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.


  1. Tom KD8DEG says:

    Are we looking for Quality or Quantity. I see “Ham In A Day” as Quantity. This is going to turn into another 11m mess down the road. Two thirds of those people would not attend an 8 week class, it takes up to much of there time. Those that truely want to be ham’s would. I have talked with some of the “Ham In A Day” ham’s and they do not realy have a clue about what they got crammed in an 8 hr class. They have a ticket now but don’t know anything about the tech ticket, rules, operating procedures, antennas, etc. Then they get dump on us to educate them after the fact. We are the Elmers to help then further there training, fine tune them, not to have to start from scratch and do the training for you. What can they learn in 8 hr’s, verses a class that meets once a week for 3 hrs for 8 weeks. They realy don’t know anyhting more than when they came in 8hrs earlier.

    Amateur radio is turning into another entitlement.

    Tom KD8DEG

  2. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    Think about groups that put on amateur and/or volunteer-staffed events that need communications, too. Those volunteers are good candidates to become hams. I see this all the time in stage rally race events; amateur radio is essential to running them efficiently, and a lot of volunteer rally workers (and sometimes drivers and pit crews) become hams.

  3. You’re simply wrong about this, Tom.

    We call it a one-day class, but it really takes longer than that. There may be some that don’t study and take practice tests beforehand, but those that don’t really hurt their chances of passing the test. Judging from the questions that we get in class, I can tell that most of them have studied the material beforehand.

    As for not “having a clue” about rules, operating procedures, antennas, etc., I’d also beg to differ with you. If you’re truly starting out with complete novices, 24 hours of instruction is not going to teach students all that much more than our one-day class. The only way people are going to learn how to do this stuff is by doing, and they can start doing sooner by taking our one-day class than they can if they have to take eight weeks of classes.

    That’s my take, anyway. It would be interesting to do a study that would compare the knowledge and activity levels of those who took a one-day class versus those who took a more traditional six- to eight-week class. My guess is that the type of class that they took makes little difference. It’s the student’s motivation that’s important, and it appears to me that most of my students have plenty of motivation.

  4. John KC8ZTJ says:

    Great blog site Dan. Reading the article on one day classes for techs, it prompted me to look at our local club membership roster. Our “special Service Club” has been doing tech classes and even a general class. However for all the teaching and testing we do, our repeaters are silent and the club membership has actually dropped. Not speaking for other clubs or groups, I think that getting the license is needed, but you also need mentoring or “elmering” and which our club has no interest in. So classes are fine but there also needs to be support for getting our new licensees on the air and education with use of proper technique. Expecting people to get a license and just magically appear on the air is a bit of stretch.
    I am not suggesting new hams be spoon fed but rather that they not be just dropped off table as soon as the are hatched. Follow up with the newly licensed ham and see how they are doing and see if they have any questions. Invite them to meetings and ask them to participate. Many of these folks have skills local clubs need.
    Thanks for the soap box.

  5. You’re absolutely right about that, John, and we try to be as supportive as we can here in Ann Arbor. One of the things we’re going to do is to start a “Basic Ham Radio” series of presentations. These will be short, practical talks given just before our regular meetings.

    I also try to encourage everyone to participate in our regular activities, and while we don’t get every new Tech to show up, a good number do.

    One thing I find is that so many new people are hesitant to ask for help. I suppose there are many reasons for this, but if we could get them over that hump, we could really help them and get them involved.

  6. I see also “Ham In A Day” as Quantity and the Quantity is the way to the hell. Do we need more “appliance operators” without any knowledge about ham radio? What will they do in 5-10 years – will they stay with ham radio or will they leave? Operating skills and technical knowledge is ruined nowadays. Any CB(andit) able to switch from a channel to another and attach the antenna is now a guru. We need a rapid change or we will die in the mass of unqualified ‘hams’ who does not love our hobby as we do.

  7. Think about groups that put on amateur and/or volunteer-staffed events that need communications, too. Those volunteers are good candidates to become hams.

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