The Perennial Debate: Is Ham Radio Dying?

If you’ve been around ham radio for even a year or two, you’ve no doubt heard or participated in the debate as to whether or not ham radio is dying.  The question is as perennial as the grass.

Recently, this was a topic of discussion on the ARRL PR mailing list. Allen, W1AGP, the ARRL’s Media & PR Manager, generated this chart to show that ham radio is NOT dying:

Ham Radio is Not DyingThis chart is fairy dramatic, until you not the values on the y axis.  Even so, the good news is that the number of licensees is quickly approaching 700,000, and should surpass that number shortly.

Upon seeing this chart, Jerry, N9TU, did a little statistical analysis of his own, producing this chart, which shows the distribution of licensees in his zip code.

From this data, he deduces, “If this is an average sampling of deceased members, expired members and club licenses there are roughly 90,000 fewer licensees than shown in the data nationwide. I have no clue of the error rate involved with my data. Your results may vary.” My guess is that his zip code is probably pretty typical, and that his analysis is essentially correct.

There’s also the question of activity. Previously, I’ve guessed that nearly half of all licensees are inactive, and that if we could figure out a way to activate those hams, then we’d really be able to say that our hobby is not dying. It’s something worth thinking about, but there’s certainly no easy answer to this problem.  As  Yogi Berra is purported to have said, “If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

Overall, though, I think the numbers are headed in the right direction. Let’s all keep up the good work.


  1. Chris Nelson says:

    As for inactivity, in my case it boils down to lack of time, money and location. Work and go to school, try to deal with the economic reality that is the world now and live in an apartment. I’m working on the location aspect, since there is a house with a large lot in my near future… :)


  2. Numbers prove nothing. Your ARRL is obsessed with numbers, to the extent that it has played on the American fear that Armageddon is just around the corner to promote ham radio as a personal emergency communications service for use “if all else fails” with considerable success. The result is that these numbers include guys like the one who wrote a letter that was published in CQ a couple of months ago complaining that handheld transceivers were too complicated as all he wanted was to access his local emcomm channels.

    If ham radio is dying, you won’t save it by turning it into something else. The accepted reasoning is apparently that you hook them in on emcomms and then get them interested in traditional ham radio activities after that. I would like to see the numbers on that.

  3. Dan,

    The FCC data is not usable to determine if whether the number of hams is going down or up.
    You can only make assumptions but there is no way to PROVE your assumptions are correct using the FCC data. As long as SK’s and all licensees (clubs) are listed there is no way to be sure. Also the real question is how many licensees are active. That’s a big question that cannot be answered from the available data.

    The available data leaves the questions unanswered.

    My guess is that the hobby is growing but the number of active hams remains stagnant.

    Jim K8ELR

  4. In Germany some Hams say that Ham Radio is dying because of many people who don’t get the highest license. Or because there will be a new entry level class. They say this new hams don’t know enough about the technics around ham radio and cannot operate correctly. And therefor it’s all going down.

    I think we should not just talk, we have to do something in local clubs to activate those who are already hams and enthuse whose who are not yet hams. THe question if HR is dying or not is the wrong question, it’s all about activity.

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