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:

  • MORE SUNSPOTS!
  • 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 (www.kb6nu.com)

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 73s.org 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.

I’m Tired of Pessimism

About a month ago, I wrote a column titled “Let’s Get on the Maker Bandwagon.” Basically, it says that Makers are the kind of people we want in ham radio, and it would be a good thing if ham radio (meaning the ARRL) had a presence at the Maker Faires. Also, I noted that if Dayton wanted to appeal to more than the same old crowd that it would have to be more like the Maker Faire.

A couple of days ago, I got this response:

Thanks for your well thought out column…BUT…

Makers are inner directed people…You can’t make makers make what you want them to make. Nobody can. They aren’t kit builders who only make the designs of others. They are often original craftsmen and artists…Unfortunately there may be little left for Ham makers to make that isn’t now being made in Japan or China using surface mounted microchips. The joy of trying to build stuff with war surplus parts after reading Hugo Gernsback magazines and catalogs is gone. Soon all of us real hams will also be gone…along with the Tesla coils and spark gap transmitters…as well as the CW bugs….and analog instrumentation. I have been taking to writing about the history of radio…especially amateur radio…because unfortunately there is more in our past than there is in our future.

OK on Dayton. The Dayton converntions are attended by fewer hams every year…The hobby is going to survive for some time…but it is gradually fading like a dampened wave. You will see its demise as QST becomes smaller and QSX stops publishing. There is now only the hope that a major national depesssion may save it for a while because the “makers” who are unemployed may resort to making powerless green economy crystal sets again as they did in the 1930s…but I doubt it because they may be too busy trying to reprogram the hard drives of discared refurbished computers, which may cost less than the components of a crystal set and not even need any elaborate antennas.

You can make some people make all kinds of stuff some of the time,
And you can make many people make some kinds of stuff some of the time,
But you can’t make all kinds of people make ham radio stuff none of the time,
Because..Them days are gone forever!

Once the fiber optic cable enters your home…The magic is gone!

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!! I am really tired of this kind of pessimism. I e-mailed back:

Boy, if we all were as pessimistic as you, we’d really be up a creek, now wouldn’t we? You’re a VE. If the picture was as grim as you paint it, why even bother with that? And what’s so magical about optical fiber? When anybody can do it, it’s no longer magical.

Fortunately, I think that there will be plenty of “real” hams following along behind us, IF we bring ham radio into the 21st century. And that was the point of the article. You may not be able to make Makers, but we should be trying to attract those with the Maker mentality into amateur radio. They may not be making IC-756PROs or Orion IIs, but they will be making other fun radio gadgets, developing interesting amateur radio software, and moving ham radio into directions we haven’t thought of yet.

They won’t be doing it if guys like you are already writing them off, however.

I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I pledge to counter this kind of negative attitude in any way that I can. I’m open to any and all ideas as to how to do this.

Ham Radio’s Rejuvenation??

In a recent column in Electronic Design magazine, editor Don Tuite, NR7X, said the following:

Hypothesis: Doing away with the code requirement last March has completed a rejuvenation of ham radio that was triggered by the World Trade Center attacks and Katrina. I’m looking for reader comments yea and nay.

He goes on to say how in the San Francisco Bay area, they are licensing 50 or more new hams ever month, and one of the biggest draws seems to be the ability to use ham radio for emergency communications. Furthermore, he says, dropping the Morse Code requirement for the General and Extra Class licenses is now encouraging those who have Tech licenses to upgrade and do things like HF DXing.

I’m not so sure that this is happening here in the Ann Arbor, MI area, but I do think that there has been a resurgence of interest in amateur radio. I attribute it to the convergence of a number of factors. Eliminating the code test requirement was one of them, as well as a renewed interest in emergency communications. (I think Katrina had more of an effect on those folks than did the 9/11 disaster, though.) Another factor is what I call the “MAKE movement,” that is those that find satisfaction in creating things with their own hands and minds. I also think that amateur radio itself is doing a much better job of drawing people in, or at least doing a better job of not turning them away.

Jim, W6RMK, commented that emergency communications is only one of the five “purposes” of amateur radio, and the other four should be given some consideration as well. I agree. When I speak to organizations about amateur radio, I try to emphasize all five of them, as they are all equally valid reasons for folk to get licensed and equally valid reasons for the continued existence of the amateur radio SERVICE.

WA2HOM is on the Air

Earlier today, we activated the WA2HOM callsign for the first time at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. WA2HOM is the vanity callsign that I was issued specifically for operations at the Museum.

The first contact occurred at 1510Z with KA3FNH. Overall, we made 14 contacts, including nine SSB contacts and five CW contacts. Four of our contacts were with stations operating from lighthouses that were participating in the International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend.

More importantly, we were able to give some several adults and kids an introduction to amateur radio. One, Brian, who’s ten years old, says he’s all ready to take the test and can’t wait until the September 8 test session.

For the next four months, we’ll be operating from the museum on two Saturdays each month. The dates are:

  • September 15th, 29th
  • October 20th, 27th
  • November 10th, 24th
  • December 1st, 15th

If you’re in or near Ann Arbor, come on down and operate for a while. If not, listen for us, probably around 7280 (SSB) or 7050 (CW).

Two More Takes on Morse Code

The 12/27/06 edition of the New York Times contains the article, “A Fading Signal.”.

Paul Saffo opines in his 12/16/06 journal entry:

It is tempting to conclude that the FCC’s action spells the end of Morse, but I am certain we will see a very different outcome. Freed from all pretense of practical relevance in an age of digital communications, Morse will now become the object of loving passion by radioheads, much as another “dead” Language, Latin is kept alive today by Latin-speaking enthusiasts around the world. Latin fans eagerly tick off the practical benefits of speaking a dead language, but of course they pursue their study because it is fun and challenging, gives them a sense of accomplishment and links them to a community of other passionate speakers.

The demise of CW has been greatly exaggerated.

Ham Census

Don, KB9UMT, moderator and owner of the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list came up with the following chart:

Year___ %Ham__US Population___# US Hams
1925___0.01%___115,829,000_____16,500
1930___0.02%___123,076,741_____19,000
1935___0.04%___127,250,232_____45,000
1940___0.04%___132,122,446_____55,788
1945___0.04%___139,928,165_____62,250
1950___0.05%___152,271,417_____81,450
1955___0.09%___165,931,202_____144,168
1960___0.13%___180,671,158_____227,500
1965___0.14%___194,302,963_____265,862
1966___0.14%___196,560,338_____268,129
1967___0.14%___198,712,056_____278,543
1968___0.14%___200,706,052_____275,628
1969___0.14%___202,676,946_____277,209
1970___0.14%___205,052,174_____279,658
1971___0.13%___207,660,677_____278,808
1972___0.13%___209,896,021_____274,389
1973___0.13%___211,908,788_____268,657
1974___0.13%___213,853,928_____271,373
1975___0.12%___215,973,199_____268,002
1976___0.13%___218,035,164_____283,473
1977___0.14%___220,239,425_____311,328
1978___0.16%___222,584,545_____350,780
1979___0.17%___225,055,487_____374,015
1980___0.17%___227,224,681_____393,353
1981___0.17%___229,465,714_____398,829
1982___0.18%___231,664,458_____408,361
1983___0.18%___233,791,994_____416,084
1984___0.18%___235,824,902_____433,921
1985___0.18%___237,923,795_____438,007
1986___0.18%___240,132,887_____433,921
1987___0.18%___242,288,918_____442,136
1988___0.19%___244,498,982_____455,642
1989___0.19%___246,819,230_____459,635
1990___0.19%___249,464,396_____466,511
1991___0.20%___252,153,092_____494,260
1992___0.21%___255,029,699_____524,782
1993___0.22%___257,782,608_____575,146
1994___0.24%___260,327,021_____614,398
1995___0.25%___262,803,276_____656,726
1996___0.25%___265,228,572_____661,775
1997___0.25%___267,783,607_____677,514
1998___0.25%___270,248,003_____676,809
1999___0.25%___272,690,813_____677,392
2000___0.25%___275,133,623_____682,240
2001___0.25%___275,279,000_____684,359
2002___0.25%___276,709,000_____685,308
2003___0.25%___278,112,000_____687,860
2004 672,622
2005 662,600
2006 654,291

Sources:

  • http://www.hamdata.com/fccinfo.html
  • http://www.ah0a.org/AH0A.html
  • http://www.ah0a.org/FCC/Licenses.html
  • http://hamcall.net/divisions_by_callsign.html
  • http://www.speroni.com/FCC/index.html
  • http://www.qrz.com/i/census.html?
  • http://www.jarl.or.jp/English/1_Amateur/A-1-9.htm

Don notes that the number of licensed amateurs has declined since 2003, and that the population of the U.S. has increased. If we use a figure of 300 million for the population of the U.S., then the percentage of the population that are hams in 2006 is 0.22%.

Should we be disturbed by this? I’m not sure. I don’t think we should go out and recruit new hams just to pump up our numbers. I think that we’ll find that if we recruit new hams for good reasons, such as increasing the number of hams capable of providing emergency communications or to just share the fun of ham radio, then we’ll be more successful and draw more active, interesting people into the hobby.

Early Radio History

Tim, N9PUZ says:

If you get bored with fretting over the loss of the CW testing requirement there is a lot of interesting reading about our early history here:

This is a very cool website. Thanks, Tim!

FCC Makes Sweeping Rules Changes

Last week, the ARRL reported that they would “press” the FCC to release the “Omnibus” Amateur Radio Report and Order. Well, yesterday they got their wish. The executive summary of R&O FCC 06-149 states:

In this R&O, we amend the Part 97 Amateur Radio Service rules as follows:

  • revise the operating privileges of amateur radio operators to allow more spectrum in four currently-authorized amateur service HF bands to be used for voice communications;
  • permit auxiliary stations to transmit on additional amateur service bands;
  • permit amateur stations to transmit spread spectrum communications on the 1.25 meter (m) band;
  • permit amateur stations to retransmit communications from the International Space Station;
  • permit amateur service licensees to designate the amateur radio club to receive their call sign in memoriam;
  • prohibit an applicant from filing more than one application for a specific vanity call
    sign;
  • eliminate certain restrictions on equipment manufacturers that are no longer
    necessary;
  • permit amateur radio stations operating in Alaska and surrounding waters more
    flexibility in providing emergency communications; and
  • remove certain restrictions in the amateur service license examination system that are no longer necessary.

One item that will affect those of us who operate HF is that most of the Novice bands has been re-allocated to phone operation. The full, 45-page Report and Order is available online on the FCC website.