ARRL membership: Is 25% asking too much?

ARRLIn the March 2014 issue of QST, Harold Kramer, WJ1B makes a big deal of the fact that ARRL membership is now up to 162,200 members and growing at a rate of about 1% per year. After patting the ARRL on the back about this, WJ1B launches into a discussion of the different programs that WJ1B feels have contributed to the membership growth.

Let’s take another look at the numbers, though. As the editorial points out, 10,300 ARRL members are international members, meaning that there 151,900 U.S. hams are ARRL members. Another article in the March issue, “New Licenses,” notes that the total number of licensed radio amateurs at the end of 2013 was 717,201. If you do the math, you’ll find that only slightly more than one in five hams are ARRL members. I personally don’t think that’s so hot, and it’s certainly not worthy of all the self-congratulation going on in this editorial.

The licensing article also points out that “the amateur radio population in the US grew by slightly more than 1 percent last year.” That being the case, ARRL membership has grown at about the same rate. If all the programs noted in WJ1B’s editorial were so effective, wouldn’t you expect membership growth to be at least 2%?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I think the ARRL should set a goal to enroll at least 25% of licensed radio amateur as members. It seems to me that any group calling itself “the national organization for amateur radio” should have at least one in four amateur radio operators as part of their membership. I think it says something that the membership rate is so low.

What do you think? Am I right or is reaching 25% asking too much?

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  1. I think you’re right in hoping that the ARRL can reach 25% of the licence population in the USA, but like any organisation it will be an uphill struggle. However I don’t think this issue is just affecting the likes of the ARRL.

    Across the pond the RSGB have similar issues of gaining and even retaining members and recently launched their marketing plan, so that if you get a friend to join the society you can both earn £10 in book vouchers, however if it’s a society/club then they can receive £10 in cash to put towards club funds whether this will drive an increase in members I’m not sure but only time will tell.

    • The only promotional program that the ARRL has that I’m aware of is a program that gives a commission to ham radio clubs that sign up new members ($15) or get members to renew ($2). Very few clubs actually take advantage of this as the ARRL doesn’t really promote it all that much and the $2 commission really isn’t worth the hassle.

  2. Yohei, N8YQX says:

    The other question you have to ask is, how many of the 717,201 are active hams? I know of multiple hams who are still licensed (and keep on renewing their license), but have not touched a radio in years.
    In order to increase the membership, I think we need to engage the inactive hams as well as new hams.

  3. Kevin KD0ZBT says:

    As a new ham I fall into this demographic, when I tested I got a little handout offering a free copy of the ARRL Operating Guide for signing up.

    I probably would have signed up at least for the first year just because I’m the kind of guy that joins organizations that support my hobbies. I’ll decide next year if it’s a good deal or not.

    But yeah, 25% is a worthy goal.

  4. This question is asked periodically. The 20% they have now is actually quite an accomplishment, in my opinion. As Yohei mentions, there are a lot of inactive amateurs. I’ve often thought it’s as high as 60%. If you compare ARRL to an organization like the NRA which has only about 5 to 7% of gun owners as members, ARRL’s numbers look quite good. Regardless of one’s view of the NRA, pro or con, few would argue they’re not effective at what they do. While 25% is a worthy goal, it’s an arbitrary n + x target, in my opinion. As Yoyei suggests, some stats and upward trending on active amateurs would be more interesting and beneficial. It’s also much more challenging to collect such data and determine a course of action.

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if 100% of the hams in the United States supported the ARRL with their membership? After all, 100% of the hams in the United States receive 100% of the benefit of the lobby the League does in Washington. I have had non-member hams call the ARRL and ask questions. They got answers.

    There is a question too about “why do international radio amateurs think of the value of OUR National Radio organization to join it?” Since I don’t know if they belong to their own Nation’s radio group, the fact that League membership is comprised of over 10K from outside our borders should speak VOLUMES to American hams.

    No, 25% is NOT too much to ask. What are you willing to do to help arrive at that number? :)

    Whoo HOO! The League as a link for that, reader, at because, after all, the League is a membership organization comprised of members who support amateur radio as much and more as the League does.

    • I’m not sure what you meant by asking about what I’m willing to do. I certainly do what I can to promote ARRL membership, so your comment is a no-starter with me, Lloyd.

      I am glad that you agree that 25% is not too much to ask. Despite the fact that 10,000 hams outside the US are ARRL members, and despite the fact that non-members get answers to their questions, there is something about the ARRL that’s preventing us from getting to 25%.

      My point is that instead of patting ourselves on the back and WJ1B did in his editorial, he should be reevaluating how the ARRL recruits new members. The goal should be not to just increase the number of members, but to increase the percentage of hams that are members. That would be real membership growth.

  6. When I got my Novice in 1970 I joined the ARRL. I respected this organization and wanted to be a part of it. When I got my Extra in 1977, I joined as a Life Member, and paid off this membership in 4 installments. I think I paid $375 to join.

    Over the years, I have noticed that most hams don’t care for the ARRL. I am sure that you have heard the same reasons. I have had my share of disagreements with certain policies or lack of CW support on behalf of the ARRL. You can’t agree all the time with any organization, though.

    I think it would be great to have over 50% of the US hams being ARRL members. I wonder how things are in other countries that have a lot of hams? Like Japan? How many of those guys belong to the JARL?

    Two years ago, I qualified for an award from the WIA (VK’s ARRL) and found out that they took too long to return the certificate. After complaining, I found out that the WIA has 4 paid employees. Our ARRL has over 100. Our ARRL gets the job done in many respects.

    If guys don’t care to join the ARRL, that’s fine. If they think they can do better, then why hasn’t any group started an alternative organization? Wayne Green, W2NSD, always bitched at the ARRL and made it his daily task to bash the ARRL. Yet this lazy bum never started another ham organization. He is an SK now, and I don’t think many guys miss him.

    • I think a little respectful criticism is a good thing. Wayne Green may have taken it too far, but I’m sure a lot of his motivation was to sell more magazines.

  7. Sam Barrett-W5KF says:

    I suspect that some ARRL members fall into the ‘inactive hams’ category, as well.

    In my opinion, the League currently has a wonderful opportunity to boost membership, by offering a significant reduction in dues in exchange for agreeing to take the option of electronic delivery of QST. While annual membership cost is certainly not the only deciding factor on whether to join/renew or not, it must be something that many current and potential members consider.

    Twenty years ago, when I became treasurer of our local club, almost half of our annual dues income was spent on printing and mailing the monthly newsletter. In the last few years, those opting for electronic delivery of the newsletter has risen to 100%. Our club bank balance is significantly healthier.

    Of course, the writing and production costs associated with the monthly club newsletter is not even remotely comparable to that of QST. However, to print and mail QST is undoubtedly a considerable expense for the ARRL.

    Perhaps my suggestion is not practical, but I’d like for someone at HQ to crunch the numbers (or reveal the results, if the estimates have already been made).

    • Sam Barrett-W5KF says:

      Sorry… I failed to address the original question. No, I don’t think that 25% is asking too much. In fact, I believe that it is an attainable goal. However, I think that it may be time to re-think the approach that is currently being used. If hams once become members, I believe that they will like what they receive in the way of member benefits, and they will be likely to renew.

  8. Mike -KK6KBV says:

    I think 25% is not enough. I’m new so I am still wondering if I should join. The only contact I’ve had from the ARRL was when I visited there web site. Seems like I would have seen some sort of mailer as I just received my license.

    HHH, I don’t see it anywhere on the ARRL’s web site.
    With today economy being what it is, I think it would be wise for them to cut cost like using electronic mail for there magazine when possible, and promote HHH, (Hams Helping Hams). you have Hams selling there rigs for rent and food, because they think can’t afford a hobby in these bad times, yet staying active might be the best way out of a tough spot for many I think. dump the cellphone, use you ham radio (I know someone’s angry about comment, but no income and no phone is an emergency in today’s world) . I’m wondering therefore what the ARRL is doing to help all the off the air radio operators. Just keeping out of work hams brain cells firing would be a great benefit. maybe loaning rigs to them, helping them with stable contact information, and just the qso with so many clever hams, could be a way for everyone to move ahead, the ARRL and all ham’s. some of the worlds best experimenter’s were down on there luck, at least we need to give them tools..

  9. I agree that ARRL membership numbers appear to be extremely small when compared to total active licenses in the U.S. I believe the hobby needs an organization that gives us a voice. I support ARRL because they will fight to gain new bands for us, and fight even harder to keep us from losing band space. HOWEVER, I believe they need to encourage more new hams by eliminating their VE fee. Most of the clubs in my area have switched to Laurel VE so they don’t have to charge. Secondly, maybe a “QST Jr.” publication is in order for those with limited technical knowledge. This would be a publication with articles that promote ALL the things you can do with ham radio. Maybe a few simple DIY articles. This mag could be a primer, and when the subscriber likes, they pay additional dollars for a full QST subscription. There are so many people getting licenses today without much knowledge of all they can do, especially as they upgrade to General and Extra Classes. ARRL is pro active amateur radio, there’s just some things they can do better. But that’s true about all of us, isn’t it?

  10. Tim Barrett K9VB says:

    I was (and still am) a member of the RSGB and since emigrating to the US 10 years ago have become a life member of the ARRL. because a) I recognize the value of a national society and b) I regard it as my duty as a radio amateur to be a member.

    I don’t expect everybody to agree with those two reasons for being member but the only way we will retain our operating privileges is if we have national representation. I absolutely agree 25% is a good target – then 50%.

    I suspect a big reason for not being a member is cost. Has anybody considered a two tier membership? Tier 1 gets you full use of the ARRL including LotW but no QST which is only available for Tier 2. Obviously Tier 2 is more expensive to pay for the magazine.

    A big asset of being a member is getting QST so that would encourage those who can afford it to be a tier 2 member but the ARRL might then be able to attract other members who could not normally afford to join.


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