Making Our Club Stronger

In the 60s and 70s, when I got into ham radio, clubs thrived. The Hazel Park Amateur Radio Club, for example, used to hold its general membership meetings in an elementary school gymnasium and 100 or more people would show up for the meetings.

Lately, however, many clubs have fallen on hard times. Membership is down, and consequently, so is attendance at meetings. This phenomenon, brought to light in the book Bowling Alone, is not limited to ham radio, but it’s especially disappointing to those of us who remember how much fun attending ham radio club meetings used to be.

At the recent ARRL Great Lakes Division Convention (Sept. 6, 2003 in Findlay, OH), the ARRL Affiliated Club Coordinators for Michigan and Ohio, Sanra KG8HM and Brenda KB8IUP, conducted a session aimed at helping clubs attract new members and increase attendance. Instead of giving a presentation, the moderators decided to just let the attendees talk about what was working (or not working) with their clubs. Although the session lasted only an hour, a lot of good ideas were discussed.

Reeling Them In
Perhaps the most important thing a club can do is have interesting speakers at its meetings. One thing that was surprising to me is that several people mentioned that the topics don’t have to be related to amateur radio. One club, for example, had great attendance the evening they scheduled someone from the state transportation department to speak about the construction of a local bridge. Others were successful when inviting representatives from the local fire department or police department to talk about their communications systems.

Another attendee brought up the idea of having a speaker’s bureau. One of the moderators noted that this had been tried in the past, but with limited success. Another attendee noted that they had tried one time to get a speaker from the bureau, but that the speaker never seemed to be available. There was always some reason that the speaker had to excuse himself.

One thought that occurs to me is that a list of topics posted on a website somewhere would be a good resource for clubs searching for ideas. This would be relatively simple to implement, so I’m putting it on my list of features to add to the ARROW website.

Classes Bring In New Members
I mentioned the Hazel Park ARC earlier. One of the reasons they are so successful is that they have been conducting ham radio classes for many years. The graduates provide a never-ending stream of new members for the club. They’ve been so successful at training new hams, that they say that they have practically exhausted the local population, and have started reaching out to neighboring communities.

Other folks mentioned that they also hold classes and do things to attract the graduates to their clubs. One club, for example, mentioned that they treat graduates to a pizza dinner. Other clubs–including ARROW–give graduates a one year free membership.

Tapping the ARRL
Finally, the moderators pointed out that the ARRL does have some resources available to help clubs. One resource, obviously, is the Affiliated Club Coordinator. He or she can help if you’re club is in the doldrums.

Another resource is Club Companion page of the ARRL website. On this page, you’ll find news about other clubs around the country, which could help you plan events for your club, and articles about club promotion and putting out a newsletter. There’s also a pointer to the Active Club Online Primer, a new publication that combines and updates two ARRL favorites: The Club President’s Workbook and the Special Service Club Manual.

Having strong clubs helps amateur radio. They help bring us together in emergencies and help us to speak with one voice to authorities. They also make ham radio more fun, and that alone is a goal worth striving for.

My First Batch of Cards from the QSL Bureau

If you’ve read some of the previous items in this blog, you know I’m not a big QSLer. (See the entry below “Tips for the Casual DXer.”) If someone sends me a card, though, I’m not going to refuse it.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I received and e-mail from Alan K6IPM, the new manager for the N segment of the 6 District QSL bureau informing me that seven QSLs were waiting for me. It was very nice of him to contact me, as I really never even considered that cards would be waiting for me. I never ask my DX contacts to QSL, and as I’ve said I normally don’t send mine out unless specifically requested to do so.

At any rate, after taking a look at the Buro’s website to learn the procedure, I sent Alan a check for $3. Saturday, I received my first batch of QSLs. They included cards from:

  • Manfred DL3ALK, Mupperg Germany,
  • Jose EA3BVT, Madrid Spain,
  • Daniel F6IWD, a station in the Bordeaux region of France that I’ve contacted several times,
  • Dan HK3AXY, Bogota Colombia,
  • Waclaw SP9CTX, Bielsko-Biala Poland,
  • Pavel UA4PT, Tartarstan Russia, and
  • Igor UX5MZ, Lugansk Ukraine

All in all, they are a nice set of cards and a good start towards DXCC. At the rate I’m going, I might get it in another five years or so. :-)

The Findlay Hamfest

One of the perks of attending the ARRL Great Lakes Division Convention on Saturday was a free ticket to the Findlay Hamfest on Sunday. Many of the convention attendees were up bright and early to eat breakfast and get over to the Hancock County Fairgrounds when it opened.

As hamfests go, I didn’t think this one was all that great, to be honest. Most of the rigs for sale were well past their prime, and none were really bargains.

What did catch my eye was the number of antique radios there. There were quite a few wood console radios from the 40s and 50s, and one guy even had a couple of Crosleys that were older than that. I also saw a couple of Zenith TransOceanics for sale as well.

Another radio that interested me was a Lafayette HA-600. The HA-600 is not an antique radio by any means, but it was one of the first all-transistor sets in the late 60s/early 70s. I used that radio for several years as an SWL before getting my ham license, at which time I “upgraded” to a Hammarlund HQ-101.

The radio was in really good shape, and I may have even bought the thing, if the vendor hadn’t been so snotty. He had it tagged at $100, and when I told him that I’d had one as a kid, and had even paid that exact same price for it, he got all huffy and said that they cost $200 new way back when. I wasn’t trying to start an argument, and after that response, I just walked away.

I also enjoyed the fact that I was not selling at this hamfest. Selling is fun, but as I don’t have a partner, I don’t get to look around and see what else is for sale. And while I didn’t find all that much at Findlay, it was fun to get the chance to do so.

One thing I did pick up–and which I think was a bargain– is Gap Titan DX antenna. I paid only $100 for the antenna, and new they cost well over $300. It looks like all the parts are there, and the guy selling it even had the installation instructions. So, I think I got myself a pretty good deal. It’s supposed to cover 80 – 10, including all the WARC bands without radials. We’ll see about that.

ARRL Great Lakes Division Convention

I just returned from the 2003 Great Lakes Division Convention in Findlay, OH. This one-day event featured speakers on a variety of topics. The topics included PSK 31, High Speed Multimedia (HSMM), and a variety of other topics.

Jim Bridgewater, AA8JD, head of the FCC Detroit Field Office, kicked off the convention with an interesting talk about the work of the FCC. According to Jim, the majority of their work is investigating things like tower lighting and interference complaints by police and other public safety radio users. He does, however, spend some time on policing the ham bands, and explained the procedure when he does detect a violation.

The other sessions that I attended included:

  • a seminar on club activities
  • a talk on high speed multimedia (HSMM), and
  • a demonstration of PSK 31.

. All of the talks were very well done. (I’ll be writing more about the clubs seminar later, so look for that.)

The final session of the day was an overview of the division, and included short talks by the Division Director, Vice Director, and the three section managers. It was a good way to get to know these guys. Following their short talks, Jim Haynie, W5JPB, ARRL president, got up to say a few words. He’s a great speaker and addressed some of the issues facing ham radio today. Afterwards, he also fielded some questions from the crowd.

Included in convention fees was a banquet that evening, at which both Jim Bridgewater and Jim Haynie spoke again. This time, we got the full treatment from W5JBP. By the full treatment, I mean his heavy duty speech on the ARRL, its activities, and the role it’s playing in shaping the future of ham radio. This speech is one that every amateur should hear. Jim is a great speaker, and has a solid vision for ham radio (imho). Perhaps if the League’s critics could hear it, they would be so ready to jump on the League and denigrate the work they’re doing.

My one (small) criticism was that the banquet festivities dragged on a bit too long. The speeches did not end till around 10 pm, and by that time, we were all ready for it to end.

Overall, though, the convention was a lot of fun and a great experience. I got to meet all of the mucky-mucks of the division, and found them all to be really great folks. I would encourage anyone reading this to attend this event (or one like it in your division) next year.