wonder how many major emergencies you have been involved in. I, and others in my EMCOMM group, have worked several where the cellphone infrastructure was down for several days while “portable” cell sites were brought in because the sites were down (under water, tower down, generator not working, etc.), and others where the Public Safety radio system was down (the E-911 center was under water, repeater towers down, no power for dispatch or for the repeaters, etc.). Ham radio did what it was intended to do… support the community until they were back to an operational status.
    While I agree that the EMCOMm is not the “END ALL” reason for our existence, it IS a primary reason why we have our hobby. (Look at the issues that our Congress addresses for the existence of Ham Radio… working around tower regulations by local laws, Homeowners Associations, and other anti-antenna organizations. The stated reason for these concessions is for Emergency Communications, not for al the other “fun” things we use the hobby for).
    Again, while I agree with much of this article, DO NOT BELIEVE emergency services assistance is not a PRIMARY reason for our existence! Without this “reason” for our existence, the FCC could drop the Amateur services, resale the frequencies, and make money. If for no other reason, do not try to separate Ham Radio and EMCOMM in the minds of the public. It could cost us dearly!

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Sam, I have never participated in an live EMCOMM event as a ham but in my non-internet life I am a communications electronics tech who works on the wired and cellular networks every day for a h-u-g-e telecomm company. My understanding of the public comms system is probably better than 99% of the hams out there. I know what it can do, and can’t. I even wrote this Off Grid Ham article about my insights; I invite you to check it out if you have not already.

      Your insights about EMCOMM are correct. The point I think you missed was that, as meaningful as EMCOMM may be, it’s not a strong selling point to attract new hams. The average person thinks 911, cellphones, internet & everything will always work the way it should and emergencies happen to someone else. I encourage amateurs to keep their EMCOMM skills updated, but as a recruiting tool EMCOMM is kind of boring and worn out. There are just too many people with their head buried in the sand.

      Also, I took the liberty of fixing your spelling error and deleting your follow up post, for clarity and to avoid clutter on the page. I appreciate your participation and hope you’ll come back soon.

  12. Todd KD0TLS

    Hi Chris,
    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, and applaud you for saying what many don’t wish to hear (but desperately need to). We are attracting large numbers of new entrants. But, for every ten that we attract, we lose eight due to attrition. And those new entrants aren’t getting on the air or are abandoning the hobby within a few months.

    The reasons for this are more social than technical. Elitism, “rig-shaming”, rank condescension, a stale social hierarchy where “rank” is based on seniority, and a relentless push to upgrade without regard for the interests of the new ham are all common things that turn off new entrants before they get to find their niche. None of these things involve actual operation of a radio, but they have somehow become part of the definition of amateur radio to many long-time hams.

    You wrote:
    “I also do not believe we should waste our time on casual dabblers who are at high risk to quit without making any sincere effort to be a real ham.”

    This is where I feel you missed the point. Many new licensees aren’t particularly interested in “technical issues”, because they aren’t particularly interested in HF operation. FM isn’t that hard.
    Rather than *technical help*, what is called for is “insight”. And I’m not talking about stories of the “old days” here. Questions such as, “Where can I find people that match my interests?” aren’t technical, but more “social”. “Is there any activity on 2M SSB?”, “Is it worthwhile to pursue digital modes on VHF?”, “What can I do with FM packet?”, or “What is satcom all about?” aren’t inherently technical questions. And these are the exact kind of questions that tend to get poor responses from “experienced” hams.

    HF isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even practical for many. If HF operation is essential to your definition of a “real ham”, than you may just be swapping false distinctions.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Todd, Thanks for your detailed comments. If many new entrants to ham radio are attracted to the social aspect of the hobby, it’s important to understand that it then becomes a matter of personalities and how well people “click”. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but no one should take things too personally. Not everyone is going to be your friend, and just because they are not your friend does not automatically make them a jerk.

      As for HF being part of my definition of a “real ham,” I never made such a distinction and even went well out of my way, more than once, to stress that there is no formal definition of a “real” or “active” ham. And I’m not sure what your own personal experience level is, but FM is not necessarily “easier” than HF. Some of the equipment is super-user-friendly, but if one wishes to do anything more than push-to-talk on FM, they’ll have to learn actual skills. If anything, FM is more complex than HF.

      Your theory that for some people ham radio is more social than technical has a lot of merit and probably does play a role in why things are the way they are, especially when kids are in the mix. I like your idea so much I might even do a separate article based on it.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I hope you’ll come back to Off Grid Ham soon.

      1. Todd KD0TLS

        “Your theory that for some people ham radio is more social than technical has a lot of merit”

        To be clear, my point is that the *barriers* to retaining new hams are social in nature, not technical. It’s not necessarily that people get in to socialise. These social elements (that long-time hams have learned to over-look or deny) turn off new entrants before they get to find their niche.

        The vast majority of these negative social factors come from well-meaning operators doing nonconstructive things in an attempt to ‘help’.

        If someone really, really wants to participate in ham radio, these things can be ignored. Most new hams are just “trying it out”, though, and we needlessly lose them in the early innings. Imagine joining a club and being forced to wear a dunce cap and a sign around your neck for several months after you join. It would turn new people off. And this ritual would not be an integral part of the club’s mission, so they might consider abandoning it. That’s what I’m saying.

        1. Chris Warren Post author

          You’re right Todd. As I mentioned, this list could be a lot longer. Not making newcomers feel welcome is definitely a factor. It would help if everyone would just lighten up a little. Thanks again for your input.

  13. Brad Brooks WF7T

    Good thoughts, well put. I will add that one might also say that Satellites and portable operations (field) are good candidates for the list. 73!

  14. K7VE

    Good article. One little point, from an Extra that did pass the 20 WPM test (and not a CW op). CW is not the most efficient, punch through, mode.

    Advances in digital signal processing have moved weak-signal digital modes into that space. Look at all of the activity around K1JT’s various modes.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      You are right. As someone who operates a lot of data modes, but never CW, I can do more with PSK31 and 5 watts than I can with 100 watts of SSB, and that’s even including poor band conditions. Still, CW has its place and is still considered a great mode to get through the crap.

  15. Dave

    Have to agree with pretty much everything except that CW does light up a lot of kids interests. If my daughter just had to learn CW and no theory I think that she’d have her ticket by now.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Dave, your daughter must be an outlier because I’ve never, ever, met a young person who jumped up and down with excitement over the idea of learning Morse code. For every kid like your daughter there are 100 others who want nothing to do with it. If you can find that one kid who, for whatever the reason is turned on by Morse code, ok cool, but I still don’t see it having broad appeal.

  16. Milt Forsberg

    Chris – you make many excellent points that the Amateur community needs to hear. As for numbers, yes, lots of licenses may expire. It really is our Job to welcome, help, and encourage the new licensees. Our club is working on special sessions for new members to the hobby. We have a several members who come to our VE sessions and greet the new ones as they finish their exams. Usually, some equipment is brought in for some quick demonstrations. Questions can be answered also. I might add that this concept and function was started by some of our newer licensees. They want to help. It has been well received. We are now working on creating the follow up sessions. As for activity, we try to monitor our repeater all the time. Taken from a Northern Wisconsin repeater group, “Never let a call on the repeater go unanswered ” obviously, we can’t be there 100% of the time, but we encourage everyone to listen for calls.

    Another activity, which is mostly social, is that several of us who are retired (and some who are not) gather for Lunch almost every day. We have one fixed location on Mondays so anyone can find us. Other days we discuss on the repeater where we want to go. Our attitude is that any mention of food is an automatic invitation to join us. This gets many members together informally where they can discuss technical issues, ask questions, and get to know each other better. It has helped the club and individual members a lot. We make certain to inform our new licensees about Lunches. Also, we invite any who are passing by on the highway to join us.

    As for digital modes, this may be the salvation of our hobby with the solar cycle decreasing. Many now use D-Star, DMR, and Fusion because they can talk anywhere without waiting for conditions to improve. My understanding is that a big part of our hobby is communicating with others. Digital voice provides this as well does other digital such as JT 65 and all the others. Our younger generation is in tube with digital equipment, so why not let them see how our gigital works. Who knows, maybe they can help us older Hams with understanding digital!
    I feel that we need to make everyone feel welcome in the hobby and assist them whenever possible. Yes, there is a social aspect to Ham Radio!

    Thanks for your article. I hope your comments are passed along to many in our hobby.

    I was first licensed in 1969 and have been since then. I am a VE and enjoy it. I’m close to 100 VE sessions.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Milt, I would love to see more of what you and your crew are doing. Making a real effort to get new hams started in the hobby, as opposed to simply passing a test, is the only way amateur radio is going to have a vibrant future. Of course, nothing is 100% and some will drop out along the way, but your plan will catch most of the “good ones.” I’m glad you got something out of my article, and I’m also glad you are out there walking the talk. Great job; 73.

  17. Peter Yager

    I would like to say, I’m a new HAM KC3HXT, But you will not catch me on my radio. I have a 35 dollar radio and that’s about all I can afford. The price of the radio is very expensive if you want any power. So my self I am building my own tube radio. I have the knowledge and equipment to do it. But in most cases, People look at the cost of a radio, antenna and tower, and they’re gone.
    Just my two cents.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Pete, it’s true that amateur radio equipment can run into the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. But as you are finding out, there are less expensive alternatives. In the early days of radio, hams had no choice but to build their own because commercially manufactured radios did not exist. I respect you for taking the initiative to find a way to come up with something. You are exactly the kind of ham I want to see stick around long term. Please don’t give up!

  18. Nick

    I used to like chatting and listening to different people and there conversations but when you have one or two who think its their private channel and dominate the airwaves it takes alot of fun out of it.

  19. Curtis Gidding

    I definitely believe that most clubs should develop an instruction program for the new hams. Call it “Boot Camp” Just because someone passes an exam, that does not indicate that they have any knowledge of operating on the air. Also, the major equipment manufactures do not provide a lot of information regarding the operation on the ham bands. They just provide limited info on programming the equipment and how to use it features. Also, I think that “newbies” should be encouraged to buy very expensive new equipment at the onset. There is a lot of used radios available from reputable sources– many within the local radio club. The first “new” xcvr that I got was ten years after I got my first license. It was followed by many more used units. Unless a new ham knows what type of operating he wants to do, they should careful about spending over a reasonable budget .

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Curtis, encouraging clubs to have some kind of follow-up program is a great idea! It seems clubs are great at helping people pass tests, but not much is done afterward. It does take a significant investment of time from more experienced hams, but the long term benefit is priceless.

  20. william

    This was a very good article…for a very specific reason.

    A brief background of my position. I’m a newish Ham (within last year) but the interest dates back to the very early 1990s. I was living in Japan at the time and a coworker (Japanese fella) was always carrying around a walkie talkie with a whole bunch of buttons on it. I was still not 20 at the time but was amazed that such a device could do what it did. Sure, pagers were all the rage in those days and cell phones for the elite. But as a joe-average nobody, a ham radio seemed amazing.

    Time warp to last year. I found myself driven to get a license. It was not out of need or fear or any other reason than I owed it to myself to actually check it out after so many years of curiosity. So I did, I committed to learning and found success right away, earning a license and managing to figure out my FT-60 in just a few weeks. This was last November…to date I still have not once been on the air. After listening to the local repeaters and traffic I soon realized that what is out there is not that interesting at all. I want to keep my observations strictly to VHF/UHF as these bands are generally where everyone starts.

    I’m offering these observations because I feel strongly that Ham radio is something to appreciate but is very very obsolete.

    1. Local nets seem to achieve nothing. I understand the need for EMCOMM and Skywarn practice nets and the like. But are you kidding me? Verbal reports of current weather conditions with some comment? These nets exist for “practice”. Practice for what exactly? Perhaps just 40 years ago field spotters had their place. Today, there is virtually no reason to have this sort of redundancy. The NWS has all of the data they need…and unlike 40 years ago, have an incredible amount of telemetry data at their disposal. Side projects with the USGS and all of their autonomous systems are proof of this. What is the point of practicing weather observations? Why not use this as a forum to develop other types of awareness? I suppose talking about climate is a touchy subject with most hams as they (to me anyway) seem to be conservatives that don’t favor data and science.

    2. Having a license because ECCOMM seems tangible or imminent. Oh my, no. Lets imagine a situation in which there is an internet blackout. It will either be a blip or it will be long lasting. If its the long lasting variant i suspect that conditions are so bad that Ham ECCOMMs wont really impact the real issues at hand (what ever they may be). Even last week, my friends in Fort Myers Florida had 10 feet of water in their yard, no power (still today even) yet their cell phones work just fine. There might have been a few moments where sending a text was slow….but that’s all. Imagining catastrophes worse than that should really make one ponder the true utility of Ham based ECCOMM. If conditions are so bad, i would imagine that its every man for themselves at that point. Holding on to this romantic idea that Hams will save the day if true SHTF happens is slightly misguided.

    3. The language used in radio is seems rather antiquated. As I understand it, Q codes are very handy in CW. They have their place. Using them on VFH/UHF seems like the ‘old guard’ is just being difficult. How is so wrong to say “did you copy” or “where are you located”. Also, using phrases like “i got my ticket” bothers me. I hold many government licenses, and I never once degrade them by calling them a ticket. I went to school forever and earned them. I hold my ham license in the same regard. You get a ticket for the movies or a water park…not for you license. Have some respect.

    4. The old guard talks about what they talk about. Sometimes i hear sad stories that I could have lived without. But, those are real life and I accept them. However, hearing about back pains, and “my gout” and a hundred other ailments is rather a buzzkill. And mind you, this is repeater traffic. Only very rarely i’ve heard conversations (sorry, QSO) that had real technical or cultural merit. I feel that if I talked about most of the things im interested in that I would be deemed a heretic. Sadly I am interested in Ham also.

    At this point I’m spewing. And I guess my bigger point is that I feel like I have some ‘buyers remorse’. Ive made investments and have done the work. And now that I’m here, I wonder, why. I get a kick out of playing with APRS and other such things. I think it is a hoot that I could send my wife a text message to Denmark from where I was in BFE central VA. That is thrilling a bit.

    I guess i need to find other like minded people to really feel like I can do something with this license. If ham is dead (or dying) its because evolution is seemingly frowned upon. I have no idea where to go from here. Digital modes seem to be where I’ll end up. I have so many ideas that could make Ham more appealing. Its just a matter of getting that audience and the support to actually SUGGEST change. But I feel like moving onto a different hobby is more likely in the cards than changing the hearts and minds of the ‘old guard’.

    rant over, 73s

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi William, I appreciate your detailed reply. I would encourage you to look into other aspects of amateur radio, such as data modes, and bring forward the ideas you have to make ham radio more appealing. You are right, rag chewing on repeaters can get tedious after a while, and it’s not really representative of the hobby. I certainly hope you will stick with it and find the audience that I know is out there.

    2. Todd KD0TLS

      what I find interesting is that nowhere in your list of dis-enchantments did you mention technical challenges. This is interesting because, in the minds of the “old guard”, the strong belief is that new hams need technical help. I’ve seldom found this to be true, but it’s another of those of articles of faith that can’t be shaken. Instead, your issues revolve around social interactions — much like I pointed to as being the major barrier to integrating new licensees into the hobby.

      The “old guard” believes that you desperately want to *emulate them* and win their approval based on their antiquated metrics. They know this to be true, whether it is or not. And if you *don’t* want these things, then you are the “wrong sort”: a CBer, a LID, a dabbler, or simply dumb. You are free to find your own path, as long as that path doesn’t differ significantly from *their* own path. This is what passes as “open-minded” in the insular ham radio culture. You won’t change it. It has to wither away, and that’s unfortunate for the future. The “old guard” doesn’t see a need for change, because they truly believe that everyone gets their license to rub elbows with these elite keepers of wisdom. Besides, look at those license numbers 🙂

      What you need to do is find like-minded hams that share your interests and perspective. Easier said than done, I know. This is made much more difficult by having FM repeaters as the entry point to the hobby. Interesting and different people soon leave that scene, and the most tiresome tend to remain and reign. Digital modes (e.g. DMR) are a great solution. New devices such as the Shark RF Open Spot mean that a repeater isn’t even needed. And new things like the geo-sync satellite are developing. You aren’t the only new ham that feels the hobby was misrepresented or is horribly out of touch with the current technological context. And you won’t be the last to run smack into the wall of uncomprehending insularity known as the “old guard”.

      1. william


        Thank you for your words. You are correct about the absence of technical challenges in my rant. There is one thing about Generation-X (and to some degree baby boomers) that is a fact: we have grown with technology. I recall the magic in my eyes when i first saw a computer make color graphics. My father (at the time a crypie in the navy) brought home a weird box that had a keyboard…and the things that box could do was nothing short of amazing. That was the early 80s.

        In the 80s we had pagers and bag phones. These morphed into brick phones and two-way pagers. Then the internet sprang to life for the masses. Then flip phones, startacs, Nickel-metal hydride batteries, and on and one. And then, the early 00s we were given google…then YouTube. My point, Gen-X has had technology at their disposal for a long time. They were born without it and were raised with it. We’ve adapted as it has adapted. Gen-X knows what it was like before tablet phones and face-book. Yet, we have a keen sense of seeing the spectrum of possibilities. Do you think your average millennial kid can even comprehend what a radio wave is? For them, there has always been these great advances…there has never been a need to know how they came to be.

        I did not mention technical challenges because this is part of the fun. With the help of info-technology, if I cant figure it out…someone out there has. Learning from others experiences is easier than ever…and without the need to seek out a specific license class of person to get that information. The old guard most certainly paved the way and helped radio advance to where it is today. But, the need to know how to assemble an HF unit from scratch is about as useful as having a hand cranked started on a car. Sadly, the memory of these advances over the years likely skews the perception that NEWBIES need help because they could not possibly figure things out for themselves. As you said, those fancy license numbers command respect.

        I most certainly am into amateur radio for a few reasons. Most of those are revolving around technology and application. I worked with GOES/ARGOS up-links years ago and was smitten. The ability to view data on your PC from location X while the observation point was thousands of miles away at location Y was nothing short of magic. And then….TO CHANGE THE MONITORING PARAMETERS REMOTELY! Are you serious!!! All of this through radio waves!!! These are the sorts of things that compel me to exhaust amateur radios’ possibilities. The old guard may not see that people without licenses may have technical expertise that surpasses the limits of Ham radio.

        As you mentioned, digital modes and items like the openspot are out there for the taking. I am thrilled with these things. I don’t have my own node just yet but I am on echolink through my phone/tablet. It is simply remarkable that i could check in on Irma Activation nets while in service or call a specific repeater directly in europe. And to do these things without the worry of steady HF band conditions! Technology, if nothing else, should breath a new life into radio. Sure talking to someone in England through IRLP systems is not true DX. But you know, it seems that the experience feels about the same…and with SO MUCH LESS EQUIPMENT AND EXPENSE than traditional HF routes. And because its fundamentally VHF/UHF as a backbone…you can do this with a tech level license.

        So, for technical challenges….there aren’t any as far as I can see. Regulatory challenges seem to have more weight than anything else at this time.

  21. Steve, KB9MWR

    The ARRL recently posted the results of their entry license survey:

    The should be fully aware that in the next 10 or so years a large number of the existing ham population will have passed on. A new group of hams who need better representation are the future ARRL customers/members.


    “From the committee’s vantage point, the status quo is no longer adequate: we need to have a vision of the future and convey it to our current membership. If we do not convey the need to change the paradigm, the ARRL’s relevancy will not move forward.”

    I am still waiting to see what their vision is.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Steve, I am aware of the ARRL report and the excellent analysis by KB6NU (I quoted his article in my post). The ham community does tend to run older, but I’m not sure if the next ten years will have a greater attrition from silent keys than any other time. Regardless, the focus should be on recruiting and retaining new amateurs. If we can do that, there will be no need to parse demographic data.

    2. william

      That article was actually remarkable. I was pleased to see that so much work went into the research. Although the data was a bit skewed towards older Extra class participants, the results are still telling.

      Here are some silly ideas to consider:

      Distill licenses down into one level….say the general class only. Here is the logic. We do not generally tell a driver to avoid a certain class of road or type of vehicle that they can use on PUBLIC ROADS. Drivers use these roads with equipment they can afford and at their rate of development. There are no roads that say “restricted to 60 year old corvette drivers only”. Roads are open and they are used by everyone who passes more or less the same level of examination. AND DRIVING HAS FAR GREATER PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS THAN HAM RADIO!!! Where else do you need to have a specific type license to be in a hobby apart from aviation?

      Why not grant households a callsign for the family to use if one holder is at least a general class? A head of household generally provides an internet connection to his family. It could be argued that internet use has far more dangers to offer than amateur radio. When was the last time a young operator committed suicide because he was bullied on VHF??? Its never happened. What possible public safety issues could arise from responsible ham use? I’m not suggesting deregulation of use…im suggesting that like an internet connection….one household IP address covers a lot of use and responsibility. Even in this case, you’d be allowed to share your license, but this still does not make radio that interesting.

      Treat ham like hunting and fishing. Pay to play. If you want to catch those big fish with big equipment….pay for it. But, allow access to anyone who wants to pay the fee. Provide a pamphlet of rules and most certainly ensure that “violators will be prosecuted”. Enhance enforcement but relax licensing. Pay to play fee structure could most certainly employ a few more monitors than what is likely being funded now.

      Allow encryption levels to exist on amateur bandwidth in simplex modes. Think about this….we can send emails, skype and whats-app messages SECURELY to who we want without having the burden of a license. How backwards is that? Its not like such a feature would even be that useful….but it could most certainly be interesting to use on occasion. ITs almost no different than digital/digital simplex now. Analog radios cant listen in….so why not go a bit further and add a bit of security to that? Its not like cell phones and FRS radios are never used for nefarious reasons. Yet, a level of encryption exists there without license.

      I feel like a heretic now. I’m such a rule following soul that it pains me at times. However, in dealing with a dying art, it can only be resurrected with bold action. Its time to move beyond changes like “remove the CW requirement”. Consider the situation that you relax amateur rules to be as public as the highway system…it would still not be able to provide a tenth of the satisfaction that one gets through their phone. You’d still have to deal with sometimes cumbersome equipment, finicky programing, limits of physics, home owners associations, obsolescence, and GOMs. Certainly makes that iPhone/android more interesting considering its overall utility.

  22. Don

    I don’t fully agree with this “one” Ham’s assessment. HamFest numbers are up as my attendance at 3 fests so far this year have proven. And participation in OTA events is also up as apparent by the increased number of “pile-ups” for contests over the last 2 years. I believe that Skywarn is the largest recipient of new Hams as well! People want to help out and they’re getting their license.

    However, I will admit one thing, there seems to be a shortage of Elmers willing to help out the newer Hams. I have a great Elmer! I consider myself very fortunate! He told me, to truly become a Ham, you need to get confident to a level where you can Elmer another.” I couldn’t agree more. So I’ve spent the last 2 years learning everything I could from him, so I could snag a new Ham and teach him what I’ve learned! And it’s going well!

    Anyway, this is how I, another Ham, view it! Let’s make a push for some more of these “old-timers” to get out in full view and “Elmer” these new Hams. That way, if there was any truth to this story, it can be squashed and we can gain more quality Hams!

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Don, I’m really glad to hear that you found a dedicated Elmer to help you get started. One of the problems with training new hams is that there aren’t a lot of knowledgeable old hams around. As I mentioned in my article, the test requirements have been dumbed down and over the last decade or so the pool of people who genuinely know what they are doing has become much smaller. And in what cannot be anything other than a “race to the bottom” and “everyone gets a trophy” combo platter, the ARRL is in the exploratory stages of lobbying for a new class of ticket below Technician with easier requirements. There are grade school kids passing their Tech with just a few weekends of tutoring…and the ARRL thinks it’s still too hard! Enough already!

      As for contest participation, hamfest attendance, etc…I don’t know how long you’ve been a ham, but when I started in this hobby back in the 1980s, hamfests were typically large, very well attended events that in some cases ran for an entire weekend…and you needed an entire weekend to see everything! At least in my area, they have declined over the years and are now barely more than glorified garage sales that one can breeze through in less than an hour, and half of what’s there is computers & power tools and other non-radio fluff. Maybe it’s still strong elsewhere, and I hope it is, but around here it’s very discouraging to see what hamfests have become. Contests are much easier to quantify. I do not have statistics in front of me, but I’m willing to bet the number of contest entries has not kept up with the number of licensed hams.

      In spite of my misgivings, I still very much believe in amateur radio and want to see it thrive. I started this website as a form of virtual “Elmering”. Guys like you, who take radio seriously and clearly have some fire in your belly, give me hope that it will all be ok. Thanks for your comments and for your contribution to amateur radio. I am certain your efforts will pay off.

  23. Jeff Bauer, WN1MB

    Back in the prehistoric times when I was first licensed (1969), things were a lot more simple.

    The entry level test involved 20 or 25 multiple choice questions and a 5 WPM code test. I you passed, you received a 2-year non-renewable novice ticket: a learners permit, if you will. 50 Kc chunks of 80, 40, and 15 meters were your HF bands, crystal controlled only, at 75 watts input. A segment of 2 meters was also available for phone.

    Rigs had far fewer bells and whistles. New hams had plenty of equipment to consider, but were not blinded by choice as newcomers are today.

    I firmly believe that the deliberately designed simplicity was THE way to go. The “learners permit” approach, besides being sheer genius, gave novices tastes of both HF and VHF, cw and phone. “Crawl, walk, run.” Apprenticeship.

    Today’s black box-itis of cell phones and other knob-less consumer electronics gear, while very versatile and powerful, shrouds the pieces/parts. The goodies. The heart of it all.

    So before blowing off cw, old timers, and anything analog, history should be given considerable attention. There’s a LOT to be learned there.


    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Jeff, I would like to see a system where one has to hold a class of license for a certain amount of time and get some operating experience before upgrading. This would weed out the wannabes and give the truly sincere a goal to work towards. A limited short term entry level license, perhaps a modernized version of the Novice class, would prevent someone from being “on the books” for an entire decade as nothing more than a number. Back in the day I favored “no code” but I did not favor “know nothing”. And I do not favor a system that allows someone to “earn” the highest class license available without ever having touched a radio or even making one single on air contact. Seriously, I knew more as a Novice than most Extras do today. In any case, what kind licenses should be offered and the level of difficulty required to get them is not the point. The goal is to attract and retain active, knowledgable, involved hams. I favor any system that can make it happen.

  24. Ted Spence, KE0MWN

    I want to say, I agree with a lot of your points in your article. More specifically, the comments about the old guard. As a NEWBIE, I find it bothersome, that there are those who consider themselves, “gods of the airwaves”. This condescending attitude can seem ill mannered, if not downright rude. I don’t hold much respect for those few individuals that indulge in this behavior, and steer clear of them. My parents taught me that if I don’t have something nice to say, maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. Or, at least use a little tact in doing so. Manners count! As far as the younger generation being involved in ham radio, people like this can easily scare/steer them away.

    Also, I found, getting a license it the easy part. Knowing what you want to do with it, is an entirely different ball game. Do you want to go CW? Or just rag chew on 2m/70cm? How about satellite communications or talk with the space station? Maybe go long distance ?bouncing your signal across the pond”? Lots of power or low power? For me, I never realized there so many more facets of ham radio. Yes, all these were mentioned when I did the 2-day class for my Tech. At the time of my class, I had NO clue what all this meant to me, or how it would/could benefit me.

    A little background on me. I have been interested in radio communications, as a hobby for some forty years. But like many others nowadays, there are reasons a some of us haven’t gotten involved. Be it, family, career, other interests, life, and money, there always seemed be an issue or an excuse. I’m retired military, have worked in civilian law enforcement, currently working for the Federal Government. I have always felt I should have something to offer/give back to the community in some way, after I retire.

    Having been into CBs back in the 70s-80s, I thought it would be easy to get back on the air. After a quick 2-day class, I got my Tech license (April 2017) and I bought my first radio (FT-2DR) a month later. Living in the Midwest, I was originally interested in Skywarn or some similar community service. Being 62, and facing the ever-looming retirement just over the horizon, I honestly thought I’d have more time to devote to it. But at the moment, for me as well as others, it is still hard to find the time. Life can pull you in so many unexpected ways. That is my excuse/fault, and I’m sticking to it. (Enrolling in an electronics class wouldn’t hurt me either, as I have no experience or background in anything electrical!)

    I am lucky that in my area, people/hams are very friendly, encouraging and very forgiving. But after listening to the 2m/70cm, bands for a over month, often found I really didn’t have anything to say or add to the already ongoing QSO? Also, there is the fear of sounding ignorant or inexperienced. I recently met a woman who had her Tech for almost 10 years, was going for her General. And until that evening of our meeting, she had never keyed a mic! She had been involved with other hams and had worked numerous volunteer community functions, in those 10 years.

    As far as involving those younger/newer hams, I think Fusion and other digital forms of communication will be the way of the future. The excitement of talking long distance to foreign lands, has been (somewhat) diminished with the advent of the internet and cell phones over the last 20+ years. (My wife & I just finished talking with her son face to face, who is currently studying in Glasgow Scotland VIA the internet.) So, making the digital world of communication more exciting, more appealing to the younger generation, seems a logical way to go.

    Expense! Decent ham radios have always been expensive. For my first radio, I chose to go with something I wouldn’t have to replace in the next 10 years, because of newer technology. But, not everyone can/will buy an expensive radio as their first one. I do think, they should require a license to buy a radio, though. Even the “el cheapo” ones. This is probably impossible, due to most of the radios being from China or Japan. And having those companies check with the FCC would require more work, more expense, raising the price of an already expensive radio.

    In closing I want to say (in my own personal opinion), I don’t think ham is dying. I think there are those who say it is (mostly the old guard), who refuse to accept the new technology coming down the pike. But, the world is a changin’. We older folks need to quit whining about it and embrace it. Being rude, indigent, or over critical of the younger generation (or newbies such as myself), have to be more open to change. Sharing ideas is NOT forcing them down one’s throat. Communication is the key. Not, “I’m right and you’re wrong. End of discussion”. That doesn’t work. Working together will be the only option in keeping this form of communication or hobby alive. Remember, the only thing that stays constant in life, is change…

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hello, Ted. Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comments. I did read your post in its entirety. You brought up a lot of great points, more than I can respond to here, but due to the surprising popularity of this article and the reaction it has generated, I will be doing a follow up before the end of the year that will take into account all the feedback I’ve received.

      To your point about basic courtesy…it’s unfortunate that there is so little of it coming from older people who should be mature enough to know better. I’ve been hamming for 35 years so I guess that makes me “old guard” but I’d like to think I’m accepting enough to be excluded from that stereotype, which I admit, is somewhat deserved as your very accurate observations point out. One of the purposes of Off Grid Ham is to build bridges and bring people together to make a great hobby even better.

      You are right that ham radio is not “dying”. If I truly believed it was, I would not be wasting my time running this website. There are some attitudes & beliefs in ham radio that need to “die,” but the avocation as a whole is on solid ground.

      Thanks again for your insights. I hope you’ll come back to Off Grid Ham soon.

  25. Jak

    Old Goat says:

    Are you a boring person or find others boring?
    Don’t like learning morse code?
    Don’t like calling and not getting an answer?
    Don’t like listening or studying the art of conversation?
    Don’t like people with ‘character’ or do you lack character, self confidence?
    Don’t like to talk about sex, politics, pornography, or religion?
    Don’t like hamfests or radio contests?
    Don’t like to ‘ragchew’, to tell lies, joke around, or makeup stories?
    Don’t use CB, GMRS, FRS, marine, GPS, or scan police/state patrol frequencies?
    Don’t like hooking up antennas, batteries, radios, computers?
    Don’t like portable, mobile, aero, marine operations, or QRP expeditioning?
    Don’t like getting weather data, storm predictions, radio diirection finding, or position reporting?
    Don’t like computer terrain imagery, automatic link extablishment, or illegal radio transmissions?
    Don’t like studying Lowfer, 160m 80m, 60m, 40m, 20m, 18m, 15m, 12m, 10m & 6m propagation?
    Don’t like short wave listening, beacon monitoring, hf contesting, or RV radio networks?

    So, November 25th, 2017 is QRP day on the Noontime net on the westcoast.
    Over 500 stations checked in the other day on that same net.
    100’s of RV stations checkin at Quartzite each year in January.
    1000’s of cw stations sound like tinkling ice cicles for sweepsteaks the other day.
    AM radio is alive and well on 3990MHz and 160m.
    WBCQ still exists…… longer a pirate, and pirates still exist.
    MilSpec OD guys, mercenaries, & spies use their comms to talk to hams, (air, ship, sat, & terrestrial)
    Yachts, fisherman, & ships depend on many different modes & frequencies.
    Emergencies can show up when their least expected anywhere and amateur radio has the capability to synchronize any situation and communicate with authorities, rescue, fire, coast guard, etc. mainly because ham radio has mode & frequency flexibility, IF you’re participating and respect procedures 🙂
    PS…..feel free to study/pass the FEMA courses so you understand the structure of event management.

  26. Jak

    One thing learned last night. According to the Noontime Net on 40 and 75m 75% of checkins were using low power (QRP) which is 10 watts output power or less which can be supplied by a car battery. Those that want… will and that is the heart of amateur radio. Drop the hobby for 10 years…pick it up again in a month. Train your kids to pass the test and none of them stay active….good deal…maybe they’ll be back. Maybe they’ll tell a friend.

  27. Wayne Kuban

    Interesting read. I myself have wanted to become a ham since the 70’s, but because l lack the ability to remember much of what l read, passing a ham test isn’t likely. I wonder how many are like me that would love to go beyond merely listening, but just can’t take a test?

    1. Todd KD0TLS

      give the test a shot. A lot of the answers can simply be guessed, given that the incorrect choices are somewhat obvious. Take a practise test at
      It’s not that difficult, and you only need 75% correct. You are not the only one that finds the prospect of an exam daunting.
      Currently, you can operate a 50W GMRS FM rig without taking a test. You can operate a 25W marine VHF FM rig without taking a test. You can even operate a 150W HF rig on the marine band without taking a test. But if you want to operate a 5W HT on amateur FM frequencies, we draw the line and require an exam. Hey, it is what it is.

      The licence is not the hard part. It’s dealing with the ‘helpful’ snobs and their arrogant expectations that becomes the real “test”. Can you handle being spoken down to as if you are a retarded child by “experienced” hams that think this treatment is “encouraging”? Are you okay with “rig-shamers” who feel that the price tag on your radio is far more important than what you say on it? Are you prepared to face immediate and relentless pressure to “upgrade” to General from operators that ‘know what you really want’?

      In short, are you willing to be treated like crap by people who mistakenly believe that they are being constructive?

      If not, then enjoy listening. The new ham faces daunting social challenges that have little or nothing to do with their technical knowledge or conversational skills. Idiocy is assumed in advance, regardless of what you actually know. It is also assumed that you are “hooked for life”, so these social challenges are dismissed by “experienced” hams as some kind of abusive gauntlet that you will learn to “rise above” over the next *decade or so*, because they ‘know’ that you really, really want to rub elbows with geniuses like them. And all of them see this path as the “natural course of things”, so you will find little sympathy beyond condescension.

      All “experienced” operators are Good Guys — which means that they are beyond criticism simply because they are *well-intentioned* in their behaviour and mentality. All of the “problems” are caused by a tiny, tiny minority of Bad Guys, who should just be ignored. And so the toxic social environment is perpetuated, since no one engages in any form of introspection or evaluation regarding their words or outlook.

    2. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Wayne, I would encourage you to get licensed and give ham radio an honest try. Some people just don’t test well, but there are tons of study materials and practice questions to build confidence. Once you are in the door there are many subspecialties (such as off grid operation) to explore. You’ll find your niche somewhere and will be very happy with it.

      Todd KD0TLS’s comments do have a small element of truth to them, but for whatever the reason he’s got such a chip on his shoulder that it’s hard to take him seriously. I’m not going to censor his comments even if they are uncalled for and borderline offensive. Instead, I will leave them exactly as they are to illustrate that the “attitude problem” in ham radio, if there even is one, is not limited to the old codgers. I’ve been involved with this hobby for 35+ years and have never experienced anything even sort of close to the “toxic social environment” he speaks of. If you seem to run into the same bad attitudes everywhere you go, then maybe the problem isn’t everyone else.

  28. Todd KD0TLS

    Well, Chris, you’re kind of proving my point. Blame the victim is the name of this game. And, just as I outlined, you rejected my insights out-of-hand as uninformed. And it seems as if you replaced those insights with something stupid that I never implied. All of this is what happens to the new ham.
    You seem to have ‘read’ that “senior hams are outrageous jerks bent on humiliating new hams”. But, as I repeatedly stated, the problem is well-intentioned senior hams unaware that the “helpful” things they do are actually insulting, demeaning, alienating, and counter-productive. Unaware, Chris. One single example, out of literally dozens I could offer:

    Last weekend I ran into a new ham, Pete. I had known him before, and he told me about a new 6M FM repeater that had been brought back on-air. He talked about how he planned to put a whip on his car to try out the repeater, and invited me to test it out with him. Then, Helpful Guy, a senior ham, barged in. Speaking down to Chris in a tone similar to Mister Rogers talking to small child, he seemed to think Pete was talking about 6M SIDEBAND. And he smugly instructed Pete to use a horizontal dipole. When Pete clarified that he was talking about a repeater, Helpful Guy assumed the stupidest possible thing: that he was talking about a sideband repeater. Long story short, Helpful Guy wandered off, feeling pretty good that he had just “helped’ a new ham by advising him to put a horizontal dipole on his car to work an FM repeater. Pete was shaken by the condescension, and asked me, “Did I say something stupid?”.
    The thing is, Pete is NOT stupid. He spent a decade in comms. Now, is Helpful Guy some kind of evil monster? No, he’s not. He failed to listen because he assumed idiocy in advance, he ‘heard’ stupid things, and he gave an answer based on that. Had you asked him, he would have been unaware of how his tone had changed, or how he missed the point. In fact, Helpful Guy is a pretty nice person. He’s not some “bad apple”. But what he did is actually quite common.

    In the same way, people will often raise their voice when talking to someone that speaks poor English. They aren’t consciously thinking that this will help improve communication, and they probably aren’t aware that they’re doing it.

    If you haven’t heard senior hams making smug remarks over a new ham’s BaoFeng, then I have to wonder how much time you’ve spent on repeaters, Chris. The very first day that I got on the air, I was told by three Wise Elders that my PuXing PX-777 UHF monoband was illegal, and that I was going to prison for using it. They were wrong, but they honestly believed it, and were honestly trying to ‘help’.
    You do no one any favours by indirectly defending this behaviour or mindset, or by blaming the victim. In reality, it simply tells senior hams that they don’t need to engage in introspection, or to evaluate whether they are unconsciously doing more harm than good.

    If I seem to have a “chip on my shoulder”, it’s because I’ve had so many new hams tell me similar stories, and watched them leave the hobby rather than be treated poorly by well-intentioned senior hams. And, whenever I try to bring this up, I get the exact same speech as you just gave. Do you guys get together and work out a script? If you guys keep giving the same off-base response wherever I go, maybe the problem involves a little “group-think” on the part of senior hams.

    New hams don’t need condescension from people that “know what they REALLY need/want”. Yet, that’s what they get, because it’s seen as “helpful” and “encouraging”. No monsters. Just clueless people doing the wrong thing in an effort to do the right thing. And responding in an equally clueless manner to anyone that points this out.
    Treating intelligent, responsible adults as if they are retarded children creates a toxic social environment, regardless of the intention. Pushing people into paths that they aren’t necessarily interested in, because you ‘know what’s best’ as a senior ham, is just more of the same counter-productive “helpfulness”. Pushing high-priced options for people that are just finding their way, because you ‘know’ that the new ham is “hooked for life”, just drives people away. It’s all done with good intentions, but produces toxic results. If the behaviour and mindset won’t change, then new hams need to be prepared to deal with this situation. That seems like a realistic attitude to me.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Todd, I have spent literally hundreds of hours researching, writing, and editing the 47 articles that have appeared on Off Grid Ham over the last two years. This includes producing many of my own photos, videos, custom charts, and graphs. It does not include the time I spend going through reader comments and emails. And by the way, I personally read every single comment and email sent to me. I can’t always reply, but everyone, and I do mean everyone, is heard. You’ll also notice that there is no advertising on Off Grid Ham. I pay for the web hosting and operating overhead out of my own pocket, which is substantial and rising due to the increasing page views. Being popular is fun, but it’s not free.

      The public reply sections after each article are splattered with appreciative comments from hams old and new who have learned a lot from Off Grid Ham and are grateful for my no-nonsense, non-confrontational style that encourages newcomers, respects the old timers, and offers practical & positive ideas for the real world. I also get very kind emails, which are not publicly disclosed.

      Where I’m going with this is it that takes a lot of balls for you to accuse me of smug elitism after I’ve contributed enormous amounts of my personal time and money evangelizing for a hobby I believe in and have been an active part of for over three decades. How many hours have you spent teaching others? How much of your own hard-earned cash are you willing to blow on bandwidth to pass knowledge to complete strangers? If you spent as much time serving other amateurs as you have insulting me on my own website, you’d be freakin’ Marconi reincarnated by now. I may be crazy, but I’ll (still) give you the benefit of a doubt. Maybe you really do walk the talk. Maybe. But I’m not feeling it from any of your comments.

      Todd, I don’t know why you’ve encountered more negativity in your short ham career than I have in three-plus decades. The amateur radio world I exist in is full of concerned, accepting men and women willing to go far out of their way to help others. I sincerely hope you get out of the rut you’re in and find that happy place. In the meantime, I’m beyond done with indulging your pity party. My time is better spent preparing articles that will be appreciated by the large and growing Off Grid Ham readership. The guy who pays the bill gets the last word, so this discussion is over. Any more drum-beating or snarky jabs will be moderated without response. I’ve given you generous room to have your say, now move on. I hope you’ll continue to be a part of the Off Grid Ham community and make worthwhile contributions about other subjects. Good luck and 73.

  29. Dave

    Great read. I’ve been licensed for a year and a half. I was involved with CB late 70’s and wanted to get my ham license. I didn’t for whatever reasons. Many contributer’s above are correct, it’s not hard to pass the exams. Study, memorize and pass the exam. I think that’s fine because it’s what happens after you pass the exam that means the most. Changes made in the exams including dropping the code requirements were good for inncreaseing the number of people getting licensed. Getting newly licensed people involved, participating, belonging, sharing, and learning the many modes of the hobby, is far more important than passing a more difficult exam. One of the club’s I belong to W2WCR is starting a mentor program. A mentor will be assigned to each new member of the club. It’s a great start and will hopefully help us to better understand what each new member needs or wants to be “part” of the hobby. It’s easy for a new member to become frustrated, feel inadequate, and ultimately loose interest while waiting for the next meeting. In fact one can go many meetings without getting involved with anything. Im still trying different modes, learning new software, trying several different radio’s to better determine what get’s my juices flowing the most. It changes weekly and sometimes daily from HF, Digital modes (D-Star, DMR, PSK-31), 2 Meters. Having someone to guide you along the way sure makes it more fun.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Dave, I really like the idea of a mentor program. It sounds like you got yourself hooked up with a good group that sincerely wants new hams to succeed and is willing to put a lot of effort into that goal. Keep learning, and don’t let negative attitudes distract you.

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