Quick Thoughts on the Future of Amateur Radio

Just a few quick thoughts on the future of Amateur Radio from out here in the Wisconsin Countryside.

Over the last several months I have taken a bit of time to ponder what direction I see Amateur Radio going – not just for me, in my personal experience, but for the hobby as a whole. Here a few of my completely non-scientific thoughts:

Amateur License Numbers will continue to slowly rise. Adding interest to our hobby are additions from the Home Schooled, a segment who have found Amateur Radio a welcome science addition to their studies, from Preparedness Buffs (both individual “preppers” and organized, often church led, preparedness followers) who find communications to fit with their world view, and a steady interest from the traditionally interested society segments. Many of these newcomers are motivated mentor/coach/teacher types who are picking up the Elmer slack in developing more interest.

The hold-back wave of introspective “Ham Generation ‘ME’ types” are retiring from the hobby. Their life progression is now post-retirement or retirement, and the issues caused by their not developing much amateur radio interest in many of their offspring or other family becomes less a downward pull on the hobby.

The License is “just a license” and skills recognized as a life-long pursuit. An improvement over the gatekeeper mentality of former licensing schemes enhances the hobby for more ongoing-life-learners – the sort who will work to add skills, not just wallpaper, as they live the hobby.

Retro Interests will be Good for the Hobby. Whether the challenges of doing more with less (you have to love QRP for this), building kits (where else can you build useful gear, and often with through-hole technology … the resurgence in CW Morse Code as a voluntary taking-up is a great sign of how important Retro Interests are.

Mixing of Old with New makes for an Awesome Experience. Things like boat anchors with replacement high reliability components, add-on enhancements and even computer “cyborgism” makes for an experience like one’s father or grandfather’s amateur radio experience, without the downsides. Neat stuff!

I should wax on more, as the future for amateur radio is fantastic. I remain surprised at individual hobbyists who have “lost their radio mojo” and would generalize that malaise to the entire hobby. Afraid I’ve just not seen the same hobby doom and gloom out there.

Other upsides to reflect on are the very low ongoing costs to operate and continue in the hobby once involved, the relatively low cost of entry (yes you have those who complain that you need at least a little bit of investment to get started, though I think they are just being cheap and somehow forget that this is true of almost every hobby – I mean price up a decent piano if you want to start playing, or a league grade trap-gun if you want to shoot trap; or price up the huge investment of racing or big water fishing – in comparison amateur radio is not stand out expensive at all, in fact it is fairly cheap!)

There are nearly endless opportunities to try new modes, work DX, set up Emcomm efforts and join in nets. DXpeditioning, Special Events, US Island Operations and county hunting are just a few of the focus interests people find themselves involved in.

Perhaps there is some truth that it was a different world when an Amateur had to travel to an FCC Office and test in person, often built their own gear and always had CW abilities. That different world had a lot of good going for it, though we must remember that it had just a great lot of bad in it, and much of what we know now was unknown then.

Most importantly it is a memory only – a past that won’t return – and a past that provides a solid foundation for the bright future of our Amateur Radio hobby for the time to come!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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2 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on the Future of Amateur Radio

  1. Michael Birdsong KE4UYD says:

    The economy has been quite tough for me i had to sell some radio gear that i miss having.A dual band mobile and a 2 meter radio all i have now is a 440 handheld wich here in Memphis has very little activity. 2 meters doesnt have a great amount of activtity on some days but is much active on some days.a lot of 2 meter repeaters but mostly dead.And our echo-link repeater doesnt provide good coverage in my area.oh well back to the internet. its cheap and reliable, no connection problems.When i got into the hobby there was a lot of activity. but here lately when i did have my dual band radio i had all those frequencies but i only used about 2 of them. no activity.The voice of the repeater did most of the talking.Ans i think one of the problems is portable radios i could use my dualband to crossband repeat from a handheld.But without that a $400.00 handheld is useless.

  2. Paul Coats - AE5JU says:

    And of course immeditately came to mind the carping every so often on the ham forums when some new ham asks a question, the “oldtimers” jumping on him… “If you are a ham you should know that already.” “This is what we get from incentive licensing, the FCC should never have done that.” (and this argument is how many years old???) “I had to go to the old FCC office in (NYC, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc) 17 times before I could pass the code test.” “This is what we get from the new no-code…” Yada, yada, yada.

    Well, my comments… I think the Tech test is about right for what is intended.

    Some of the rest… particularly on the Extra… there are many questions about things that unless you are a ham you couldn’t possibly have any experience doing, unless you were licensed or active in some other radio service. And I don’t mean that the Extra is too hard. I don’t see how I barely passed it.

    But I know I am learning every day. And a lot of it is not on the exams. And a some of what is, I begin to question how knowing might make you a better ham.

    There is a question about a baud rate for a certain digital mode that frankly, well there are 10 times more guys doing PSK31. And how can learning answers to such questions be anything but memorization?

    I’m of the opinion now, the tests are what they are, and I’m not about to suggest they change them. People far wiser than I picked the questions, so be it.

    What I do suggest is that the Luddites, as you said, the ones not passing on the hobby to others, look to the testing to be a way to restrict entry, rather than being what it should be, a way to ensure minimal skills needed for good operation on the air.

    We are no longer digging our own crystals, making radio chassis from bread pans, etc. And working on anything with SMT boards, what a pain!

    On the other hand, seeing the look on the faces of the Scouts our club hosted for Jamboree on the Air, talking to Tony in Ontario, these kids were thrilled. And they catch on quickly.

    I talked to one 12 yr old about generators, how we are isolating by having the gen feed a separate box, and moving plugs over to it, rather than have any sort of switching, or possibly getting screwed up backfeeding to city power lines. He said at home they had an automatic relay, but he well understood the problems and danger.

    They not only took in and understood a lot of the radio stuff, but also the other emergency preps we had made.

    Anyway, my point, these kids are bright, interested, and they may or may not take an interest in radio. But they have the brains and skills to do this if they want.

    We need more Tonys and fewer “Grandpa Militias”.

    Paul

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