Let’s Get on the Maker Bandwagon

Here’s my column for October………..Dan

About a week ago, I got an e-mail from a ham down in Texas who had attended the Maker Faire. “Makers” are people who love to tinker and make things. They even have their own magazine, Make.

He was amazed at the lack of any amateur radio content. He wrote,

“The Maker Faire was unbelievable. Incredible stuff. Pedal powered carnival rides, robots, computer drive routers, kits. Outside of a table with a Vectronics kit, and a license manual, and a QRP book, the only radio stuff was from a pirate radio group.”

I’m kind of amazed at this as well. It just goes to show how disconnected amateur radio is getting from the mainstream. These are exactly the kind of people we want to get interested in amateur radio, yet there was no one there representing us.

Ham radio needs to be at these events and get plugged into the “maker community.” The Faire has not yet released attendance figures for this particular Faire, but more than 65,000 people attended the Faire held in May 2008. Dayton, with its attendance of about 20,000, looks anemic by comparison.

I blogged about this back in May. One of the things I suggested then is moving Dayton to some place like Austin. Seriously, if you were a new, young ham, where would you rather go, Dayton, OH or Austin, TX? Let’s be real here.

And can there be a worse place for an event than Hara Arena? The parking lot, where they hold the flea market looks like a mine field, and it usually rains, making the flea market a wet, unpleasant experience. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer vendors choose to haul stuff out there? Some of us older hams might fondly reminisce about the bargain we found while traipsing around wearing a trash-bag poncho, but a story like that is not going to resonate with new hams.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to badmouth the Dayton Amateur Radio Association or the Hamvention. I actually think that they do a great job, all things considered. I’m just pointing out that if ham radio wants to again be part of the mainstream, we have to get with the program. Unfortunately, that program probably won’t be at the Hara Arena.

Ham radio has got to figure out how to latch onto the Maker phenomenon. At the very least, the ARRL should have a booth at the next one, and in addition to all the books and t-shirts, they need to come up with some kind of demo or display to attract makers into ham radio. I don’t know what exactly, but I’m willing to start talking about it.

This phenomenon might also be a boon for clubs who hold hamfests. Just as the computer craze turned ham swaps into ham and computer swaps in the 80s, perhaps ham clubs could turn their hamfests into a combination hamfest and Maker Faire in their communities.

As I said earlier, Makers are exactly the kind of people we want in ham radio. Let’s go out and get them.


When Dan’s not pontificating about ham radio, you’ll find him working CW on 40m, teaching ham classes, or running for the ARRL Board of Directors. Read more by going to www.kb6nu.com. Send e-mail to cwgeek@kb6nu.com.

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  1. One of the Hams on Twitter (@mpechner, KI6QNZ) is trying to arrange a sizable Ham Radio presence at next year’s Maker Faire.

    His initial work is here

    (Also, did you give up on Twitter? I can’t find your account anymore)

  2. Dan KB6NU says:

    Excellent! Thanks for the information.

  3. I know that our local Amateur Radio Club had a booth set up at the Maker Faire here in Austin. I looked at the Maker Faire Hams group and they had some really good ideas to get people interested in Amateur Radio. Such things as SSTV, ATV, Fox Hunts, etc… I have tried and tried to get people to demo the COOL parts of Amateur Radio and it just never sinks in. In the end, I guess they just don’t have the excitement to get out and Elmer anyone. Kind of sad….

    I suppose it is up to the 30-50 year old crowd to rev the engines and inspire the next generation, IF there is going to be one.

    Let the word go out to the ham community, “Maker Faire or Bust!”


    Ronny, KC5EES
    Austin, TX

  4. FINALLY! Thank you for making this connection! I have been following the Maker movement and its *explosion* over the last few years and eagerly soldering junk robots along with QRP rigs – taking things from both “cultures” to learn enough electronics to get on the air. I am hardly the experienced radio builder to be the shining example of amateur radio at such an event, but the connection here is clear as crystal to me. One of the off-shoots of these Faires is a retro technology movement that pines even for the days of steam powered brass fitted machines — SteamPunk. Hacking together radios from junk, winding coils for tube radios, or coding Software radio is not only with in the technical capabilities of many who attend, but I think it could be well within their interest as well. Code-punk? Glow-punk? SDR-punk? Is there a new DIY old-school radio movement ready to be born? My read on this Maker culture is that this crowd will not necessarily be the ones to buy HTs; these guys like to build their own things. Show them a DIY tube set, a manhattan style transmitter, an SDR set-up, or telegraph keys of any variety and they will get it right away.

    By the way – I rarely see Ham projects posted to the Make magazine blog (blog.makezine.com). It seems to be a logical place start a cross over.

    ‘Great to see this enter the discussion.

    73, Kendrick KB1NCR

  5. Tom KD8DEG says:

    Hi Dan,
    My self, Dave, KC8PCL, & Mike, W8DER, have discussed this many times, and agree with you. Dave and I each have weekly nets, Tuesday & Wednesday in the G.R. Mich area, and plan on reading this column on our net’s. The three of us have been trying to get this across for some time to the local clubs. Most don’t seem to want to move in that direction. Looking to see what our fellow ham thinkers come up with and we will input as well when we come up with an idea. We need to appeal to the young techie, PC, cell phone generation. They see no use for radio transceivers, when they have cell phones, pc’s, to connect with there friends around the world. They say why spend Hundreds of dollars on radio’s antennas, and have marginal audio, spotty connections, propagation, when they can have top notch audio, pictures, and vidio all the time on there cell phones and PC’s. Promote Echolink, IRLP, CQ100 ATV, Skywarn, Emergency net’s, & especially SDR, they can relate to SDR, Echolink, CQ100, even IRLP because that’s what they live and breath now, Computers, software they can write and use. PSK-31 Our form of text messaging. To many middle & old timers say thats not ham radio and you can’t build your own radio like in the day’s of Heatkit, in the presence of the younger generation, turning them off to the hobby.
    Enough said for now.

    73, Tom KD8DEG

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