On QRZ.Com, K3UD frequently reports on the number of licensed radio amateurs. Comments on the latest item, “ARS FCC License Numbers 4th Quarter 2007, A Look At The Trends,” took a turn when WW3QB reported:
I looked up ARRL membership for a few years (from annual reports).
1996 – 175,023
2000 – 164,106
2004 – 151,727
2006 – 148,641
I would expect the ARRL membership to reflect some percentage of “active” hams. But the trend is clear.
To which, K1RFD replied:
Attributing this decline to things the ARRL has (or hasn’t) done certainly makes for lively discussion, but I suspect the trend is mostly due to two other, more mundane factors.
The first may be a decline in the number of active hams, both in real numbers and as a percentage of total licensees. Inactive hams aren’t likely to keep a yearly League membership going. Those numbers might be very close to the number of active U.S. hams.
But the biggest reason is probably the overall state of magazine publishing in the 21st century. If you were to look at other organizations that have a magazine subscription as their primary benefit, you’d probably see the same trend. For example, according to journalism.org, subscriptions to traditional news magazines have been on a downward slide for decades, and the average subscriber age has been going up.
I think K1FRD is probably right that a big reason for the drop in ARRL membership is because amateurs no longer have to rely on magazines for their information about ham radio. The flip side, of course, is that it’s too bad that the main reason these guys joined at all is to get QST.
Even so, you can’t really blame them. The only thing that most members see from the ARRL is QST and a raft of solicitations for this fund or that. And if they can get pretty much the same technical information off the Internet, why should they continue their ARRL memberships? The ARRL has been saying all along that your membership fee is for more than just QST, but they obviously haven’t done a great job of selling that.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that we do need a national association representing amateur radio, and in the absence of any other viable national organization, I think the ARRL is it. But the ARRL has to do better at attracting and retaining members.
Someone else commented that looking at what the NRA was doing would probably be a good idea. Benchmarking the ARRL against the NRA would be an interesting and very useful exercise, I think. We should find out what the NRA, and other similar large, membership-based organizations are doing right and doing wrong, then figure out how the ARRL can benefit from this knowledge.