Think the Ham Bands are Safe? Read This.

The October 2010 issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineer’s (IEEE) Spectrum has an article titled, “The Great Radio Spectrum Famine.” The culprit, of course, is the wireless Internet. As more and more people buy smartphones, they demand more and more bandwidth.

The article states:

Regulators have few options to head off the coming bandwidth crisis. They can’t realistically expect to reduce demand. Nor can they expand the overall supply. That leaves the daunting chore of squeezing today’s users into narrower slices of the radio spectrum, thereby eking out more space for other things. That’s sometimes possible, but it’s not easy. To reengineer existing radio systems—or their users—is a bit like trying to overhaul a car’s engine while it’s barreling down the highway.

Policymakers, at least in private, sometimes hold out hope for a fourth option: that some game-changing technical breakthrough will save the day at the 11th hour. But nothing now on the drawing board suggests that technology alone can get us out of this predicament.

It goes on to target the swath of spectrum that’s currently the most coveted:

Every application of radio works best within a certain range of frequencies, and mobile broadband is no exception. Its sweet spot is relatively narrow, roughly in the range of 300 to 3500 megahertz. That’s because radio waves that are much above 3500 MHz (shorter than about 9 centimeters) do not penetrate well into buildings or through rugged terrain, leading to frustrating dead spots. Lower frequencies are better in this regard, but they require awkwardly large antennas for efficient transmission; 300 MHz is roughly the lowest frequency compatible with a reasonably efficient antenna that’s small enough to fit in a handheld device.

While the article doesn’t mention amateur radio in particular, read between the lines. No service is sacred. At the very least, this should make you think about joining the ARRL if you’re not already a member, and if you are, supporting the spectrum-defense activities a little more solidly.

Amateur Radio Ranks Are NOT Shrinking

Apologies To Ham Operators
Two weeks ago, Microwaves & RF, a magazine I frequently reference here, published an article titled, “Amateur Radio Ranks Are Shrinking.” Well, we all know this just isn’t true, and a number of hams quickly set the editor, Jack Browne straight.

Yesterday, Browne published the retraction below. Browne says, “In fact, the number of ham operators is growing and the membership in the ARRL is strong.” While the first part of that statement is certainly true, I still don’t think ARRL membership is as strong as it should be, but that will be the topic for another blog post.

Thanks, Jack, for the clarification!

Jack Browne
October 7, 2010

Two weeks ago, in this column, a statement was made that the ranks of amateur (ham) radio operators were shrinking. As it turns out, the number of licensed amateur radio operators is growing in the United States, as in membership in the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). The comments on shrinking numbers were based on a misleading report from an industry company newsletter. In fact, the number of ham operators is growing and the membership in the ARRL is strong, as pointed out by a multitude of responses from spirited ham operators. My thanks and appreciation to all those who wrote back and helped to correct erroneous reporting at this end.

Further details on the growth numbers can be found in the Editorial for the October issue of Microwaves & RF, which indicate growth from 2008 to 2009 and from 2009 to 2010. Regarding the number of e-mails that came as a result of that “shrinking” report, it points out that the amateur radio community is not only growing, but a vibrant group, unwilling to sit back passively when misrepresented in the press. It is a group that understands fundamental RF communications and appreciates the elegance of making a direct connection with another operator. It is also a group that may prove vital to this nation’s security one day as an emergency communications network, should a severe national crisis occur.

18,270 New Licenses Issued Through June 2010

From the July 15, 2010 issue of the ARRL Letter:

With more than 18,000 new Amateur Radio licenses issued in the first half of this year — 18,270 to be exact — 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for Amateur Radio. So far, the number of new licenses issued by the FCC in 2010 is outpacing the January-June 2009 totals by almost 8.5 percent; at this time last year, the FCC had issued 16,844 new licenses. As of June 30, 2010, there are 694,346 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US, an almost 1 percent rise over all of calendar year 2009. Broken down by license class at the end of June 2010, there were 16,299 Novices, 342,064 Technicians, 154,284 Generals, 60,059 Advanced and 121,640 Amateur Extra licensees .

Read complete article.

I still think we’re not doing enough to help new hams get involvedin the hobby and really learn ham radio, but I suppose that having more hams is a good thing. Despite my rant five years about leaving no ham behind, I’ve found that many new hams are either reluctant to ask for help or just want to make their own way. I haven’t figured out which it is, but I do know that few of the students in my one-day class ever take me up on my offer of help.

What do you think?

Ham Radio IS NOT a Dying Hobby

I really hate it when people ask me, “Ham radio? Do people still do that?” Yes, of course, we still do that. Not only that, ham radio is growing. Below, is the latest press release from the ARRL. Now, granted, this release does hype up the statistics, but the facts are there. Almost double the number of new licenses were issued in 2009 than in 2005, and there are now almost 700,000 licensed radio amateurs in the U.S.

2009 Sees Surge of New Amateur Radio Licensees

Newington, Conn., Jan 7, 2010 – 2009 was a banner year for new people getting Amateur Radio licensees in the US. Amateur Radio, often called “ham radio,” has been growing over recent years, but 2009 was a record. According to the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, the FCC issued more than 30,000 new ham radio licenses in 2009.

A total of 30,144 new licenses were granted in 2009, an increase of almost 7.5 percent from 2008. In 2005, 16,368 new hams joined Amateur Radio’s ranks; just five years later, that number had increased by almost 14,000 — a whopping 84 percent! The ARRL is the largest of several organizations trusted by the FCC to administer Amateur Radio license exams in the US.

“When looking at the statistics over the last 10 years, these are some the highest numbers we’ve seen,” explained Maria Somma, manager of the ARRL testing programs. “The total number of US amateurs has grown each year.” Currently there are 682,500 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the USA, an almost 3 percent rise over 2008. In 2008, there were 663,500 licensed amateurs; there were 655,800 in 2007. There are approximately 2.5 million Amateur Radio enthusiasts worldwide. It was also noted that a much higher percentage of licensees are going far beyond an entry-level license and earning higher class (and much more difficult) FCC Amateur Radio licenses. Despite the predictions of some commentators that Amateur Radio would be dying with the development of cell phones and the Internet, hams instead have taken and incorporated those digital and computer technologies into their wireless hobby, creating many new developments in the process.

Somma applauded all the volunteers whose “hard work and contribution of countless hours of time helps to ensure the future of Amateur Radio. I am delighted by these important achievements. 2009 was a very good year for Amateur Radio and I am excited by the promise of 2010.” For more information see

What Should Every Ham Know How to Do?

On the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list, there was recently a discussion about using modulated CW on 2m. One fellow pointed out that MFJ sold a unit that would do this. When I pointed out that this box cost $100 and that they could do exactly the same thing with the $18 PicoKeyer from HamGadgets.Com, I got some flack that the PicoKeyer was a kit, and that some people might not be able to build it.

I pointed out that a couple of years ago our club held a construction night, and that several people who had never soldered before successfully completed the kit. I also pointed out that even if the ham didn’t have the proper tools, he or she could purchase a soldering iron, needle-nose pliers, and diagonal cutters, in addition to the kit, for less than $100.

That pretty much shut him up, but I got to thinking about what a ham should be able to do. This is the list I’ve come up with so far. This list does, of course, imply that a ham is physically capable of doing them. I would not expect hams that are physically disabled to be able to do everything on this list.

What Every Ham Should Know How to Do

  1. Solder. Every ham should know how to solder a connection, and by extension, build small kits and cables. Over the course of one’s ham career, this skill will save you a ton of time and money.
  2. Build a dipole antenna. The dipole is the simplest and most versatile antenna. Knowing how to build one and use one is an essential skill.
  3. Check into a net. Net operation is one of the most basic operating skills.
  4. Use a multimeter to measure voltage, current, and resistance and know what those measurements mean. This is the most basic skill used in troubleshooting, and at some point or another, you’re going to have to troubleshoot something.

These are just the first four things that occur to me. What do you think every ham should know how to do?

Computer Magazine Touts Ham Radio

Computerworld, a computer trade magazine, is currently running the article, “Want to bone up on wireless tech? Try ham radio,” on its website. It’s saying what I’ve been saying all along that getting a ham radio license is a good thing for computer professionals, especially those involved with networking.

Here’s what the article has to say about innovation in ham radio:

Reviving innovation
Decades ago, amateur radio operators were on the forefront of scores of technological innovations, including television, digital communications, solid-state design and cellular networks. The hobby’s roots trace back to radio pioneers such as Guglielmo Marconi and FM-inventor Edwin Armstrong.

But in recent years, as many potential new hams were attracted to computers, the Internet and other technologies that they could explore without passing a licensing exam, some veteran hams worried that ham radio was at risk of gradually sliding into stagnation and was perhaps even on the road toward technological irrelevance. Over time, many old-timers worried, experimenters would gradually be replaced by hams more focused on the hobby’s operational aspects, such as restoring antique radios and providing communications services for community parades and other charity events.

Other hams, however, believed that the hobby was actually entering a new era of innovation, one driven by the same type of people lured away from ham radio by advancing digital technologies. They reasoned that a streamlined licensing system, capped by the FCC’s elimination of Morse code testing two years ago, would, over time, revitalize the hobby. This would happen by attracting technically skilled innovators who were interested in more than merely tapping a telegraph key.

It goes on to talk about how hams are working on interesting projects, such as new digital communications techniques, and how hams have parlayed their ham radio hobby into lifelong careers. One example they give is Joe Taylor, K1JT, who is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

Year-End Figures

On the ARRL PR committe mailing list this morning, Allen G Pitts, W1AGP, the ARRL’s Media & PR Manager reported the following year-end statistics:

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the CIA estimates that the US population will grow by about 0.9% in 2008. If you assume that without any additional effort, the number of licensed hams would also go up by that amount, then the real increase is only about 0.3%. While that’s good, we need to do better.

Also, if the number of ARRL members increased by 1,100, then that is only a 0.7% increase (1100/153535) in the number of members, meaning that ARRL membership decreased as a percentage of licensed amateurs. In December 2007, that figure was 23.4% (153535/655842), while in December 2008 it is now 23.3% (154635/663564).

Finally, it would be interesting to know how many of those 28,066 new hams joined the League.

All I Want for Christmas

Here’s the column I’m sending out for December……..Dan

When I was a kid, we had an album (remember records on vinyl?) that had a bunch of Christmas songs for kids. The song I remember most goes:

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,
My two front teeth, my two front teeth.

Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
Then I could wish you Merry Chrith-math (sang with a lisp).

Seeing as how I’ve had my two front teeth for nearly 50 years now, and I pretty much have everything I want, I got to thinking about what I want for ham radio for Christmas this year. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In no particular order, I want:

  • the median age for ham radio operators to actually decrease this year. This means not only recruiting kids, but also younger adults.
  • the pessimists who are continually talking down ham radio to find new joy in the hobby and begin working to make it great.
  • the FCC to appoint someone as effective as Riley Hollingsworth to take over as the enforcer of the amateur radio service regulations.
  • the FCC to pay a little more attention to amateur radio regulations and not treat them as an afterthought.
  • the silliness on 75m phone and 14.275 MHz to go QRT.
  • the ARRL to work harder on making itself truly the “national association for amateur radio” and on increasing the percentage of licensed hams that are ARRL members.
  • to be able to brag about all of ham radio’s “purposes,” not only providing emergency and public service communications. According to Part 97, these are:
    • advancing the state of the radio art;
    • improving our technical and operating skills;
    • expanding the number of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts; and
    • enhancing international goodwill.
  • ham radio clubs to grow and thrive even in these tough economic times.

When I asked this question on Twitter, I got a couple of answers that were versions of a couple of wishes above, but I also got a few more:

  • WORMT wants “all of us to get on the air more and act as good ambassadors for the hobby,” and
  • NT7S wants the hearts of ham grinches to grow a couple of sizes.
  • N1WBV wants redesigns for most ham radio websites.

Sounds good to me. Happy New Year!
When not waiting for Santa to decided if he’s been naughty or nice, Dan, KB6NU, teaches ham classes and blogs about ham radio (

Ham Radio 2.0

WARNING: What follows is a partly-baked idea, so read accordingly. :) Dan

I’m a Web developer by profession, and in the Web world, there’s lots of talk is about Web 2.0. What they mean by “Web 2.0″ is the new ways in which we are using the Web. This includes things like video streaming and social networking. In many ways, these applications are revolutionary and have changed the way we use the Web.

I think ham radio might be ripe for a similar revolution. We’re already seeing some of this:

  • IRLP and EchoLink are linking repeater systems, and thereby, hams all around the world.
  • High-Speed Multimedia (HSMM). This mode/project uses those wireless networking channels that fall within various ham bands to provide long-range wireless networking. This is possible because amateurs can use much more power and much better antennas than the unlicensed users of wireless networking.
  • Ham use of Web 2.0 websites. Many hams are blogging, using Twitter (I’m @kb6nu there), and publishing videos on YouTube. In addition to that, there are sites, such as that are social networking sites for hams.

This is all well and good, but to use another buzzword, we’re not at the “tipping point” yet. This is to say there are pockets of ham radio operators using some of these technologies, but they’re not in widespread use yet. Integrating all of this somehow would make it all more useful, interesting, and fun.

I’m not sure how to get there from here. (I did warn that this is a partly-baked idea.) If we could do it, though, it all would be very cool.

Recruiting Hams vs. Recruiting ARRL Members

After the recent election–which I unfortunately lost–our division director, K8JE, asked me to share some ideas with him about recruiting. It seemed to me that he was lumping together the idea of recuiting new hams and recruiting new ARRL members. To many of us, being a ham and being an ARRL member is synonymous. When it comes to recruiting, however, recruiting new people into amateur radio and recruiting ARRL members are two separate issues. I’ll explain.

The first issue is recruiting people into the hobby. I think that this is easier than we often make it out to be. There are lots of people out there who would become hams if they:

  1. knew more about amateur radio.
  2. are given the opportunity to take classes and take the test.

Let’s discuss the first part – getting the word out about amateur radio. I think that lately the ARRL has been doing a good job promoting amateur radio. I like the publicity campaigns that Allen Pitts, W1AGP, has developed. Not only that, he has done a great job involving ARRL members in helping him promote ham radio.

Now, we need to raise our profile even more. By that I mean that we need to target people and organizations that might benefit by getting involved with amateur radio or that we want to attract to amateur radio. We need to identify these groups and find a way to get our message to them.

What groups might benefit by getting involved with amateur radio? How about:

  • Skywarn groups,
  • school groups,
  • science museums,
  • universities,
  • public libraries,
  • senior citizens’ groups,
  • robotics clubs,
  • “Maker” clubs.

Now, how do we reach these folks? Well, let’s take the maker clubs as an example. Makers are “do-it-yourself” technologists who get involved in a lot of different things. Ham radio should be one of them. Every year, MAKE: magazine holds two “Maker Faires.” The ARRL should be there in force.

We also need to reach more school groups. Yes, the ARRL conducts the Teacher Institute every year, but how about also addressing the state and national science teacher association conventions?

Once you start getting the word out, people will respond. At that point, you have to be ready to accomodate them. Let’s take our experience here in Ann Arbor, for example.

In the fall of 2007, we decided to run our first One-Day Tech Class. We had about twelve in that class, and 11 out of the twelve passed (one or two had to take the test a second time). We didn’t hold the next one until May 2008. We again had twelve in the class. This time, 11 passed. We held our third class in September 2007. This time, we had 14 in the class, and 13 of 14 passed.

We just held our fourth session. This time, fourteen were in the class. Four people decided not to take the test. Of the remaining ten, nine out of ten passed. I’m going to keep on top of those four to make sure that they get licensed. In the meantime, I’m going to claim that we’re still batting 90% when it comes to attendees of the one-day class passing the test.

The interesting thing about this session was that we had a long waiting list. Because of the classroom we were able to get, and to keep down the workload of our VEs, we decided to only take 15 students. We had to put more than ten on our waiting list. Now, these people will be all set to attend our next session in three months.

And we do intend to do this again in three months. I think that holding regularly-scheduled classes is one of the keys to our success. By holding these regularly every three months, people know that even though they may not be able to attend one session another will come along in three months. Not only that, they’ll tell family and friends about the upcoming class and get them to also attend. Word-of-mouth really works!

The new Michigan ACC, Scott W1BIC, and I are planning to take this show on the road. We’ll identify areas that might be ripe for a one-day class, find some VEs to accompany us, and then make some new hams. Not only that, we’re also planning to identify hams in those areas who we can get to sit in on our session, so that they will be able to run their own one-day classes three or six months later.

I think the ARRL needs to implement this kind of program nationally. Every section should have an Education Coordinator whose job it is to help clubs set up classes such as this one (as well as General Class and Extra Class classes). And, if it can’t find a ham radio club to work with, find another group such as a high school, university, or maker club that it can work with.

That’s enough for this post. I’ll rant blog about recruiting new ARRL members later.