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 http://www.Hello-Radio.org.


  1. Matt - KB1TCL says:

    I wonder if the high rates of unemployment have helped increase the numbers as well, especially for 2009. I know that it was my reason for finally obtaining my tech and general license after wanting to do so since I was a teenager. I used studying for the test (and CW) to give myself some structure. I found the plentiful free study guides that are out there (thank you KB6nu) as well as the low cost of the exam fees (thank you VEs) as a great way to do something and get my mind off the fact that I wasn’t working and fill in the gaps between job hunting and keeping up the house. Although I still don’t have a job and can’t afford any big ticket radio items, there are enough low-cost QRP kits, free software and general info out there to hold my attention until the job comes around and gear can be purchased. Maybe it’s just something that worked for me but I was curious if others had taken advantage of the extra time in the same way.

  2. Dan KB6NU says:

    I do think that is one factor, Matt. Thanks for bringing that up. Good luck with your job search.

  3. Amazing picture, but let’s count not only quantity, but quality as well. Yes, there are a lot of beautiful Icoms and Yaesus in the stock, everyone can buy it and (hurray!) say “Hello world!” to the friends (geeks). It is quantity. But how many of these newbies listen to the W1AW QST broadcasts and take part in the nets? How much brand new homebrewers and contestmen (pardon to lady-contesters:)? Not too much, sadly, but OUR Ham Radio IS dying hobby. Well, as for me, I saw too many changes around, I ready to take it easy.

  4. From my view on the sidelines I wonder if it has more to do with the way ham radio is being promoted in the USA as an emergency communications service. I’ve come across a few forum postings where people have said they got a ham license purely for emergency reasons, either to assist during emergencies, to to be able to communicate with friends and loved ones during a major emergency when the cellphone network and internet may not be reliable.

    While that may have some benefits, I don’t personally think it benefits the hobby at all to have people coming into it who just want to get the use of our wide range of frequencies and higher power limits, and aren’t interested in the traditional pastimes of experimentation, contesting and DXing. I’d rather see the numbers static than destroy the hobby by allowing anyone in who can pass a simple test. But that’s just me.

  5. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    Julian, I think I respectfully disagree that those people are getting into ham radio for the wrong reasons. Ragchewing and public service communications have both been part of ham radio for nearly as long as there’s been ham radio. They may not be the parts of the hobby you enjoy, but they are valid reasons to get a ham license.

    Now, I’m not that kind of person, for the most part. I do safety communications for a few rallies each year, but for the most part I’m the kind of guy who would rather build a radio than talk on one. But the bands would be pretty empty (and pretty hard to justify keeping) if everyone treated the hobby the way I do!

  6. Laments about the quality of new radio amateurs have been going on as long as amateur radio. Yes, it’s true: you don’t have to build a radio to get on the air any more, but here’s the good thing: you don’t have to build a rig to get on the air anymore! What this means is that amateur radio is now accessible to a large and varied population of people who are free to explore amateur radio on their own terms. If you would like amateur radio to be about contesting, or homebrewing, or participating in nets, or repeaters, or whatever, then it is _your_ responsibility to go out and convince people that it’s an activity that they would like. Is ham radio dying? How could it possibly die, unless we all toss up our hands and just stop doing the things that attracted us to it in the first place?

    Make the survival of ham radio your *own personal responsibility*. After all, if it something you care about, why would you let it die?

  7. Hi David. I have no issue with ragchewing nor do I find anything wrong with people doing as you do and using ham radio for public service purposes as one aspect of the various ways they enjoy the hobby. What I don’t agree with is people getting a ham license *specifically* for emergency purposes, who have no interest in radio itself or in making contacts with people just for the sake of it. It seems to me that, because of the way your ARRL is obsessed with numbers and promoting the “emcomms” aspect so energetically that this is actually happening, and I don’t think that is what amateur radio licenses were meant for.

    At least I’m never likely to come across these operators on the air. But the truth of it is evident in forums like QRZ.com, where the astonishing ignorance of some people who apparently hold amateur licenses is exactly the kind of thing we used to criticize CBers for.

  8. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:


    I understand your frustration. On the other hand, remember that QRZ.com is an internet forum, and internet forums are places that are nearly always dominated by loud idiots that no one would listen to in real life. ;) I don’t think it’s at all representative of the average ham.

    I think the ARRL promotes emcomm because it’s something that’s easy to justify to government bureaucrats. You have to understand that radio spectrum is a scarce and valuable resource in the U.S., and if we don’t emphasize our practical uses for our bands they’re likely to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The ARRL also promotes a lot of other activities, but emcomm is good PR, so they plug it a lot to the general public.

  9. > if we don’t emphasize our practical uses for our bands they’re likely to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

    This is an argument I can understand. But real estate is a valuable resource too, yet you have national parks that are protected against development. I don’t see why having sections of radio spectrum that are free for non-professionals to use, experiment in and learn valuable skills they can then bring to their employment or national service isn’t a powerful enough justification that can stand up in its own right. Besides, the radio spectrum doesn’t belong to the US so it couldn’t be sold off without international agreement. So I wonder if this is a genuine threat or simply justification for the ARRL’s current policy?

  10. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    There are international treaty obstacles to selling off the HF spectrum, but this is not so for the VHF and UHF bands. Currently the National Association of Broadcasters is fighting with various companies over whether the gaps between TV channels, originally intended to prevent co-channel interference, should be repurposed for wireless Internet. You can imagine how valuable an uninterrupted chunk of spectrum like the 2m band looks. I don’t think the ARRL is conjuring up a paper tiger here. Commercial interests have an enormous amount of sway in the U.S. political system.

    If you think about it, the ARRL has little self interest in recruiting amateurs who won’t be active, anyway. Such people are unlikely to become ARRL members.

  11. Regardless of the reasons….I’m glad to see the numbers slowly increasing. At times, I find myself describing the hobby as a dying one also. Especially the CW ops…. but I also find the camaraderie of the CW ops to be the best in the world. Although it’s especially rewarding for me to make a good CW contact, I realize it’s NOT for everyone. As paradoxical as it sounds, dropping the CW requirement for the beginning license was probably a good idea.

    I think the important thing is to welcome new people into the hobby and expose them to all the different facets of radio. There’s more than enough to everyone. Blogging is a way to do that. The next generation (those that will be needed to continue our hobby) are VERY computer literate.

    Whatever the mode….I see hope for this hobby growing more every year. I’m glad to see these facts.

  12. Mike W2MJZ says:

    Perhaps I am completely misunderstanding the arguments listed in this string of postings.

    However, if an individual is motivated to obtain their first Amateur Radio License, not as a result of an interest in the more “traditional” areas of experimentation, contesting, rag chewing, DXing etc., but rather a primary desire to be able to provide effective (legal) communications during emergencies… whether it be as part of a more public responce effort or only a more private level of communications with friends and loved ones… this would seem to be not only most commendable, but it should be strongly encouraged wherever and whenever possible.

    Trust me, these are the sort of individuals that need to be welcomed into our hobby with opened arms and encouraged to get involved in all sorts of public service, emergency preparedness, and dare I use the most frightening of terms… survivalist communications. These are the hams that at random times in the future will be giving our hobby much needed “good press” when they are the ones providing the first and perhaps only communications out of the regions hit by hurricane, earthquake, tornado, flood, ice storm or some other unforeseen disaster.

    These are also the Hams that are most likely in time to be “experimenting” with emergency power generation, low power QRP, mobile and temporary makeshift “field day” style communication strategies. These are also the Hams that will be honing their operating skills by actively participating in emergency nets and disaster practice events, so that when something horrible does happen, they will be able to show the rest of us (who are way too busy to participate in these important training activities ourselves), what tasks need to be done, and how to do them. These are also the Hams that will be encouraging their loved ones and friends to study and get their own Amateur Radio License for the extremely noble purpose of giving them a priceless survival resource which might actually help them save not only their own lives someday, but perhaps those of the others within earshot as well.

    (My own Elmering tasks this month are helping one of the men that work for me and his thirteen year old son get their Technician Licenses. He’s a really good father, and he would feel much more comfortable if his son kept an inexpensive handheld in his knapsack and knew how and where to operate it. Of course I can only imagine the interest that will be generated when this kid’s friends are exposed to this “new for them” technology.) If every ham out there who is not yet confined to their bed in some nursing home could mentor just one new ham this year, we could be one million strong by 2011. So I’ll have two done in the next few months… and yourself??????

    In addition, I also do look forward to finding more than just a few of these “improperly motivated” new Hams, and take them out in the woods some Saturday for a day hike, and show them how they can effectively communicate for a hundred miles or more on HF CW with only a morse code key, a circuit board the size of a thick book, a gel cell, a roll of wire and a sling shot. (Of course, I do expect that these “improperly motivated” new hams will be ordering their MFJ Pocket Morse Code Tutors the following Monday morning, and tuning in the W1AW slow speed practice session that evening.)

    Oh yes, did I say crusty old obsolete CW? If all of you die hard old timers haven’t already realized it… the ability to communicate by CW is actually being repackaged these days as an essential and most critical of survival skills, right up their with making a fire without matches, building a shelter from tree branches, or using the Sun to find your direction. Hams that are drawn into our hobby with a primary motive of emergency communications should be drawn to low cost (less than a hundred bucks), low power, QRP HF CW operations like a bear to a honey tree.

    Trust me… the newly minted ham that was motivated specifically only by a desire of enabling emergency communications, in a few years will probably be your local club president, and a few years after that you will be seeing his picture in the back pages of QST getting some sort of honor, from someone somewhat important, for doing something that was really noble, which got really good press, and helped just a wee bit to help keep our hobby and its very precious frequencies off of the FCC auction block.

    Mike Zydiak (W2MJZ)

  13. I don’t really care a lick about what some ham thinks everybody with a ham license should be doing right now. I hear that all the time on the air, it’s very tiresome and I’m not in the slightest bit impressed with the self righteous types that spout that kind of hash ad nauseum. I am interested in the actually objective numbers… is the hobby dying out? How many of us are there out there. How many active (on the air) hams are there from year to year. That kind of thing interests me because I’d really hate to see this hobby die because we don’t use the radio spectrum allotted to us.

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