The Struggles of (Everyone’s) Radio Club

A while back another club put out an SOS asking for help, and we replied:

We’ve no pat answers, but we have figured a way to facilitate spin-outs of those area hams who wanted to deeply focus on singular aspects of our hobby, of encouraging enough transparency to make the business portions of our club’s meetings less than 10 minutes out of 1-1/2 to 2 hour gatherings, how to put ourselves into financial solvency, how to trim out the hams who wouldn’t/couldn’t maintain a positive approach to the club and/or our hobby, and bascially salvaged a ravished empty shell of a club.

We spent a lot of time listening to hams and prospective hams who are “doers” and “active,” as well as taking sage advice from elders and Elmers – and have been figuring out ways to use the “Elmer in people” while not falling into the trap of repeating the things that never worked for the old timers in the group in the first place.

Did I say we worked hard to end the business side of meetings? Rather we’ve focused on “doing” and specially in the winter months an adult version of “show and tell” with a lot “teach me about it” presentations added.

At its most recent peak our club on the books had 84 members. Well only on paper, as half most of us never could put faces to, another quarter we wished we couldn’t put faces to (everyone has baggage in life, just most of us carry our own rather than inflict it on fellow club members), and then once you take away a very insular inner-clique not much was left – leaving perhaps a dozen or so “regular folk” hams.

Our club is down under to under 30 members – exact number is a bit hard to say as we propped up our finances well enough to have had a long “dues holiday” – so we don’t have membership dues collection to measure at the moment.  We maintain two 2m repeaters for the benefit of the community and a full HF/VHF/UHF club station.

Some of the main lessons learned:

  • Club Members mostly want the Club Benefits, want nothing to do with club duties/business.
  • Young prospectives will seldom return if they attend a meeting that is full of Sour Hams, or meetings that are nothing more than endless club business.
  • The Club is never going to please everyone, so stop trying to please everyone, and do only what your club does well.  Forget the other stuff.
  • “Elders” are largely not “Elmers” – if their past leadership and input hasn’t suceeded in involving more people or building up the club (quick hint – look to see if they have gotten their own families interested & involved in amateur radio) then their present leadership & advice isn’t is likely to work now.
  • Transparency, Transparency, Transparency – especially in matters of money.
  • Don’t repeat habits & techniques that have largely been a failure.
  • Be at peace with those who want to do something else in the “big tent” of this hobby, never take the bait of hecklers, and remember the Club is responsible to its members and is never responsible to outsiders with personality issues.
  • Show & Tell/Education topics need to appeal to those members hungry for knowledge. We’ve run sessions on Raspberry-Pi’s, the absolute basics of digital modes, kit building, on station building/planning on a budget, on Echolink/ILRP, on QRPing, on going to Hamfests/Dayton and other “here and now” topics because the active membership isn’t into DXing, Contesting, or Boatanchors (at least not now).
  • Camaraderie is huge for members attending. Thanking set-up volunteers publicly has led to our club having plenty of help when it is needed.
  • Be happy with what you get – better to have a smaller number active enthusiastic members attend than a fluffed up meeting mostly of folks who never turn on their radios.
  • People are short of time – doing actual “Radio Things” seems to score higher than Brat Frys or even parade patrol (we’re lucky to have a dedicated & separate ARES/RACES group in the area to handle opportunities like those).
  • High Interest Field Trips work – we’re in planning for a return trip to George W9EVT’s Washington Island mega-shack (check it out on QRZ if you aren’t familar with this $1m+ collection).
  • Food Also works – this winter the city put our bulding’s thermostats down cold enough that we met at a Pizzaria instead of the club room. The Club bought Pizza, and even on winter’s worst weathered club nights we had a decent group attend.

Is all this a success? More than we expected! We do have contingency plans to reduce the number of meetings, eliminate other activities, and do other things to preserve our, perhaps for better times – but these plans were not needed as a solid increase in enthusiastic attendance ended our worries.

Interestingly the other club not only really didn’t want our suggestions, but there response was they suggested we should drive 30 miles to attend their business meeting.  Attend a BUSINESS MEETING??!! – which part of what we shared with them did they actually read.   In the end zero follow up from the other club.  Oh and that ARES/RACES Group – seems they can’t field enough people to do parade and event duty, so groups from sounding counties have filled in.  It all works out in the end.

In many places the stereotypical club business driven meeting is all there is out there for radio club meetings  – no wonder radio clubs are facing decline….



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