Jeff KE9V Ponders on Band Saturation, Numbers of Hams, and Minimal QSOs

Jeff KE9V, author, blogger and QRP enthusiast poses some interesting questions at his current blog “Smoke Curls”:

…if you step back and examine where the hobby seems to be headed, a reasonable person might conclude that preparations are already underway…

Check out his whole question and current blog at:  (Note Jeff KE9V revamps his website often – sometimes relaly often, so if you want to save something to sudy I suggest you email yourself a copy.)

I commented to Jeff:

Hi Jeff KE9V

Your question seems to have three parts:

- If we achieve much higher licensees and corresponding higher on-band activity, what do we do about saturation of the bands & stop recruiting as a result?

- What are the motives told, actual motives and net benefits of the bandwidth reducing technologies?

- What is the point of link establishing minimalistic QSOs (like JT65)?

My take (and YMMV):

- License & Band Saturation Question

I’d like to comment on the Band Saturation part first. We are seeing some peaking of band usage as the demographics are seemingly changing. Weekends are heavy and contest weekend very saturated. Added is the better outlets for self-promotion of contests & events increasing involvement and the general improvement of many ham’s station capabilities.

Saturation can be short term addressed by displacing peak loads during the week to avoid climbing on top of each other. Increasing the award prestige for lower power (100w and QRP classes) or increasing the hurdles for QRO might help. Promoting alternative areas of the hobby can help.

Otherwise saturation will be what it is. If it gets too bad – the QRM will put off involvement pushing back to an equilibrium. I am certain I’m not the only one to have hit such a wall of contesters that I went off to do something else rather than fight through the wall.

So basically I see saturation as self-limiting and a lesser issue.

On the overall number of licensees we are replacing a lot of retired folk with newly retired and middle age hobbyists. That we have no reoccuring test requirements means he have a lot of “paper licensees” with no station or regular activity. Some hobbies have retests and currency requirements. Perhaps we should follow the Private Pilot route of separating license and privilege? I have a pilot’s license but am “not current” requiring me to meet a series of requirements before I would be legal to fly solo. Perhaps Amateur Radio could do something like this?

My point is it makes it very difficult to draw conclusions what level of licensees is license saturation? If every ham was active HF every weekend contesting we likely have too many already. If many just want their ticket “in case” or for VHF/UHF Emcomm work, and others are inactive then who knows what number is good?

- Bandwidth reducing technologies

Bandwidth reducing technologies are, as you point out, a double edges sword. I’ve had visiting hams usually not on HF complain that HF DX isn’t as nice & clear as their EchoLink and VHF experiences! I should hope the different technologies have differing characteristsics. WHat they are telling us though is that they want their ham experience to be like a cell phone. Not much adventure in that.

Digital modes is whole different animal, where outside of the extremes like JT65 there is potential for some sort of QSO, often in band conditions that SSB is dead during and CW may even be troublesome.

So where is the hobby with bandwidth reducing technologies? Is it good or bad? Afraid the answer is in all cases “it depends.” More underused repeaters is a waste (though the tin-foil-hat crowd will tell you they see a dark side to the D-Star repeaters as a central authority can stut them down). Why do it, except for the experimentation and fun? Wait – isn’t that much of what this is all about – Experimentation and Fun? DItto with the extreme modes.

- Minimal Exchange QSOs

As for minimal exchange QSOs, like contesting in any mode and JT65, they offer a lot less but more off it.

JT65 is a mode that I liken to running around high-fiving everyone you can, rather than taking their hand in a handshake clasp and exchanging pleasantries. It is a “Hey You?!” and “Yah, Gottacha and Hey You Too” mode. I do run some JT65 myself, as the technology interests me, but only when everything else on the bands is dead. There is some satisfaction connecting in highly adverse conditions with minimal power. I couldn’t see running it exclusively or all that often though.

Contesting is a different animal, one where the operator self-challenges themselves on stamina (self and station) and technique. Again the QSOs are like high-fiving, but are more like high-fiving touching the basketball hoop’s rim! A bit more accomplishment there.

I’ve rambled on enough that I am going to self-post this at my blog, linking to your question. I’ll follow up with my thoughts on the future of amateur radio in a few weeks.

Of course YMMV,



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