What are the issues in amateur radio today?

While waiting in the doctor’s office today, I got to thinking about some of the issues that amateur radio is facing today. Here’s the list I came up with:

  • Lack of on-the-air activity
  • Low ARRL membership
  • Lack of technical expertise
  • Aging of amateur radio operators
  • Amateur radio technology lagging state of the art
  • Amateur radio technology too advanced for most hams
  • Not enough time for the hobby
  • The high cost of amateur radio equipment
  • Restrictive homeowner’s agreements

I’m not trying to be negative here, but rather positive. Instead of complaining about the problems, I’m thinking that if I could identify one or two things that we could really do something about we could improve our situation.

That being the case, what do you think of this list? Is there anything that you would add? Perhaps if I can refine this list, I’ll put up a survey here, and maybe even do a random mailing to hams in the FCC database.

Is the prepper community fertile ground for amateur radio clubs

This morning I got an e-mail from a reader:

Our local club is trying to attract new members, and to that end we’re contemplating a mass-mailing to licensed hams in our area.  But my thought is, why not include the preppers as well?  Why not reach out to the prepper community to help them learn how to communicate during emergencies?  Granted, ham radio may not be the focus of their lives, but, does that matter?  Plant the seeds of interest via an outreach and see where it goes from there!

I didn’t want to dissuade him from recruiting preppers, but I don’t think that they’re a fertile ground for recruiting amateur radio club members—at least not the kind he really wants. The reason for this is that their primary concern is prepping and not amateur radio.

Most preppers don’t really care about the technology, per se. If they could use tin cans and string, they’d use tin cans and string. That’s not a knock on preppers, but I think in an amateur radio club, you want people that are truly interested in the technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to have preppers in my classes, have them download my study guides, and help them when they have questions. While I don’t have any real numbers, I’d say that my study guides have been used by hundreds, if not thousands of preppers to get their licenses. Many prepper sites link to KB6NU.Com, and when I find those links, I thank them, and in some cases, try to correct some misconceptions that they have about amateur radio. I just don’t think that many preppers are going to go beyond buying an HT and putting it in their “SHTF” kit.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if I was completely off-track here. Has your club had any experience trying to recruit preppers? If so, what’s been your experience?

New hams are different

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, but I need to get some thoughts down about new hams, and maybe get some feedback on these ideas from both new hams and guys that have been around for a while.

On Thursday evening, I visited the All Hands Active (AHA) makerspace here in Ann Arbor. Many of them have recently gotten their ham licenses—most of them in one of my one-day Tech classes. I was down there trying to get them interested in attending Field Day, and in particular, in operating the GOTA station.

AHA is one of Ann Arbor's cool makerspaces.

AHA is one of Ann Arbor’s cool makerspaces.

There were four of us sitting around, talking about amateur radio, the projects they were working on, Field Day, and other stuff. They have expressed an interest in doing something with WA2HOM, our station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. While it was a great discussion, it was apparent to me that selling them on Field Day was going to be a stretch.

It dawned on me that these new radio amateurs were just not interested in the “old” amateur radio. Sitting in front of shortwave radios and exchanging fake signal reports with other guys sitting in front of shortwave radios is just not their idea of a good time. I think that if you take a step back and try to look at it through their eyes, you’ll see where they’re coming from.

What are they interested in? Well, one guy is having a blast playing around with RTL SDR dongles. He’s also trying to figure out a way to rig up wireless link to light a light at bus stops around his house when a bus is approaching.

Another is working on a Hinternet-type project. I helped him out a little bit last summer setting up a wireless node at his house.

This is perhaps one reason why there are so many more licensed radio amateurs these days, but yet there seems to be less activity on the HF bands these days. HF is just not where it’s at for these new guys.

One consequence of this is that the old amateur radio clubs don’t have much to offer the new guys. In fact, one of them told me that the one time that he attended the local club meeting, he got such a hostile response that he decided not to return.

I’m finding this all quite interesting. I do intend to pursue some kind of joint activities between AHA and WA2HOM and see where that goes. They may not be interested in working DX on 20m, but they did seem to be interested in the IRLP node that we’re in the process of installing there.

I’m not sure where this is all headed, but what I do know is that these folks have a lot of energy and creativity. If we can couple that with our knowledge and experience, then I think that we’ll be a good fit for one another. It’s going to take open minds all around, though.

From my inbox: 100 years of ham radio, spectrum analysis, mesh networks

Celebrating 100 years of ham radioThis month marks the centennial of the American Radio Relay League, the largest ham radio association in the United States. That means it will be a special year for the hundreds who converge annually on W1AW, a small station known as “the mecca of ham radio” in Newington, Conn., to broadcast radio signals across the globe.

Spectrum Analysis Basics - Application Note 150Spectrum Analysis Basics – A Resource Toolkit. Learn about the fundamentals with Agilent’s most popular and recently updated application note, Spectrum Analysis Basics – Application Note 150, which is now paired with a toolkit of app notes, demo videos, web/mobile apps, and related material.

When the Internet Dies, Meet the Meshnet That Survives. The art and technology nonprofit center Eyebeam recently staged a small-scale scenario that mimicked the outage that affected New York after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. As part of the drill in Manhattan, a group of New Yorkers scrambled to set up a local network and get vital information as the situation unfolded.

The future of ham radio?

This is a guest post by my friend Ovide, K8EV…

I was underwhelmed by an article on the future of ham radio in the April QST.  There was no mention of future technical developments driving and changing ham radio as a hobby!

I asked myself the question “what is the core activity that might bring and keep people in ham radio?”  The short answer is “the capability to communicate reliably with specified and unspecified people at close and distant locations.”  In addition, a critical feature that sets the amateur apart from ordinary mass-consumers is knowledge and interest in using radio devices that can be modified or constructed.

Here’s my entry for a future product/service that could build on ham radio’s existing platform:  Remote multiplex radio stations controllable from personal computers!  The stations would generate multiple radio frequency signals from the same transmitter–in contrast to single frequency stations that currently sell access to users one at a time.  Azimuth directionality could be handled using isoradiating antennas or multiple-user control versions of the directional loop antenna reviewed in April QST.  Software Defined Radio technology would allow frequencies in different bands or portion of bands to be selected from home computers.

The do-it-yourself component would be attractive to open-source code writers and radio equipment builders would find new challenges constructing multiplex receivers and transmitters for remote multiplex stations.  CC&R limitations would be obviated and the hobby would be opened up to lots of people who are currently unable to have stations in their home.

The only technological breakthrough required is the development of transmitters that can generate multiple signals without intermodulation products!


Dumbing it down fails

Computerworld just published an article, “12 predictions for the future of programming.” Future of programming prediction No. 10: Dumbing it down will fail is the one that caught my eye. It reads:

For the past 50 years, programmers have tried to make it easy for people to learn programming, and for 50 years they’ve succeeded — but only at teaching the most basic tasks. Ninety-five percent of the world may be able to figure out if-then-else structures, but that’s not the same thing as being a programmer.

I think that the same thing is true of amateur radio. We’ve dumbed down the Tech exam to allow more people to enter the hobby. I think that’s OK. We need a way to get people interested in amateur radio, and there is a place for operators who only want to do the very simple things like get an HT and talk through repeaters. “Real ham radio,” though, is about learning how circuits work and how to build your own antennas and, increasingly, how to program digital signal processing algorithms. That’s hard stuff, but there’s no way around that. We need to encourage people to acquire this knowledge and skills.

For me, this means is that while I’m OK with the Tech license being relatively easy to get, perhaps the General and Extra Class tickets should be harder to get. Maybe we should expect more from Generals and Extras. We should expect them to really know stuff.

I’m not saying that we should be hovering over them, ready to pounce on them the minute they say something stupid. It is still just a hobby, after all, and we can’t expect amateur radio licensees to be electronics engineers. We can, however, create an environment that values learning and encourages people to ask good questions so that they can get better at being radio amateurs.

I know that this is only a partly-baked idea, but I think we need to move in this direction. Not only that, it’s up to us old-timers (old farts?) to set the tone and lead the way. What do you think?

From my Twitter feed: loop antenna, 160m antenna, Japanese hams

Make your loop antenna multi-band.

KD8BIG's avatarMark Strait @KD8BIG
A Hanging Rectangular Loop Antenna kt4qw.com/acan1.htm fb.me/2B9oJJpYe

KD8BIG's avatarMark Strait @KD8BIG
the antenna I have is for 160 meters. I built. Only took a few days. The “No-Excuses” 160 Meter Vertical (As… fb.me/SiWDpEU8

This is rather disheartening news.

ke9v's avatar

Jeff Davis @ke9v
Great Disturbance in the Force fplus.me/p/4FWA pic.twitter.com/0IeF4PGTPc

Would more HF privileges encourage new Techs to be more active?

Bill, K0RGR, a HamRadioHelpGroup member would like to ask NEWER hams (newer meaning those that are newly licensed current to past few years or so) if they think that adding more HF privileges for entry-level licensees would encourage newcomers to stay in the hobby. While Bill is mostly interested in how new hams feel about this, there are also some responses for us old-timers.

These are the choices:

  • Yes, I’m a newer Ham and I think adding more HF privileges would help keep more people active in the hobby.
  • No, I’m a new Ham and what is setup currently works fine and I’m using the current  HF privileges (HF 10m SSB/Digital/CW and also CW portions of 15m,40m,80m).
  • No, I’m a new Ham and only use VHF/UHF FM privileges (no HF rig or I’m I interested in CW).
  • I have been a Ham for years and think what is in place now for new Techs is more than enough on HF to keep interest if they really are interested in Ham Radio…leaves something to look forward to when they pass their next test the General (then full HF privileges come).
  • I have been a Ham for years and welcome any changes that would advance the hobby…maybe new ides like full HF but at QRP levels for tech/novice or license by elmers…new ideas might help our hobby.
  • No, I’m a new Ham but only interested in VHF/UHF Emergency Communications  (ECOM,ARES,ETC).
  • Yes, I’m a new Ham but there are no close Ham Clubs, no close Elmers, and no VHF/UHF activity and I don’t understand what privileges I have as a Tech on HF.
  • I’m an old Ham, been around for years, I would not like so much more people in the hobby but people that would be active, our numbers for techs is large but my guess is the majority are inactive…I would rather have 10 very active new Hams adding to our hobby than 100 that add nothing because they are inactive.

I think that a little more thought could have been given to these answers, but it’s a great question. We need to do something to get more newly-licensed people on the air and involved.

The poll will end on 8/31/13. If you are a member of the HamRadioHelpGroup, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HamRadioHelpGroup/surveys?id=13187658 to vote. If you’re not a member, and don’t want to join the group, please comment here.

RSGB general manager on the future of amateur radio

RSGB General Manager, Graham Coomber G0NBI, recently expounded on his vision for the future of Amateur Radio at the AMSAT-UK International Space Colloquium on Sunday, July 21, 2013. The video is now available in the Film Archive section of the BATC site.

You can watch the video at http://www.batc.tv/ by doing the following:

  • Click on the `Film Archive’ icon
  • Select `AMSAT-UK 2013? from the Category drop down menu
  • Click `Select Category’
  • Select the video ‘AMSAT2013 09 RSGB’
  • Click on `Select Stream’
  • Click the play icon `>’ on the player
  • Clicking on the icon to the left of the player volume control will give you full screen display.

You can also download the video file to your PC by clicking on the `Click Here’ link under the player.

G0NBI has some interesting observations on the rising median age of amateur radio operators, how people get into amateur radio, and the role of experimentation in amateur radio. The statistics he quotes are all for the UK. It would be interesting to compare those to statistics for the US (if there are any such statistics).

From my Twitter feed: FreeDV, W3EDP antenna, IARU on WRC-15

I haven’t been a big advocate of digital voice (DV), but I’m beginning to think it might be fun.

Saw a little FreeDV love on Planet Ubuntu in the form of this post. Nice job by 9M2PJU.http://t.co/bdlzFMKVKU #hamr


Also, see My Favorite Cheap HF Antenna, The W3EDP on KG4GVL’s blog.

Latest update on the W3EDP antenna. by: Brandon, the Random Man: More on the W3EDP http://t.co/niN6lzHAUO


Are more HF allocations in our future?

IARU announces WRC-15 positionshttp://t.co/jFofmX02FF #hamradio