Would more HF privileges encourage new Techs to be more active?

Bill, K0RGR, a HamRadioHelpGroup member would like to ask NEWER hams (newer meaning those that are newly licensed current to past few years or so) if they think that adding more HF privileges for entry-level licensees would encourage newcomers to stay in the hobby. While Bill is mostly interested in how new hams feel about this, there are also some responses for us old-timers.

These are the choices:

  • Yes, I’m a newer Ham and I think adding more HF privileges would help keep more people active in the hobby.
  • No, I’m a new Ham and what is setup currently works fine and I’m using the current  HF privileges (HF 10m SSB/Digital/CW and also CW portions of 15m,40m,80m).
  • No, I’m a new Ham and only use VHF/UHF FM privileges (no HF rig or I’m I interested in CW).
  • I have been a Ham for years and think what is in place now for new Techs is more than enough on HF to keep interest if they really are interested in Ham Radio…leaves something to look forward to when they pass their next test the General (then full HF privileges come).
  • I have been a Ham for years and welcome any changes that would advance the hobby…maybe new ides like full HF but at QRP levels for tech/novice or license by elmers…new ideas might help our hobby.
  • No, I’m a new Ham but only interested in VHF/UHF Emergency Communications  (ECOM,ARES,ETC).
  • Yes, I’m a new Ham but there are no close Ham Clubs, no close Elmers, and no VHF/UHF activity and I don’t understand what privileges I have as a Tech on HF.
  • I’m an old Ham, been around for years, I would not like so much more people in the hobby but people that would be active, our numbers for techs is large but my guess is the majority are inactive…I would rather have 10 very active new Hams adding to our hobby than 100 that add nothing because they are inactive.

I think that a little more thought could have been given to these answers, but it’s a great question. We need to do something to get more newly-licensed people on the air and involved.

The poll will end on 8/31/13. If you are a member of the HamRadioHelpGroup, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HamRadioHelpGroup/surveys?id=13187658 to vote. If you’re not a member, and don’t want to join the group, please comment here.


  1. The kinds of questions that the General exam has could probably be answered by most people who took the tech exam, given some time. It’s more of an effort, but if you can pass the tech exam, you should be able to pass the general exam, with a bit of work.

    The best thing we could do, as higher licensed hams, is to elmer new technicians and help them to become better hams. More privileges won’t really help. Honestly, a person setting up an hf station should be able to pass the general exam, it will help them to not blow out their radio, cause interference problems, etc.

    If there is a privileged to add, it would be allow digital communications on the CW novice bands. Nothing further than that would really be helpful.

    • I can’t say it any better than that. I agree 100%. There needs to be different levels. First, it gives incentive to continue learning and advancing in the hobby. Secondly, if everyone should be doing Ham Radio, there is no need for licensing. I like that it weeds out some people.

  2. Ben, KD7UIY, nailed this pretty well. People will stick with the hobby if they feel there is something in it for them. Upgrades will happen if you’re motivated. Everybody would benefit from “help to become better hams,” even those of us who’ve been around for a while.

    I have written before that the digital modes are “the new CW” for entry-level hams and I would be in favor of expanding Technician digital mode privileges on the HF bands. 40 meters is really already too crowded with CW, digital, and SSB in the first 100 kHz, so I would consider just 80, 15, and 10, or possibly 30 meters.

  3. (old ham) I’m all for enticing more new hams to the HF bands. The 10m privileges afforded now aren’t a practical way to give them a real taste of what HF is all about, given the limited band openings (which will decrease as the current cycle fades). 20 or 40m slots would be more practical, I think, unless some feel those bands are already ‘overcrowded’ — then perhaps 15m would be a good choice.

    BTW, I do concur with the last choice in the given answers. I keep hearing all the time about there are more licensed hams now than there ever has been. If this is true, then why aren’t local repeaters bustling with activity – especially since so many tech licensees are out there? I also wonder if anyone has done some demographics on the ham ranks. Is the average ham’s age increasing or decreasing as the number of hams rise? What about the average age of inactive hams? Perhaps we have a bubble and we’ll see a sharp decline in coming years as baby boom hams become SKs. Would be interested if this data is out there.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I think one of the problems when topics like this come up is that there really isn’t any data out there. I’ve pinged my ARRL Division Director a couple of times about this, but the ARRL just isn’t interested in doing this kind of research or doesn’t have the expertise to do so.

  4. Dan KB6NU says:

    I really like the comment, “People will stick with the hobby if they feel there is something in it for them.” That’s the trick, I guess. How do we show them that there is something in it for them?

    My guess is that for most of us who are active it was readily apparent what was in it for us. It was the magic of radio. That’s what motivates us, no matter what modes we operate.

    So, the question then becomes why don’t new licensees seem to share that sense of wonder about radio? Why did they even bother to get licenses if they don’t feel that there’s something in it for them?

    • Well, I had a nice, well-reasoned response to this and the CAPTCHA had expired. So, I’ll summarize:

      So yes, I said something completely obvious. But, I guess that got the conversation pointed in the direction I wanted.

      While it’s a concise and poetic one-sentence summary, I’ll bet that it’s not actually the “magic of radio” that keeps you interested. Amateur radio is “sticky” for us (the term sticky is borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which is a pretty good analogy for this discussion). We keep coming back to it for a hit of dopamine that comes from interaction with other people, learning new things, collecting DXCC entities (or callsigns that spell words), getting an oscillator to oscillate, running 180 stations/minute on CW in a contest, etc. There are plenty of motivating reasons to get a ham license that are not inherently sticky…like emergency preparedness (emergencies generally don’t recur or they wouldn’t be emergencies) or because your friend badgered you into it. And, some of those things would never occur to an outsider as being adrenaline-inducing (like the contest example).

      I’m reasonably certain you do this, but have you ever asked people who download your study guides or take your classes what inspires them to get licensed or upgrade? Have you kept statistics? It would be interesting to know what the big motivators are.

      The point of all of this is to make the entry-level license broad enough to capture a lot of the appeal of the hobby, but to limit it enough that more investment of effort is required to go deeper. The old Novice license was pretty good…if the year was 1975. Even when the Novice license was mercifully euthanized, the realignment of the Tech privileges in 2000-whatever was just a reorganization of the same 1975 Novice privileges that didn’t reflect that the low-power/compromise-antenna HF modes of choice for many new hams are often digital, not CW. That may not yet have been apparent when those changes were approved. That’s why I advocated adding digital modes to the CW privileges of Techs on 80/(40)/15.

      The real trick is connecting new hams to something that’s sticky for them. And, that’s something that cannot be legislated, NPRMed, etc. Furthermore, there is nothing to say that they even care about something sticky. Everyone talks about retention, but I have no problem with attrition if people have explored the hobby and discovered it’s not interesting.

  5. I skipped the Tech level and went right to General so I could get on the HF bands because I wanted to use my grandfather’s old Kenwood that I got after he passed. I think you’d get a lot more on the air if radios and antennas didn’t cost so much. I try to save up for the rest of what I need, but life keeps throwing things at me and I have to spend it. I’d be on the air most every night if I had what I needed, but costs prevent it from happening.

  6. Bob, KG6AF says:

    Maybe what we’re battling is a matter of perception.

    The proposition pitched to most aspiring hams is that your first step in entering amateur radio is to get a Technician license. But when the typical newly-minted Tech gets on the air, it’s usually via repeaters, where they’re confronted with lots of dead air and the occasional contact with a guy a few miles away. Not very exciting. What happens to many of these licensees is no mystery; just look at qrz.com’s list of expiring licenses, and you’ll see huge blocks of 10-year-old two-by-three calls falling off the rolls every month.

    In short, the problem here is that despite its merits, a Technician license is a lousy first-license choice for most prospective hams. I’m not disparaging the Tech license. As I’ve pointed out to new hams, you can keep yourself busy for years with the kinds of things Tech licenses allow you to do. However, Tech privileges give you only a *very* limited ability to make contacts worldwide, ham radio’s major drawing card. Is ten meters open? Or can you use CW? If not, sorry, you’re out of luck.

    This is the point at which it’s tempting to solve the problem by modifying Tech frequency and mode privileges. Frankly, I don’t see the need, because there’s a better option: while the Tech may be lacking as an entry-level license, the General is an *excellent* one. Instead of encouraging folks interested in amateur radio to get a Tech, tell them to go for the General. Instead of writing guides on how to get a Tech license, let’s write guides on how to go for a General license right out of the box. Merge the two syllabi into one, in a single manual, and push the goal of getting the General. For those who find a ~700-question pool a bit intimidating, encourage them to take the test in two sessions, but keep the focus on getting the General, not the Tech. In short, stop selling the Tech as the entry point, and start selling the General.

    You might think that this is an overly ambitious route for new hams, but I’d point out that lots of people are passing element 2 after taking a one-day class; it can’t be that hard. And element 3 is just more rote memorization of rules and some, let’s face it, very simple electronics (you can’t even call it EE-Lite; it’s more like Pale Shadow of EE). As a VE, I’ve found that virtually all applicants pass the elements they’ve studied for, and fail the ones they haven’t. Unfortunately, many applicants seem to be only vaguely aware of the General license, and thus pass up the chance to get a license they might actually use. Let’s change that.

    • There are distance opportunities with VHF that are rarely taken advantage of. The more I think about it, the more I realize we need to have a serious discussion as a Ham community on what we need to do to make new hams, and not just help people pass a test. Hmmm. I’m going to have to give this some thought…

      • Exploiting the DX capability of the VHF bands is non-trivial at best compared to exploiting the DX capability of the HF bands. All of this assumes that people become hams to work DX, though.

        Bob’s suggestion about combining the Tech/General exams is basically what we did for the old 1991 No-code Tech. I think that worked splendidly and it helped kill the Novice license.

        At the end of the day, you still have to keep them hooked after they get on the air…and that’s a people problem as much as anything else.

  7. I suppose the real question is, why do people become hams in the first place. There are more hams now than ever, why do they keep coming. I’m really going to have to put something together about this sometime. Hmmm…

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I’d be happy to work with you on this. Perhaps a couple of questions that we could post in a survey here, and that I could ask people who sign up for my class.

  8. Rich KB3MBM says:

    I don’t know if opening up some HF to Technician licensed folks, new or otherwise, will help get more interest in the hobby or not.

    I have two ARRL General Exam books on my bookshelf, and I have several study guides, too. I have studied up for the General license exam several times, with the intention of taking the test to upgrade my license and privileges… then I realize that I can’t use those bands because the equipment can be very expensive.

    Personally, I would like to sit for the exam this year but I know that the only way I’ll be able to get on the HF bands is to hope to find a good deal on an older radio on QRZ.com (or similar site) or at a hamfest.

    Yes, I know that the FCC has nothing to do with equipment prices, but that is an exogenous variable that has a large impact on the hobby.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      Hi, Rich. Thanks for your comment. I would encourage you to get your General Class license even though you may not be able to afford HF equipment right away. Just having that ticket might encourage you to start beating the bushes for deals, or someone in your club might come forward and offer you a deal on an older rig he might have. He may even let you borrow it for a while. If you have the General Class license, you’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunity should it arise.

      • Rich KB3MBM says:

        I probably will upgrade to a General Class license some time this fall, even if it is only to say that I did it.

        I am not a member of a club. It is not because I do not want to get involved in a larger organization, it is because my time always seems to be limited; and I do not want to promise my involvement into something when I may have to cancel or reschedule things because of higher priority events — “real life” is very intrusive.

        As for looking for used gear, I have been looking but the market for used gear is approaching the prices for new gear in some cases. Radios that are 5-, 10, 15-years old and older are at a premium because the prices of the newest electronic baubles are high.

        I think what I may end up doing, when I can free up some money, is buying an Alinco radio. They are not fancy but they are affordable. Couple that with the most important piece of equipment — a good antenna — and I should be okay.

    • Yohei, N8YQX says:


      You can always go the route of used equipment. I picked up my first HF rig (FT-890) for $300 from eBay. There are similar deals on QRZ if you’re patient.

      If you’re willing to give up features like digital frequency readout, I’ve seen even cheaper radios.

      • Rich KB3MBM says:

        I hesitate to use eBay anymore. One poor deal to many while buying and one very bad attempt at selling had me abandon that website several years ago. I can not even tell you the last time I was on that site.

        I would rather check out the hamfests for used gear. Or, as I replied earlier, just buy a new radio, such as an Alinco, and have a good antenna set up.

Speak Your Mind