Recruiting (and Retaining) ARRL Members

I recently blogged about the difference between recruiting new hams and recruiting new ARRL members. I went on to describe the various ways that we could do more to recruit more people into ham radio. Today, I want to discuss how the ARRL might turn more of those hams into ARRL members.

Currently, less than 25% of licensed amateurs are ARRL members. There are probably many reasons for this, but whatever the reason, I think this is something that the ARRL needs to work on. More members would mean more money and more support for all of the good work that the ARRL does. As I said during my recent campaign for Great Lakes Division Vice Director, we need to set a goal of at least 30%, and then develop the programs necessary to get there.

There are probably many reasons why hams aren’t ARRL members. One of them, surprisingly enough, is that there are still a lot of old-timers who are upset that the ARRL supported incentive licensing 40 years ago. They blame the ARRL for their losing priviledges.

I think the biggest reason, though, is that the ARRL has really failed to get amateurs involved in its programs. The ARRL is either doing a poor job of publicizing its programs or doesn’t have the right programs. The result is that many members view the ARRL as a publishing house and their membership dues as simply a subscription fee to get QST.

So, what can the ARRL do to boost membership? Here are some ideas:

  • Give ARRL name badges to all new members or returning members. Wouldn’t you think about joining (or re-joining) if a sizable percentage of the hams wandering around a hamfest or other amateur radio activity were wearing these badges?
  • Offer a membership discount on ARRL books. This is a no-brainer to me. All of the professional organizations I belong to offer member discounts. Why doesn’t the ARRL?
  • Show some member appreciation. I joined the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) a little over a year ago. On my first anniversary, they sent me an ACM coffee cup. I thought that was a nice touch. I can’t recall the last time I got anything from the ARRL saying that they appreciated me being a member. All I seem to get are solicitations for the Spectrum Defense Fund, the W1AW fund, etc., etc. etc.
  • Revamp the lifetime membership fee structure. With the current fee structure, it makes sense for young members to sign up, but there’s less incentive for older members to sign up.
  • Develop some programs that members really want or need. There has been, for example, talk about the ARRL getting more involved in technical development. As it is now, it seems that the ARRL has ceded this to organizations like AMSAT or TAPR. I think it would be a good idea for the ARRL to get back on this horse.

    Another good idea would be to develop some programs to get new hams involved in the hobby. As far as I can see, the ARRL really has no programs for getting new hams involved and on the air. Something like this would grab new hams just as they’re getting into the hobby and make lifelong members out of them.

If I had the time, I could probably come up with a half dozen more ideas.

Why the ARRL isn’t doing more to recruit new members I don’t know. Perhaps the new membership manager will have more of a chance to do this than the outgoing membership manager did. All I know is that having more members means more funds for programs and more hands willing to work on these programs, and ultimately, ham radio will benefit.


  1. Hi Dan,

    I think all of your ideas are good, however there’s one good reason why ARRL has only 25% of licensed amateurs as members: many amateurs are inactive. We’ll never know exactly how many hams are inactive, but an unscientific survey that I conducted on indicated that people thought about 40% of hams were inactive. (The details are here ). How we fix this issue is a whole ‘nuther discussion :-)

    I think another thing that may increase membership is changing how members are represented or perhaps give members another avenue for representation than the elected hierarchy. I’ve heard people complain about the lack of representation by their elected division and section personnel. Arguably some of these complaints are obviously invalid because many don’t attempt to contact their elected officials. With the Internet it could be possible for members to have more voting opportunities on key issues and initiatives rather than depending on elected officials.


  2. I agree that at least 40%, and more like 50% or more, of licensed amateurs are inactive. Even so, getting 30% to join the ARRL seems like a reasonable goal to shoot for.

    As for representation, I think the core problem is really involvement. The ARRL does a poor job of getting the members involved, either during the planning phases of a project or during the implementation phase of a project. It’s almost as if they’re scared to let the members actually be a part of it.

  3. Chris KC2SYK says:

    What do they offer me? I am a relatively new ham (Licensed in 1Q 2008). At this point, I am not an ARRL member. It seems that the only reason to join would be for the QSL bureau, but I am not yet active on HF. So what does ARRL membership get me? QST magazine? Not compelling. As a new ham, it seems that ARRL (and the ham community in general) is quite money-centric. There are few online services or websites that offer full functionality for free. Examples of places that require purchase / “donations” for full functionality: and .

    Perhaps my expectations are skewed because I am coming from the open source software / free software community, where nearly everything is community based and not for sale. I can understand where physical things cost more money than virtual things (repeaters, etc.), but online services could follow a similar model to the software world.

    Also, BTW, you make it sound like ARRL membership should be a goal in and of itself. Its not clear to me why thay would be.

    I do like your book discount idea though.

    Thanks for the interesting topic, and 73.
    -Chris KC2SYK

  4. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    The problem is a lot of what the ARRL gives us isn’t very visible. They lobby for us, beating back threats to our spectrum, which is a very valuable commodity that many commercial entities would like to make use of. To me that’s their most important function, and it’s a big reason that I’m a member. But the ARRL has been so successful at keeping these threats at bay that I suspect a lot of amateurs don’t see them as real.

  5. Dan KB6NU says:


    As N8SRE points out, the ARRL is really the only organization with enough clout to represent us in Washington and in state capitals around the country. Without this clout, amateur radio operators would certainly have less spectrum to play with than we do today. That is probably the #1 reason that you should join the ARRL.

    One of the reasons I posted this is to note that the ARRL needs to make an effort to attract new hams such as yourself. I’ve also written many times that the ARRL should do more to help new hams improve their skills and get more involved in the hobby. That you don’t find it worth joining just proves my point. What kinds of services would make it worthwhile for you to join the ARRL? You say QST is not compelling. What content would make it more compelling?

    I’m not saying this to take you to task–I’d really like to know. I have it in the back of my mind to start some kind of online ham radio publication, and I would like to meet the needs of new hams.

    Finally, while I see where you’re coming from with regard to various ham radio websites, but there are plenty of free services out there. There are three or four websites, for example, where you can take practice tests online for free. And, I offer my Tech and General Class Study Guides for free.

    There are also several ham radio publications available for free, including the K9YA Telegraph ( and the new Ham-Mag ( eHam.Net and QRZ.Com are essentially free as well. They may ask for donations, or offer a little extra if you subscribe, but it certainly isn’t essential to do so.

    I’d really like to continue this dialogue with you, Chris. We can do so here, or you can e-mail me privately.

  6. Hi Dan, Your ideas are right on. The ARRL does not give you a sense of “belonging” to a greater community. Perhaps they are too hierarchical. You have the HQ Staff in Newington and the field organizations doing good works for us, but I don’t have a sense I’m part of that fraternity. Some of the ideas you have such as name badges, longevity awards etc would help.

    I do think many people think ARRL membership is a subscription to QST. I find QST to be too staid and structured … a waste of paper because there are too many aspects to the hobby to cover. Unless I’ve been involved with it, I don’t care about the latest contest, section reports, DX activity (most hams are VHF only) or ARPSC. Some topics appeal to the common denominators: developments in technology, rules, regs and frequency allocations. My point is most of this could be delivered to targeted SIG audiences on the web with email-linked announcements. If one has a budget for a single ham magazine, would QST be the choice?

    I rejoined the ARRL because of what the League has done to bind the hobby together and keep it alive. It was more out of a sense of duty than a desire for a subscription. I joined even though I did’t particularly want to pay for or receive QST. If others had the sense of “belonging” perhaps more would sign on just to be supportive.

    In 2006 while in Hartford on business, I was treated to an after hours tour of League HQ. The team there is terrific and they are in to so many diverse topics. I cheer what they accomplish behind the scenes but sometimes a little Rah Rah is needed out front. That encompasses more than what the typical membership director can pull off.

    Our ranks are shrinking. I think that is partially because the general public thinks we winked out with the CB craze. They think hams do only point-to-point analog voice. Those who investigate, of course, learn how rich the hobby is. But to entice the digital generation, we’ve got to get the buzz out that the hobby has something to offer that they cant pickup and do on the internet.

    Hey good luck to you and Scott. Take the word to the clubs.

    73 de Don K7SDF

  7. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    Hmm. I see where you’re coming from, Don, but I also think QST’s broad coverage is useful in giving people a feel for what’s going on in the hobby. Sometimes you don’t know you’re interested in something because you don’t know it exists. The more I read about weak-signal VHF in the QST column devoted to it, for example, the more I think, “yeah, maybe I ought to try that some day.” Same with D-STAR, which I had never heard of until QST did an article about it.

    You’re probably right about some stuff, though. For example, long contest results listings are probably a waste of paper now, for the same reason many newspapers don’t print stock tables anymore; there are quicker sources for that information, and most people only care about one or two items out of the list.

  8. KV5KVE says:

    Brand new ham here, brand new ARRL member (processed payment last night) also.
    I think one of the things about Amateur Radio that makes it awesome is this:
    Talk to people around the world, send pictures, video, data, etc.
    But for people with the internet, they can do all of this already. “Whats the point?”

    I honestly don’t know why I joined the ARRL, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I have only been into this “hobby” for over a month, just got on the air for the first time yesterday.

    I think what I would like to see from the ARRL would be soldering classes, electronics theory for beginners. Show people how cool analog circuitry is and the benefits of being able to maintain your own equipment. Don’t just give people the incentives to get more spectrum usage, get people more interested in science in general.


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