Field Day 2018 is almost here. It’s a contest, readiness drill, science fair, publicity stunt, geek festival, and party all rolled into one. It’s the Grand Poobah of amateur radio events. And this year my challenge to Off Grid Ham readers is not to fly solo. The task is simple: When you go to Field Day 2018, bring someone with you and convince them that amateur radio matters.
Inviting a buddy who was going anyway doesn’t count. Make a serious effort to introduce outsiders to amateur radio. The potential pool of Field Day 2018 guests is large:
- A recently licensed ham who has never been to Field Day.
- Someone who used to be licensed but fell away from the hobby.
- The disabled.
- Senior citizens.
- Kids (scouts, church youth groups, school clubs).
- Veterans and veterans’ groups.
- Neighbors and friends who wonder what all those antennas on your house/car are about.
- A licensed amateur who feels discouraged and can’t seem to find a place in the hobby.
- High profile people such as politicians, clergy, community leaders.
- First responders: Fire, police, etc.
- Teachers, counselors, and people who work with kids.
- News media.
The “perfect” Field Day guest does not need to be a ham or even interested in becoming one. Although it would be great if your Field Day 2018 guest liked what they saw and decided to join us in our useful and fulfilling hobby, the point is not (necessarily) to recruit new radio amateurs.
For Field Day 2018 the goal I’m proposing is to expose others to amateur radio and leave them with a positive impression and the feeling that ham radio has value. In a previous Off Grid Ham article, I stated that one of the ways to perpetuate ham radio was to show non-hams that there’s something in it for them. Whether that be volunteering in the community, technical education, youth/scouting activities, or the clichéd but nonetheless practical EMCOMM…it does not matter. What matters is demonstrating that amateur radio benefits everyone.
The long term success of amateur radio is as dependent on public approval as it is on bringing new operators on board, perhaps more so. Anything we can do to show our non-ham neighbors that amateur radio is an important resource is most certainly worth our time and effort. But here’s the catch: The public can’t have a good impression of amateur radio if they don’t know what it is or have never seen for themselves what it’s all about.
And that’s where Field Day 2018 comes in. It would be very helpful if there was some kind of agenda or plan as to what your guests will experience. A bunch of people sitting in the park yapping on radios isn’t very interesting to an outsider, and without context it may even seem a little weird. Give visitors a reason to be there, and give them a reason to believe their life and community is a better place because of amateur radio:
- Set up a display table with posters, literature, QSL cards from around the world, and if possible videos about amateur radio. A designated “ambassador” should be a available to answer questions and talk up amateur radio. Mature, knowledgeable kids are ideal for this task.
- Issue press releases and social media announcements that your Field Day 2018 is open to the public. Do not limit social media outreach to radio-related “friends”. Pass it along to other groups: Churches, community service organizations, etc. Think beyond the ham universe. When possible, deliver the invite personally. It’s easy to scroll past a Facebook post without thinking; a real-life encounter is more impactful and more likely to be accepted.
- Co-brand your Field Day 2018 with support for some other cause. For example, collect food for a food bank or hold a raffle or fundraiser for a local non profit. Possibly even a charity carwash? Find something that expands your audience and shows support for the community, but does not send you off mission and take attention from why you are there in the first place.
- A get-on-the-air (GOTA) station that anyone can try is a no-brainer for Field Day 2018 public outreach. Of course, make sure a knowledgeable control operator is supervising. The GOTA station can be included as part of the display table.
The bottom line is that we need to expose as many people to amateur radio as possible even if the effort does not result in more licensed operators. Field Day 2018 is still a few weeks away and it’s not too late to incorporate these ideas. If we give the general public a reason to care about amateur radio, the vitality and relevance of our hobby will continue for another generation.