Amateur Radio Just Isn’t Exciting

As ARRL president, [Rick Roderick, K5UR] spends a significant amount of time proselytising the hobby. He has a standard talk about amateur radio that involves tales gleaned from his many decades as a licence holder, and features QSL cards from rare DX contacts to show how radio amateurs talk all over the world.

He’s delivered this talk countless times, and is used to a good reception from audiences impressed with what can be done with radio. But when he delivered it to a group of young people, as Southgate ARC reports, he was surprised to see a lack of interest from his audience, to whom DX or contesting just don’t cut it when they have grown up with the pervasive Internet. Writing in the 2016 ARRL Annual Report, he said:

“Change generally doesn’t come easy to us. But when I looked out at that group of young faces and saw their disinterest in traditional ham pursuits, I realized that I had to change. We have to change. It won’t come easy, but it’s essential that we get to work on it now.”

If you were to profile a typical group of radio amateurs, it would not be difficult to see why [K5UR] found himself in this position. It might be an unflattering portrait for some amateurs, but it’s fair to say that amateur radio is a hobby pursued predominantly by older more well-off men with the means to spend thousands of dollars on commercial radios. It is also fair to say that this is hardly a prospect that would energize all but the most dedicated of youthful radio enthusiasts. This is not a new phenomenon, where this is being written it was definitely the case back in the days when they were issuing G7 callsigns, for instance.

Were Hackaday to find ourselves in the position of advising the ARRL on such matters, we’d probably suggest a return to the roots of amateur radio, a time in the early 20th century when it was the technology that mattered rather than the collecting of DXCC entities or grid squares, and an amateur had first to build their own equipment rather than simply order a shiny radio before they could make a contact. Give a room full of kids a kit-building session, have them make a little radio. And lobby for construction to be an integral part of the licensing process, it is very sad indeed that where this is being written at least, the lowest tier of amateur radio licence precludes home-made radio equipment. Given all that, why should it be a surprise that for kids, amateur radio just isn’t exciting?

We’ve shown you some fantastic amateur radio builds over the years. If you have a youngster with an interest in radio, show them a BitX transceiver, or the world of QRP.

Header image: enixii. [CC BY 2.0]. We hope these snoozing kids aren’t in the middle of a lecture on amateur radio.

163 thoughts on “Amateur Radio Just Isn’t Exciting

  1. How is this a surprise to anyone from the ARRL, much less the president? Most, though not all, of my ham friends have pretty much lost interest over the last ten years. The only ones that ARE still active are over 50, have been active since the 1970’s or before, and maintain classic gear (or built their own). In other words, those with a long strong emotional tie to the hobby. I am over 50, but am not one that has stayed active, though I kind of lost interest in the mid-1990’s.

    1. As a kid 40+ years ago I was interested but only got as far as building a few receivers. The ARRL handbooks were a great resource available from the local library. Over the years I got more into digital electronics and micros. Looking at submissions on spectrum use here in New Zealand I see amateurs calling for more. Unfortunately for the amateur community I see many other areas where this may be put to better use. One example: there is a shortage of “useful” control, telemetry and video spectrum at the moment for the growing numbers of drones and other gadgets.

      1. Amateur radio would be the perfect way to get high performance telemetry and video back from drones and high-altitude balloons, which would be a great way to get people interested in the hobby again. Unfortunately, in the UK (and others) airborne operation is not allowed, although in many countries this is still an option. To make this work the license needs to be much clearer on allowing unattended remote operation, and the restriction on encryption needs to be dropped (callsigns still in the clear).

        1. Why does the restriction on encryption matter for the UAV use case? I understand you may want to add authentication to the link so no-one can take over the UAV, but that is not forbidden. It is not a “code meant to obscure the meaning” after all.

          1. @Me (from another me!) And your point is… proving identity does not make it a “code meant to obscure the meaning” so that use should be ok/

            I’ve always thought the wording of that rule was a bit weird. Do we have a lot of other laws on the book where intent matters?

            In reality though… while using encryption for validation purposes should be perfectly fine it would probably get a lot of hams reporting you. And.. honestly.. not bugging the FCC is the #1 rule even if unwritten.

            I would really like to see encrypted control codes/telemetry in ham radio get openly discussed, debated and written specifically into law as allowed given the following provision… Use public/private key encryption and broadcast the public key every 10 minutes just like the call sign. But wait.. the same commands repeated, encrypted by the same key.. anyone can just re-send those… So what? include a timestamp with each packet and use an algorithm where the whole encrypted packet changes when even part of the original one does.

          2. Encryption is NOT required to validate telecommand, signing IS. The UK license only prohibits codes which obfuscate rather than facilitate communications and signing does not hide the meaning of the message which can still be plain text.
            Airborne reception could be allowed in UK, just not transmission. There is plenty fo free spectrum for downlink anyway.

        2. This is probably the only reason I will (eventually…) kick myself into getting a license, even if hobbyist RC aircraft with a video link are a gray-area from the lawmakers perspective where I live.

        3. Mike: In the U.S., there is a specific exception for the call sign rule for remotely controlling aircraft, which allows the same type of radios used for RC modeling to be used with an amateur license with more privileges. As for “encryption” for radio control, there’s an easy way out for this: transmit the commands themselves in the clear, but use digital packets and include an authentication code in each packet. This can be a rolling code as is used with garage door openers, and isn’t technically encryption – it’s just identification. There’s only so much you can do to protect radio control of remote objects anyway, since a malicious entity can always just jam your transmissions. As for telemetry and video from an RPV, these are easy enough; you just use unencrypted codes, and include a morse ID every ten minutes to satisfy the requirements. Sure it’s an extra burden, but if you’re downlinking video you pretty much have to have a decent CPU on board, and at that point it’s almost trivial to include that periodic ID.

      2. Hobby radio control came out of ham radio. Because it’s so wide open, some hams decided to make a radio controlled airplane. Of not fir ham radio, they would have had to apply for some temporary license, under fairly restrictive conditions.

        And for some time, ham radio was the only way to do hobby remote control. Only later was there radio control licenses for 27 and later 72MHz, but I suspect one can’t build the RC transmitters under those licenses.

        Most or all non-commercial/non-government satellites rely on ham radio for telemetry and control (and communication if they are repeaters or translators). It’s just way easier than alternatives, and there’s all the existing radio gear out there.

        Amateur radio tv has long existed, and slow scan tv from the late fifties (narrow band, but slow to send a picture, not so useful for “live” video”. Yes, there are the usual restrictions, but again it has been used because it’s there.

        Michael

    2. I am one of the few ham operators that recently got involved because of prepping. I wanted to have communication access even if the power and cell networks were down.

    3. The worst part is that, being older, so many of these people are stupidly bigoted and have little or no filter because they long ago stopped giving a damn – so whenever they hop on the air, it’s OBUMMER this and FEMA CAMPS that and blah blah gag me with a spoon.

  2. Ham radio is changing … now in my club there is only new young people using linux, and building electronic stuff. The is so many new things to build, so many things to learn ! uC, FPGA, Software defined radio, weak digital signal in HF (with 5W you reach the word !) and ham satellite (in our club we even was asked by an university who build satellite instruments to help to build a ground station!) The club is F5KGA (Grenoble, France)

    1. Nice sound lile you guys have it figured out.
      I’ve never got my ham license since I have enuff todo
      With computers, part 15 radios wifi, lora, doplar radar,
      You can learn alot before need to take that test
      Plus as the writer pointed out at the low level im
      Not supposed to us my Sdr. Why not I have everything
      I need I don’t want to go something or make it I can
      Use parts I have with different software.

        1. Hey, komradebob, I followed your link, but felt like I came in in the middle of the movie. This appears to be a kit for a transmitter for a number of low-power, low-bandwidth digital modes, I’m guessing by connecting the DE9 connector to a terminal emulator on a computer. Is there a matching receiver somewhere? I don’t think I could read Opera by ear, no matter how long I listened to it. How does your shack handle the receiving end?

        2. qrp-labs.com is a great place for someone to get into kit building. I have bought (and built) their GPS receiver kit, Clock (that uses the GPS time constant), and VFO (which is also using the GPS tie in). That and a BITX (prebuilt – minus case, and a few “external” components), and you have a portable, low powered station with all the skills and interests from DC to daylight in the Ham Radio skill set. All for well under $100 for everything. An idea, if possible, go to a HAM-fest and peek around to see what the buzz is all about. The WSPR radio that Hans sells is hands down the easiest SDR, low powered, frequency agile system you can get, and it is…in my honest opinion, one of the penultimate kits for someone who wants to send a message long distances on the mW scale of power. Two cents in! 73’s de KC8KVA

      1. The bitrate is very low though. Not a limitation, just something you need to be aware of. You can more or less trade bitrate for coverage area for a constant transmitter power.

    2. Does anybody knows if there’s a list of frequencies with their usage?
      Like: X-Y MHz, 10 channels, channel spacing N, modulation: FSK, license required: no, usage: M2M, control links, voice

      It would be good to have such information somehow centralized, especially the frequencies that are important, like those used by avalanche beacons, marine radio, marine weather and tide, weather alerts, satellite, distress radio beacons, EPIRB, different ISM bands, etc. so that people could build some of that gear or so that HAMs could help monitor them as well.
      There are so many frequencies, bandwidth, modulation, restrictions, usages, etc. that it is impossible to follow.
      How can somebody know which transceiver it needs for let say, M2M, or radiotelemetry, or UAV control, or beacons, etc.?

      That could also help folks to pick equipment, imagine for example that you go on a trek where there is no cellphone nor satellite phone (I think Iridium does not cover the whole world), it would be good to know what sort of emergency radio should you carry just in case.

    3. Hi F4HVX,

      You seam to have a very intersting club overthere.

      That’s indeed how you have to view this.
      The Belgian radio-society has now had an infobooth at FOSDEM (yearly conference on open-source and free software) in Brussels for three years now, promoting ham-radio. The way we approached this is to show that amateur-radio is in essence a “technical / scientific hobby, which happens to involve radio”.

      In its core, hamradio a hobby which allows people to learn from and experiment with technology and science (in a lot of different form) but where your license gives you more possibilities and background knowledge for all aspects where “radio” is involved (and radio, in one form or another, is used in almost any field of science and technology).

      True, radio -by itself- does have something magical, but things really become interesting when you combine radio with whatever other hobbies you might have. At FOSDEM, we’ve had people doing -say- high-altitude ballooning, doing electronics, who do astronomy, are into signal-processing, DSP or SDR, who build amateur-satellites, are into emergency-service applications, write open-source software for a digital voice radio-network, doing mesh-networks, IoT-like network, etc. etc.

      An interesting example (you mention yourself) is the “weak-signal” modes (WSPR, JT65, …). While talking about this with somebody from an astronomy-club, he explained to us that the techniques used for these ham-radio weak-signal modes are in fact the same used by people doing astrophotography (taking photos of space) when taking pictures of very weak objects (deep-sky object, things outside our own milkyway): our problem -as ham- is the inherent noise of a radiochannel, their problem is the inherent noice of the camera. And it turns out that the technique to deal with that used in ham-radio is the same as in astronomy: noise cancelation by averaging out the signal over long periode.

      This shows that ham-radio is not just “talking to people with a radio”. I see it as a one of the tools in your toolbox which help you with whatever other technical or scientific hobby you might have.
      In that respect, there is no contradiction between ham-radio and “the internet”.

      BTW. You mention FPGAs. I’m also playing around with them myself, so if you happen to exchange some ideas to use them for hamradio-application, that would surely interest me.

      Kristoff (ON1ARF)

  3. I am 26 with no experience with analog tech other than copying existing circuits. I have done some Arduino stuff and CAD PCBs and order them, but all of this is digital. When I talk to some of the old timers at work they have grand stories about CBs and Radio but none of the info ever applies to ‘right now’. I can’t use the info, so it’s hard for me to connect and learn when everything they have learned has changed, and everything I know is not relevant to RF.

    If I was looking at trying to get more people interested in RF/Radio. It’s simple for example if you go to adafruit -> learn, what do you see? Tons of projects that walk you through the A-Zs of all the products they sell. A moron could follow these projects, they are sweet and short to the point, and you can order everything you need right from their website, but a website/shop/project guide like this does not exist for RF. So make one and maybe the young people will pay attention.

    1. I relate so well to this. Another problem that Amateur Radio has is that it’s not taught in a way that’s really accessible to those who *really want to understand*. Most of the books, articles, and such that I’ve seen have described a concept in (usually very) wide brushstrokes, then hand you a circuit design and tell you, “Just build this; don’t worry about the details. All you really want to do is get on the air anyway, right?”

      No. That’s not what I “really want to do”. I want to understand how to re-build what you’ve handed me from scratch. Why do I want that you ask? Well, it could have something to do with the fact that the circuit design you just handed me is made up of parts that are out of date and, at best, esoteric. When I might find someone who supplies the part you’re using, it costs me $25 plus shipping. And even then, I may still get a counterfeit that doesn’t actually work like it’s supposed to. I could probably replace that with a modern, inexpensive component, but you just simply won’t take the time to help me understand what I need to in order to change the design.

      What intrigues me about amateur radio is the ability to make a working radio that works because I understand what each piece is for. That knowledge is valuable and, in today’s world, *very* hard won, often because no one is interested in changing that.

      1. The Bittx transceiver was designed to be built with cheap, available parts and to be understood not just duplicated by the builder.
        http://www.hfsigs.com/ – (nevermind the pre-built module, for your purposes read about scratch building)

        The same could be said for the LBS (Let’s Build Something) transceiver by N2CQR. That one was described in pieces, starting with a simple receiver and adding modules to make a better one and add transmit. It uses an Arduino controlled DDS for tuning so you can exercise your coding skills too if you want. The one downside is that it was originally published in a magazine. You will have to get ahold of a couple back issues of QRP Quarterly if you want to do this one.
        http://www.n6qw.com/LBS2.html
        http://www.exp-electronics.org/VwPage.aspx?pgid=6
        http://www.jessystems.com/LBS_Detail.html

        Finally.. if you really want to be advanced then get, read and use this book:
        https://www.amazon.com/Experimental-Methods-Design-ARRL-Inc/dp/087259923X

        1. Last time I held that end I didn’t keep such a stoic expression. Our school decided that proper length cables would be dangerous so they ensured whenever you tried to solder anything to the bottom left of you board you pulled the hot shiny end of the soldering iron through into your grip.
          Good spot whoever found that! I wonder if any companies have bought that pic.

    2. Shawn:”A moron could follow these projects”: This isn’t a problem when you’re talking about flashing LEDs on your hat, or running a robot across your living room. It’s a little different with amateur radio, where you don’t really WANT morons who have no idea what they’re doing stomping all over a crowded band, or worse, over non-amateur bands. The problem isn’t that it’s not easy enough; the problem is convincing “young people” that there are opportunities that are worth the challenges. The challenges themselves aren’t arbitrary – they come from the physical limitations imposed by the need to share a scarce resource.

      Don’t get me wrong – I think that Ladyada has opened up a whole world of technology and helped bring us out of the dark ages of “computers are something you buy, not build”, and it would be great if there was someone making as big a splash in the amateur radio community. But there ARE people doing this, just on a smaller scale. Just Google “amateur radio projects”, and you’ll see what I mean.

      Also, I don’t know what stories your old timers have been telling you, but the last time I scanned the HF bands (a few months ago), there was still plenty of the same stuff going on that I’ve been hearing since the 1960s. There is much in amateur radio that is new and still chaotic, but the only thing I’ve seen disappear from radio is the CB zoo, which actually was never part of amateur radio. CB was meant to be used by small businesses, but got popular with people who saw it as “amateur radio without a morse code test”. CB was horrible, mainly because any moron could get into it.

  4. I used to think amateur radio was uninteresting. Then I found TAPR, AMSAT, and a host of amateur radio enthusiasts who are more experimenters than operators. They’re out there and their numbers are growing. Sadly the ARRL hasn’t entirely caught up with this trend, but I’m pretty sure it will in time.

  5. Too many rules and regulations, no broadcast, limited data communications, etc. It all leads to super-boring conversations with by-the-book types. RF is cool, but amateur radio and its byzantine structure is not.

    1. Having recently become obsessed with the SDRs, this is exactly it. Talking to hams is not enough for such an expensive hobby with a steep learning curve. Having conversations OTA that remind me of the early community on PD BBS’s in the modem days isn’t interesting.

      Grabbing SSTV images from the ISS and Arecibo and HAARP, decoding weather images from weather satellites, and the finally-popular digital modes are. These are all ‘new’ to hams, and scary. The number of licensed operators who are immediately suspicious and intimidated by the new “Hackers with Computer-Radios” does not help. Specifically local Amateur Radio clubs are turning away people coming to the hobby from these new and different directions.

      1. I am from Cyprus and nobody turn me away when I come with sdr background to obtain my license. I have been guided and treated extremely polite, passed my exam and got a license. And there is nothing difficult for anybody who even once opened a book in the school. But I see a problem nowadays that amateur radio is not anymore strait-forward, is getting more and more complex and fragmented. Nobody says today that my hobby is a computers, we specify: software, hardware, networks etc. The same is getting more and more normal for the radio, people can play 433 all the time, so, they are still radio amateur or they in need to have 40m dipole to be called HAM?

      2. That’s horrible.
        I’m really glad that both of the local amateur radio clubs I frequent are not like that.
        Homebrew rigs, digital modes and homebrew SDR hardware and software.
        Even the 75year old dude learned python and has been programming PIC and AVR MCU’s for a decade.

        You don’t hear the experimenters that often on the bands as the building and experimenting is far more fun than operating. At least that’s how it is for me. I have modified rigs and held a single qso with them before giving them away or putting them on the self and starting on the next project.

        1. 2ftg: “You don’t hear the experimenters that often on the bands as the building and experimenting is far more fun than operating.” This is pretty much the crucial fact that leads to the perceptions of people who have used a shortwave radio to listen to the amateur bands. You only hear those people who are really into gabbing on the air. Unless you take it a step further and plug the output of a more selective receiver into the sound input on your computer and get the appropriate decoding software, or talk to other amateurs, you’re just not going to know about what ELSE is going on in the amateur bands.

          Here’s something nobody else has mentioned yet, as far as I can see: you don’t need any equipment at ALL, beyond the computer you’re using to read this, to try it out. Go to http://www.websdr.org, and you can play with any of currently 155 real radios, implemented using software-defined radio in places all over the world. Do you want to hear what the 10-meter band is like in Great Britain? The very first radio on the list is an SDR not far away in the Netherlands that you can tune all the way from 0-29 MHz and get a pretty good idea of what the spectrum is like in that part of the world. Similar for pretty much anywhere there are people, although most of the radios only pick up specific bands. Websdr won’t decode any digital modes (including CW/Morse) for you, but it WILL let you narrow the bandwidth down so you can pick out individual narrow-band stations much better than you could with a shortwave radio, for example. You may notice that there are very few Morse code operators out there transmitting at 5 words/minute, which is a good thing to know if you’re thinking about starting out with an ultra-low-power CW transceiver, because there’s a very real learning curve involved there.

          But really, you’re just never going to know about the amateurs who are using their privileges to control their robots wirelessly, or other specialized users, because their transmissions are few and far between, and generally just sound like gibberish.

          Actually, you CAN loop the audio output of websdr.org back into an application for decoding digital modes, but that requires some extra work that I haven’t tried, myself. I’ve got an app on my phone that’s supposed to decode and display a myriad of different modes for slow-scan TV, and I did try putting the phone next to the computer while monitoring websdr.org, but frankly I haven’t heard any transmissions that a) I thought might be SSTV, and b) were recognized by the app. So yeah, there are challenges. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

    2. Limited data communications? Huh? There are a LOT of ways to do data over amateur radio. The rules are not that hard to learn and understand. I read a book I bought for license prep through the ARRL and made 100% on the first test. It opened up a lot of things to do.

  6. From my talks with young folks (and new potential newcomers) I’ve heard 3 things:

    1. The need to go take a written test about electronics is daunting. And, honestly, I understand that.

    2. If you are buying your hardware, in small solid state form, understanding the electronics IS more difficult (see #1). My first sets came in boxes, in pieces. Some I built with my Dad, others were built with my Grandfather. All three of us true self taught amateurs at the time. (Even I now have 2 low cost programmable handhelds I keep for emergencies only).

    3. The Internet made the world smaller that even shortwave had.

    1. 1 – amateur radio are required to actually have some technical knowledge, this is not bad. the spectrum is a shared resource, learn how to use it the right way

      2 – back to the basics, lets design kits with through hole components instead of smd

      3 – then put the internet on the air…

      1. 2 – No, let’s teach people to design their own radios (see higher-up comments for where I’m coming from). SMD isn’t the problem – lack of understanding of how it works is. Handing them everything and saying “put this together and you’ve got a radio” is really no better than saying “here’s a radio, use it”, and changing the soldering (the only interesting part of assembling a kit) from easy to very easy only reduces the difference.
        (I’m not licensed, but I’m interested – if I can find a reason.)

      2. @f4rx: “lets design kits with through hole components instead of smd.” Who do you mean by “us”? It’s not like there’s an amateur radio establishment. Amateurs who design radios generally do so to meet their own needs. Most project designers give you their full designs as well as THEIR implementation, which may be made with surface mount OR through-hole parts, depending on their own interests. Some will bend over backwards to make their kits as easy as possible, including making them through-hole-only, but it’s by no means reasonable to expect all of them to do so. These are private individuals giving you the products of their labor, usually for little more than their own cost, as a service to the community. I myself prefer surface mount because it’s easier and smaller and the parts are cheaper, and nowadays there are inexpensive soldering irons made for SMD that make it easy.

        But if you really don’t like soldering little parts, you don’t need to know how to design radios to adapt someone else’s design to through-hole. There is free software (Eagle CAD, Kicad) for laying out your own circuit boards, and inexpensive services (OSH Park, Dirty PCBs, Seeed Studio) for getting those circuit boards fabricated. Or even better, Google “manhattan style circuit” or “deadbug circuit” to see how to build radios and other electronic things without even a proper printed circuit board. My own experience has been that it’s easier to deadbug a single copy of a circuit than to lay out a PCB and populate it.

        “3 – then put the internet on the air…” You might as well ask for a printed copy of Wikipedia, which would be easier.

    2. Both of my all surface mount, small boarded Yaesu ham radios came with full schematics. They aren’t that much harder to understand than some of the more advanced homebrew projects I have seen on the internet. All I’m really missing is data and firmware for the microcontroller. The RF parts are still pretty typical RF parts.

      I even found the communication protocol for the detachable head of my mobile and plan to one day incorporate it into a Raspi car stereo.

  7. In that same article the author said that mentioning raspberry pi and other modern maker activities tied in to ham radio made the topic more interesting to the younger audience. You should probably mention that.

    1. yes the article is not fair.

      you should not complain that much in the US. at least the awareness of a need for change has reached high levels of ham leadership. it is not the case in france, where change is even more required.

  8. As a “younger” person who just got their license a few weeks ago, I’m in this boat. I couldn’t give 2 rats about DXing or contests or even using an amateur radio much at all. I’m far more interested in SDR, wireless networking, etc.; but thanks to the FCC, you need a license to mess with this stuff legally at any real power. I pretty much just walked in, blew threw the test and left…I was in and out of the test place in 15 minutes. Of course I did get myself the el-cheapo Baofeng radio that pretty much EVERY ham has (they should just give one to you for passing the lousy test!)…but in the end, I really just got the license to keep my SDR experiments legal; and nothing more.

    1. And that’s what it is for. we are just hackers with a right to transmit after a simple exam.

      DX and all the old stuff is just one facet of what is possible with our right.
      A lot of stuff is possible, we just have to imagine it.

      you have a normal hacking idea? just hack.
      you have a hacking idea that requires transmitting RF? just hack. you can do it with your license.

      Just remember, corporations have to pay MILLIONS to get a right to transmit.

      1. There’s some debate as to the need to do this when running low-power on the ISM bands, since technically you don’t need a license to transmit under 1W there anyways. I figure doing this in a basement in the middle of nowhere with no antenna on the SDR (3 or 4 meters max range) is probably OK to not transmit my callsign. Once I start moving up to power levels where the signal will go more than across my billiards table, I’ll get an HT that does 900MHz bands and will use that for callsign transmission.

  9. I’m not just out of highschool but I am on the younger side. I got my tech license last year and I’ve been wondering what to do. I’m tempted to get the LimeSDR but I’ve yet to find any project ideas that really grab me. I’ve done plenty of digital circuit design and have some idea of the analog side of things, but already have so many other projects to do I’m not keen on building my own radio right now, hence going for a low cost SDR.

    People mention tracking airplanes, shortwave radio, and so on, but it’s all the basics. Do it once, it’s a neat demo, don’t bother touching it again. Can’t encrypt so website related items are usually out. Internet stuff could be fun but if no one else joins in you have a network of one.

    One big problem is I live in an apartment, so I can’t put up a dish for satellite or large antenna for long distance/HF stuff. But even then, if I could, what would I do with it?

    1. I understand your feeling. I am also a young ham and listening to ADSB is nothing but boring when flightradar alread has everything.

      Radio is a medium, what is fun is to USE it for projects, not just look at it. faradayrf has transceivers you can use to build data links. the advantage of ham radio is that it unlocks the limitations that come with ISM transmitters. I am personnally interested in building decent radio data links that are independent of the usual internet, and can replace it in case of emergency, or just for fun. I am starting to publish hardware. In this domain everything is to be contributed since nothing exist, we just need to build upon nothing out of our imagination.

      Also tracking satellites can be fun and does not require a directional antenna and rotators. A turnstile will do and you can contribute telemetry frames to satellite projects. this is useful *today*. Also expensive sdr not required an rtlsdr and LNA+filter will do. the UHF turnstile can be hooked next to your window.

    2. There is a lot of stuff you can do even in an apartment. I am also an apartment dweller, using a magnetic loop because I have no space where to put anything larger than that.

      HAM radio isn’t about accessing internet (that would be actually illegal in many places of the world and not only because of encryption). Wifi or a phone can do that better anyway. For me it isn’t about chatting nor contesting/DX stuff – I am not equipped for it and don’t really find it too interesting neither.

      However, I do enjoy building my own shortwave gear – you don’t need any super duper equipment for that. And having a receiver cobbled together from a ~10 parts come to life under your hands and pick up a broadcast station from the other side of the globe is very satisfying. Not to mention if you manage to find some mysterious signal, like the infamous number stations.

      Sure, I could buy a receiver with better performance or more functions but I wouldn’t learn anything from doing that. The BitX transciever mentioned in the article is also a stellar example of this. It is very cheap, super simple and a great project if you want to learn a lot about the “analog” stuff and RF. And there is plenty of “digital” too – capacitor tuned VFOs are being replaced by Arduinos and programmable DDS synthesis or something similar en masse. Software defined radio is a huge field too, allowing to do things that HAMs couldn’t even dream about 10-15 years ago with something as cheap as a TV dongle and a Raspberry Pi (or an old laptop).

      Other fascinating stuff that is being done is low frequency communication (long wave), experiments with very low power (100mW lets you send a signal around the globe given the right conditions!), experiments with satellites (both amateur and commercial). People are doing things like decoding Iridium traffic, making their own GPS receivers, decoding and tracking airplane and marine traffic, trying radio astronomy, building equipment to receive deep space probe signals (there are a few people who were able to receive even the Voyager signals using homebrew/amateur gear!), experimenting with radar and tons of other things.

      It is really not about putting a radio together, plugging it into a PC and running a program – that would be boring quickly, indeed. For me HAM radio was simply a natural progression of an interest in electronics. For many things I have been doing I needed a license, so I have obtained it to stay legal. You don’t need to put up a dish or a large antenna to be a HAM these days.

    3. Being in an apartment isn’t limiting AT ALL, especially with SDR stuff…I do nearly all of my work out of a self-storage unit or my bedroom. No huge antennas, no dishes, etc. – just a few rubber ducky antennas here and there. Biggest antennas I own are the two 24″ ones mounted to my truck.

      1. You can pick up 80 metre traffic – with an apartment antenna?
        I’ve always felt that the high density urban dwelling conflicts with images of huge ham antennas. Even diagrams of a HF longwire setup assume you have lots of space [and usually a tree to hold one end of the wire].

        Magnetic loops help, along with moving up from HF. RF design does funny things at higher frequencies, so I rarely recommend it for a beginner unless they just want to plug together pre-made modules [and where’s the fun in that?]

  10. Well, in a world taken by the internet storm and its online video games, social networks, 3D, and soon VR, ham radio IS pretty dull. I can totally understand those young people yawning about Morse code and voice transmission over the planet, if the can exchange videos in a snap through Internet.

    Get over it, grey ham beards (yes, mostly all males), it will never ever be popular like it used to be, the B&W TV died too.

    1. no, no, no, ham radio is not about exploiting established communication channels. it’s about experimenting new things, mainly by building them ourselves. we are not to be compared with commercial networks. that is a boring comparison and no one wants facebook in ham radio. that is simply not our role.

      1. +1 (again)

        F6dnh initialy licensed as F1om 51 years ago …

        I fully agree with your point of view. Unfortunately it’s not the common point of view in the ham community
        73′

  11. The following seems really obvious to me but I never see it written in these terms so I wonder if I’m missing something:

    Amateur radio was interesting in the past because it could let you communicate with people you otherwise couldn’t communicate with. With the internet, this is not true, and it will never be true again. That chief motivator is gone, and now it’s pursued for its own historic sake rather than for the novelty of talking with faraway people. Like so many things, amateur radio was a product of the times, and that world will never come again. Rather than lament this and wish for what was, better to appreciate it and move on.

    1. I’m in it for the opportunity to build things.
      There is more opportunity for that now than ever before.

      Perhaps the majority of hams were in it more for the ‘pen pal by voice’ motivation in the past. I don’t know. I don’t care, that’s not what motivates me anyway.

  12. I might have taken this article seriously about five years ago, but not now. In the last few years, ham radio has taken off in some quite interesting new directions. Inexpensive ORP-SSB radios aren’t just for voice. Many can take advantage of the new digital modes that seem to be popping up every few months, modes that can exchange messages at below the noise level. There’s also WSPR, for exploring propagation and, as commercial services are going to satellites, new spectrum is opening up for hams in parts of the spectrum where we never had space before.

    No, today if ham radio has a flaw, it’s that there’s too much new stuff going on for any one person to manage. You’ve got to pick what you’ll experiment with.

    1. Yup, exactly this.

      I am not even pretending to follow the new digital voice stuff, for example. The progress going on there is insane. The time of narrow band FM and SSB in 2m and 70cm bands, chatting on a local repeater is loooong gone. With the current digital networks it is no problem to call someone across the continent using HAM gear or transmit data at high speeds.

      People who claim that HAM radio is dying, is obsolete or a domain of 50+ old bearded men are seeing only the HF stuff from 30-40 years ago which used to be the staple of the hobby. However, that is not the main part of it since a long time ago, even though it is still the one that is most associated with it.

      1. Ugh.

        Whenever I attend the local ham club meetings I get disappointed with all the talk I hear about DStar, MotoTrbo, Fusion, etc… It makes me not really want to go. My friend there accuses me of being that obsolete bearded old man opposed to change even though I’m clean shaved and still in my thirties.

        Bull!

        The problem is those things are just black boxes with patented voice codecs. I have no problem with scores of hams buying black boxes they themselves don’t understand and using them for contesting or rag chewing. I can’t stand however to see ham radio moving into modes that an experimenter couldn’t legally tinker with if he/she wanted to. I don’t care if you want to understand your own radio or not but but ham frequencies shouldn’t be used (IMHO) for activities that shut out the person who does want to understand and tinker.

        It’s not like I am saying no to digital voice. All it requires is a move to Codec 2 or any other open format. Builders should be building with it while non-builders should be demanding that their commercial radio suppliers use it too.

        1. I’m with you (me) on this one. In fact, I would suggest going a step further, in proposing that encoding schemes that are not openly documented and available (i.e., not restricted by patent) be classified as “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning”. Certainly the patent owners of such encoders intend to obsure the meaning of messages from people who don’t pay their licensing fees.

    2. There is much truth to this statement. The hobby has diversified to the point where if I was asked the question ” Define Amateur Radio?”, I would be hard pressed to come up with any concise answer. Comparing similar rigs, these are so much more affordable (in real dollars) than it was when I started in 1970, and much more capable. The operating modes were “CW/SSB/FM and maybe some SSTV and AM, pretty much it. Today, I cannot possibly list these plus an incredible number of Digital Modes. Yet another one yesterday! The infusion of computers into Amateur Radio has sparked a total technological revolution. and emergency public service remains a core raison d’etre.
      We do not lack the technology attractions and activities needed to draw new amateurs. We lack an effective message to take to the public and generate more interest. It is ironic that we pride ourselves as being good communicators (as repeatedly recognized by many governments), but we can’t find the words to convey this to our country’s non-amateurs.

      1. “We lack an effective message to take to the public and generate more interest.”

        We really don’t need to generate more interest. The interest has always been there; if it wasn’t, then there shouldn’t be any worry about “use it or lose it”, because the bands would be quiet. Which they’re not. We just need to let people know (through fora like this, for example) that it’s simpler now. Which BTW, HAD has been doing admirably well. Whisper it from the rooftops: “The license test question pool is available online from the FCC. No morse code test.” I didn’t learn either of these things until after a HAD article reminded me that the Amateur Radio Service is a thing and I went to Google to check it out.

  13. With the ease of communication over the internet, the perceived draw of amateur radio is diminished. Why would I want to shell out big bucks that I frankly don’t have, to do something I can do easier with tech I already own?

    As already mentioned, at best, the stuff is a neat tech demo, but not practically useful enough to maintain interest.

    1. HAM radio is long time not about competing with internet or cell phones. If you want to talk to people, get a phone or send an e-mail.

      And re practical usefulness – ask next time where there is a natural disaster and the internet and cellphone connections are down. HAMs are often the critical link for keeping emergency communication going when the usual stuff gets disabled. Radio doesn’t need much else than an antenna and a battery/solar panel to work.

      There are also many technologies that appeared in HAM radio first and now are a staple in commercial gear. There is a ton of innovation going there.

      But as I have said already, HAM radio is not really about “practical usefulness” – it is a hobby. Some people build ships in bottles or collect stamps and nobody questions practical usefulness of it. It is about having fun and learning new things, not about saving money for your internet connection or cellphone bill.

      1. While I agree with the sentiment of Hams helping to maintain communications, there is a push within the first responder industries to have their own communications networks and p25 is almost forcing the ham radio link out.
        When you have police, fire, and ems all using and talking between encrypted channels, there is a distrust to have someone not part of the organization be in the middle of the conversation.

        I know of several places where regular people are using some of the MICOM ALE gear to build links across hundreds of kilometers essentially by dialing a “phone number” in place of ham users.
        The issue with that is that the rigid ham structure does not mesh well with the needs of the incident management and first responders. They want a cellphone, or a sat phone.

  14. I have been licensed for 40 years. I was thrilled to hear that the ARRL leadership has finally woken up to the the fact that young folks are not flocking to ham radio. Face it folks, two-meters is boring. It was the cat’s pyjamas a generation ago, but most repeaters, at least in North Florida, sit quiet.

    I would like to point out that in the United States, entry level licensees (Tech Class) have code privileges on 80, 40, and 15 meters, as well as digital, CW, and SSB privileges on 10 meters. Various auction sites have Pixie transceiver kits available for less than $20. Get out there, get some kids together, teach them code (point out that their parents probably don’t understand it), get them licensed, get them talking to each other.

    Above all, realize that they probably aren’t interested in ICS-700, ICS-800, or how many points you got last Sweepstakes.

  15. I’m under 30. When I turned 22 I decided I wanted a challenge and a reason to learn radio technology (being a EE student, it seemed like useful information to know). So I decided to get my HAM license. I studied for a few weeks then went and sat for the test. I got my Extra license in that one sitting. Excited, I went out and got an HT, just to get started, with plans to build my on HF rig eventually. I turned it on, hit a few nets, and found almost immediately that the people I could talk to were either people that I couldn’t relate to, or people I would rather not be associated with (because they were snobs, or buttholes). Not having enough money or space for HF equipment, my HT has been relegated to the role of police scanner (though it is invaluable during my morning commute, as the traffic reports I get are instant) The problem is not any single issue, but a combination of issues with HAM radio:

    1) Over-regulation. Now before other HAMs start screaming, yes regulation is wise and necessary, it has its reasonable place, such as keeping the spectrum quiet and establishing a general band plan preventing interference. My issue is with the content that is regulated. Want to have a private conversation? Nope, can’t encrypt (though I have often wondered if frequency hopping would be allowed). Internet Traffic – Nope, thats encrypted, and could contain music, so double no. even sharing some rockin’ MIDI tunes I came up with myself? Nope. Anything that could be perceived as encrypted, obfuscated, or just confusing to whatever FCC watchdog is listening is illegal. If HAM radio wants to make a comeback, I need to be able to transmit anything I feel like, so long as I adhere to the technical specs.

    2) Obsolescence. This is essentially a continuation of the over-regulation issue. The internet allows me to transmit secure information of any format to anyone in the world nearly instantaneously. Obviously HAM radio is not going to compete with this, nor should it try to, however modern technology has changed the way we communicate, and unless HAM radio can offer some other reason to use it (such as being able to have a secure conversation without relying on an ISP), it will start to die off.

    2b) Emergencies – This is not an issue with HAM radio, but its greatest strength (and I put it here because I feel bad about pointing out issues without giving due credit): You do not have to rely on ANY outside (Ex. ISP or Telecom) source to be able to communicate (other than having someone listening, I suppose). In my mind, the biggest benefit of HAM radio is the ability to support local and global communications in times of crisis, from Hurricanes to Red Dawn. This is a service that HAMs provide the world, and yet if we don’t have interested young people to pick up the torch, we may be without such a service in a time of need.

    3) Attitude. This is, in my mind and experience, the big one. The HAMs that I have interacted with have been, almost universally, MUCH older than myself and have achieved a level of crotchety that was previously believed to have been extinct. I can not fault time, and perhaps I should not fault the 2nd issue, and it is likely derived from the first, however as a new HAM, the people already “on the air” either did not want to talk to me, or only wanted to talk about what radio equipment I should spend all my money on. All I really wanted was to find someone to have a nice chat with, maybe get to know another person for the sake of being friendly. Instead I got a group of the most crotchety radio equipment sales reps I can imagine.

    Unfortunately, I have heard many stories like mine… I know that it is likely true that I just got a bad go of it in the beginning, but still it happened. I want to love HAM radio. I really do, but with the amount of rules and restrictions, lack of utility, and… “unique” operators… It’s hard to justify any investment of time or money… Hopefully there are some young people out there who have better experiences than mine.

    1. @Myrddyn,

      Great points, but, if I may, comments on a few of your points.

      1) Frequency hopping is allowed.

      2) Internet traffic is allowed. There is a whole swath of IP space allocated to ham radio in fact. It’s been going on since at least the late 80’s. Yes. Late 80’s.

      3) You are correct, encryption is not allowed. But the use of https would be, in my book, a grey zone. You still are identifying the sender and the traffic. Someone might complain. Maybe.

      4) There are lots of things you can do with ham radio that you cannot do with Internet. Mostly having to do with doing it in places or to/from places that have no internet access. Want to talk to someone on board ISS? Try doing that with VoIP (though the phones on board are VoIP and ISS is on NASA’s networks….:) ) Want to track a balloon you launch in your back yard as it floats around the planet for a year? Not going to happen. Telemetry from your high power model rockets? Yup, ham radio again.

      5) Crochety – That happens even in the hacker world I’m afraid. Not a single hobby that I have ever taken up didn’t have them. I took up what we today call ‘hacking’ in the 1970’s. Now I’m the 54 year old greybeard who does his best to get others interested, (regardless of age). The internet isn’t exactly a welcoming and friendly place either. :)

      6) Rules & Regs. Any shared activity space has them. It’s what we humans have to do to keep things shared working. You learn some of the basic rules before being granted a driver’s license. Do you need to learn enough to be a lawyer? Nope. Do you need to be aware of them in general, so as to know when you should look something up? Sure. I am a licensed vehicle operator, but there is no way I know the entire Vehicle and Traffic code for the state in which I live, as it is several hundred pages long (in small print…) In the US, all of the ham radio law is in FCC Part 97, which looks to be 64 single sided pages of large print. And that covers _everything_. What to do when someone dies and leaves their call sign behind, frequencies and modes, interference, power, everything.

      Anyway, welcome to ham radio. Enjoy my lawn. :)

      1. The rules and regs are where I get stuck. I can’t remember what I’m allowed to do on what band. If I ever get around to taking the test I don’t need to know what I can do on what band, I’m only going do the little bit my radio allows. Maybe make a simple voice 2M/whatever meter voice test that we can pass and start talking. Then if I decide I want to try APRS let me take a little test for that.

        1. To Eugene Nine:
          Here I am going to upset the applecart for some other folks and tell you how easy it is.
          1.The question pool is a *finite* question pool.
          2. Places like QRZ.com have the *entire* question pool available online, to take for free, again and again. Skip the study materials, take the tests.
          3. Most of the Technician test is simple garbage now: ‘Don’t use the radio in the bathtub’ kind of thing, or ‘Tips on how not to be a putz on the air.” It’s not there to keep you out. It’s there to keep my Cocker Spaniel from being able to get a license.
          3b. Some of it is like the biology garbage we memorized in high school (“the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”) when it would’ve done us good to learn how to pick investments instead: for instance, which layer in the sky is called what and when does it come into play.
          3c. Some of the rest of it is kind of useful, like the Ohm’s Law stuff. If you don’t know how to just rawbone use all of Ohm’s law, now *that’s* a dang fine thing to expend a lot of study on, instead of the nuances of the Kennelly-Heaviside layer
          Get into it, and wreck it a few times to get over any test anxiety! Except for a couple of math problems, it’s all multiple guess, and you’ll probably be surprised how much you get right straight out of the gate.
          4. The band allocation frequencies? There are about four questions total. You don’t have to understand the answers, you have to memorize these *four* questions and answers. Period.
          5. Circle back around and learn the parts you want to. For me, knowing theory that sounds like the Rockwell Retro Encabulator Script —

          “rhombic balancing requires an extra grommet in the thrombosis while azimuthally polarizing a inverted “W” wankel antenna” is a regurgitate and forget experience.

          I’m putting my asbestos undies on here before the responses, but before you flame me too thoroughly let me tell you: I don’t transmit without knowing if it’s OK or not. All the frequency allocations that go into that decision fit on a little card taped to the receiver. Had I actually internalized it a couple of years ago before I re-took the technician (I let one lapse; I also struggled through and got a 5WPM novice ticket about thirty years ago, BTW), it would’ve been obsolete by now,and I’d be struggling with the corrections. I just got handed a new, corrected allocation chart at the last hamfest I attended, thanks to the ARRL volunteers there.

    2. These are the same problems that i ran across when I tried to get into ham radio.
      The only reason I still want to pursue my license is for access to the ISM bands.

      I think that building a nice remote car starter on 400mhz would be useful and keep me from having to talk to anyone.

    3. On overregulation: This is what it took to get those bands in the first place. It’s the negotiation about not competing with commercial radio, without which the amateur radio service would never have existed. You want some chunks of spectrum for your hobby? The commercial radio stations will scream bloody murder if you start broadcasting, and especially if you start broadcasting MUSIC, when they have to pay big bucks for THEIR reserved piece of spectrum. You want private conversations? Now you’re wanting to compete with phone companies, who have to pay dearly for licensing for their microwave links, and THAT’s not going to fly, either.

      As for the MIDI tunes, you are not restricted from sending somebody MIDI files. In fact, the music prohibition applies only to “phone” modes (i.e., AM, SSB, FM), so you could even send MP3 files.

      1. Excellent points.
        The largest problem with crypto on hambands is the fact that you cannot know if the content or the user is commercial.
        Not only would commercial operators complain about hambands being unfairly cheap.
        But commercial entities or just pirates would use the bands how they like for what they like.
        How soon would you see people talking on forums about “433MHz high power long range wifi” and running 20MHz wide channels on 70cm at 200W?
        The no commercial use clause is a thing that still keeps the bands. If it ware not to exist it’d all be cellular on 400MHz and up, maybe even on 2m.

      2. Actually, amateur radio was first.
        All services we now know of, came long after hams were building on what we now have.
        The first repeater was an anateur design, the first 90% of what people now know as ‘ham’ radio, was created by hams. Commercial radio got its start through ham radio.
        Hams build the best, longest lasting and operational satellite systems.
        Oscar-7 (AO-7) has been in operation since the late 1970s, albeit with problems now. It us still ooerational. AO-40 would have been the crown jewel, but an explosion shook that idea to the ground.
        At 57, I am always designing, building and improving my equipment. As an RF engineer, the fun comes from lesrning, then applying what I learned, in real world application. Internet is fun, so is satellite TV, until weather bocks the downlink. Amateur radio expense is equipment, not a monthly bill. You are free to experiment!
        You decide on your path, grab hold and run with it.
        From HF through microwaves, YOUR choice is only limited by your interests and desires.
        If you want to chat more, follow me on Twitter: @AECRADIO
        or send an Email, and exchange info that way, for starters.
        I offer my assistance, if requested, feel free to bother me.
        73!
        Good luck in ham radio. It really is worth your time and effort!
        KA9UCE I am ‘good’ in QRZ.

        1. Hi Ernest, technically you are right – there had to be amateur radio before there was commercial radio, because how else could it develop into something people could make money on? But once things got crowded enough to require regulation, and therefore licensing, it was inevitable that spectrum would go to the highest bidders, so amateur radio got left with whatever was not commercially viable at the time.

  16. I see a lot of people referring to “HAM” radio here…

    Just what do you think that’s an acronym for? o_O

    I wish we could drop that term… it’s poorly descriptive, and embracing a label that was originally intended as a pejorative just makes you sound like an a**.

  17. Another issue is the rising background noise level in the HF (shortwave < 30 MHz) part of the spectrum, where long-distance communications without satellites can take place. I live in a residential area of a major city, and the noise from all sorts of radiating electronic devices is getting too high to hear very much in the major HF bands like 40 and 20 meters. This issue alone probably means the future of ham radio is VHF/UHF, which is local except by satellite.

    Years ago there was a VHF-UHF satellite (Oscar 13) with a Molniya-type orbit that could cover the whole planet. That was great fun. Its orbit decayed and it's long gone. I hope there can such a satellite again someday.

    1. “Another issue is the rising background noise level in the HF (shortwave < 30 MHz) part of the spectrum…"

      Maybe… there is a rising amount of noise, but I still find 160-10M workable. The bigger issue I've found is leaky cable TV installations (yea, Comcast, I'm complaining about you again) and their use of amateur frequency allocations for their own control systems. It makes it kind of tough to work 10M with anything more than 1W if you end up screwing up the entire neighborhood's ability to enjoy Dr. Phil.

    2. For Europe, European side of Russia, Africa, Middle East and a sliver of India there’s gone be Eshail Sat with it’s two amateur radio transponders. This is a geosynchronous satellite with wide footprint.
      2.4GHz UPLINK (easy to make and get equipment for)
      10.4GHz DOWNLINK (Very easy and cheap to receive with satellite TV stuff, one can literally make the receive part of a ground station for 20-40eur)
      https://amsat-uk.org/satellites/geosynchronous/eshail-2/

      For North- and South-America there’s going to be P4B on a funky HEO orbit.
      5655-5665MHz UPLINK ( a bit harder than 2.4GHz on the amplifier side, but wifi and microwave link stuff can be repurposed)
      10455-10465MHz DOWNLINK (same gear as above).

      “P4B – This is a hosted payload on a US geosynchronous spacecraft. This spacecraft is expected to be initially located over America. The transponder will use digital modulation schemes with FDMA up and TDMA down. In addition, there will be linear transponder facility. Ground station hardware is already well developed and the launch is expected to take place in mid 2017.”

      Details about the satellite side of the USA P4B satellite project are unfortunately sparse due to ITAR restrictions.
      http://www.hume.vt.edu/geo/

      So new stuff IS happening.

  18. I’m a relative newcomer to the ham radio scene, having picked up my license a couple of years ago now.

    What got me interested was the prospect of building my own RF gear, and that has been what has kept me hooked as well. With modern technology, such as the si5351 and easy to build test equipment, low cost oscilloscopes etc getting started with that aspect of the hobby is easier than ever. Easily accessible information on youtube (Alan W2AEW, and Peter VK3YE deserve a particular mention) makes it easier as well. There are even low cost starter projects out there such as the BITX40 transceivers ($59 for a very nice digitally tuned single band SSB transceiver module

    The decider that kicked me over to actually going out and getting my license was Pete Juliano’s (N6QW) and Ben (KK6FUT)’s Lets Build Something project from QRP quarterly (Part 1 of that series is available here: http://www.qrparci.org/qqsample/qqsample.pdf for free!). This seemed simple and easy to build and test. I put together the receiver portion bit by bit over a couple of weeks, and the feeling when I fired it up and heard my first morse signal was excellent. Definately hooked at that point.

    I’ve got a huge amount of enjoyment out of the hobby, but the actually talky-talky on the radio is just a minor aspect. I’m up to 8 contacts now (over 2 years), but my workbench is currently covered with my 3rd homebuilt radio and I’ve got strong plans for the next two radios after that (and plenty of vague plans)

    I’d love to see the regulations some countries have regarding the introductory/lowest license level holders not being allowed to build their own gear. While it isn’t hard to pass the more complicated tests, it seems like an unnecessary barrier.

    That is just one aspect of the hobby though. Members of my local club have all found aspects of the hobby that interest them. Some play with satellites (both building and communicating via), others love experimenting with digital modes. Some really enjoy combining it with their bushwalking hobby – hiking into the nearby wilderness and trying to make contacts with the gear they brought in (check out Steve WG0AT’s youtube channel for examples). Others enjoy Slow Scan TV, and still more get heavily involved in the emergency comms side. The later mostly involves providing comms support to local groups or events, which provides our club members with the opportunity for unparralled trackside views of local Rally events.

    So the hobby has lots of aspects to interest different types of people. That is what you tend to see at club meetings too (or at least the few I’ve been along to). We had a mix of people, a few old crustys, a bunch of middle aged, a few younger ones.

    I think one thing that is missed though, is it is a hobby – it doesn’t have to be practical, just fun.

  19. I personally stay off of anything related to 2M or phone (voice) — there are unfortunately far too many crotchety old men in NRA trucker hats telling me to get off “their” bands, and far too few “elmers” willing to help a newcomer (or not-so-new person — I’ve had my ticket for quite awhile now, and I’m pushing 50.).

    The last time I sat in on a club meeting, the older “survivalist/political” sects completely outnumbered (and shouted down) those younger engineering types (I live in a community with lots of folks from HP, Agilent, Intel, AMD, Oracle, etc.) just interested in interesting applications of the technology that amateur radio offers (and, IMHO, are the future of the hobby). I include myself in the later set of folks, BTW.

    I originally got into the hobby to experiment with increasing power on my wireless access points. I have since worked with propagation beacons, WSPR, RTTY, fax, sstv, and some other digital modes. Right now, I’m not even transmitting much, but there is still plenty to listen in on and experiment with.

  20. One thing I’ve wanted for a long time is a ham radio texting device that operates a lot like a cell phone. I’m not talking APRS, but like an echolink for texting that intelligently shuttles texts. I have an idea how it would work, but am too dumb to implement it. I’ve seen how APRS works and it’s okay, but I’m not totally sold on it. I’d love to be able to send a text that would go to my home packet station and then it would go over internet and then to my ham radio friend’s texting device on the other end. Maybe it creates more problems than it’s worth, but to be able to text for free and do it over ham radio would be a lot of fun and cheap. :)

    1. That is exactly how APRS messaging works; RF -> Internet -> RF where destined. The fact that it so rarely works in the wild is a testament to how hard it is to roll out a large scale Internet+RF packet communications network.

  21. In addition to the enduring fun of homebrewing and construction, what finally lured me into the hobby was the rise of software defined radio and digital modes, made possible by free and open source toolchains from the operating system right up to the pcb layout software, as well as open hardware designs made available by others for experimentation.

    I started in earnest by building a software defined radio, the SDR-CUBE, from a kit.

    I then taught myself PCB layout with the gEDA toolsuite on Linux with a morse keyer that displays the characters as you key, based on the PicAXE 28×2

    http://vk5hse.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-vk5hse-i-kaktusss-iambic-keyer.html

    Since then, I’ve played with gcc and AVRs, and written toolchains to enable more exotic PCB designs by leveraging other FOSS packages such as inkscape and fidocadj, allowing the creation of things like the following flying spaghetti monster

    And we can even put Klingon on a PCB now:

    https://hackaday.com/2017/04/01/new-fonts-for-geda-pcb-tool/

    None of this capability was within reach of radio amateurs 20 years ago, but is now possible with free and open source toolchains and dumpster diving grade hardware. Associated open source hardware designs (including the keyer above) making the hobby particularly suited to STEM education in schools looking for “Maker” type activities.

    Most amateur radio clubs would have members all too happy to equip or facilitate local STEM efforts in schools.

    Add $10 rtl-sdr USB TV tuners to the mix, +/- a $20 low noise preamp from ebay, and you have a suite of amazing, accessible technologies that we could only dream of in the 1990s, including satellite downlink reception.

    There’s also exciting open source low bit rate voice codec development going on by David Rowe, VK5DGR, appealing to those keen to play with DSP and code

    http://www.rowetel.com/

    If you ask me, things have never been better in terms of the accessibility of the technology for homebrewing and electronic design, and the ability of the global community of Makers/Amateur Operators to pool and share open hardware designs for enjoyment by all and facilitation of STEM education.

    The amateur radio movement needs to do its part to facilitate efforts by educators to leverage the Maker movement and can do this by fostering open designs in open toolchains such as PCB-RND, gEDA PCB, KiCad and Fritzing, as well as encouraging repositories of open designs for use by clubs, individual amateurs, and educators seeking worthwhile projects.

  22. I have to chuckle when I read about the demise of Ham Radio. It’s not Ham Radio that has changed, it’s society that has changed. Have any of you considered that in a world of instant fulfillment the general population of youth will be bored out of their minds by the time they graduate high school? These are first world problems of our own creation. By the time these kids reach adulthood they have already communicated around the world effortlessly, experienced air flight many times, seen television broadcasts, spent countless hours on the Internet, and enjoyed everything else we have created.

    I think the more difficult question is not that they need Ham Radio, but rather what will they have to make their lives relevant and meaningful enough to go fifty or more years? In the previous Century we had a constant stream of things that had not been accomplished. For most of the older generation life was an unfolding mystery novel. Every decade brought new and exciting technologies that not only made life interesting, but truly better and more comfortable. Most of the efforts today center around efficiency, not anything new or groundbreaking. Transportation, yawn, we solved that. Energy, yawn, we solved that. Computers, yawn, we solved that. Communication, yawn, we solved that. Facebook and twitter are even a bigger yawn, when I grew up I we have real friends not some silly likes. (When I made a phone call to move a 500lb rock people showed up.) AI, whatever. Living on Mars, yawn, another total bore fest. The best day on Mars is one thousand times worse than the best day on Earth. I wager that Musk and Bezoes never steep foot on Mars, who would they order around? These guys have built their worlds on instant, none of which will be in the tiny red planet.

    Why do you need Ham Radio Internet music?

    Why do you need Ham Radio Private chat?

    Why do you need Ham radio streaming music?

    Why do you need to change the rules of the existing Ham Radio service to accommodate a completely redundant communication medium? All of these problems have been solved, and are incredibly cheap, if not free in many cases.

    Marconi, Turing, Ford, and countless other pioneers gave multiple generations interesting things to do, a way of life, work, and a reason to live. The question is not, how we the previous generation are going to make your life interesting. But rather the question is, how are you going to make your life interesting? Until you answer that your lives will be full of boredom…

    In the meantime, 73 to all of you nasty old curmudgeons.

    -JG

  23. Do cool things with gnu-radio, rtl-sdr and a cheapo $20 rtl2832u USB dongle. That’ll get the attention of the youth I think more than soldering kits or teaching them Morse code. Its also a great opportunity to abstract hardware and teach some theory with ease, since we’re dealing mostly with software.

  24. At age 15 my Dad’s uncle, W7OS, visited. He had me contact 2 VE3 operators in Toronto. ONTARIO. At 16 yrs ny then. They invoted me to the next club meeting. At the bottom of the stairs a fellow was checking every one in. He asked me why I was there, how old I was, and where I lived. Then he told me only licensed operators were allpwed at theeeting. So at age 21 I fould VE3FAS as a class mate.
    At that time my enthusiasm was kindled again. I was biter at loosing all that time with out amateur radio. Along with local cub rxecutivr & course taching I was able to mentor 9 Venture Scouts for their Basic Lic. And thr next year 7 of them past the advanced Lic. …….. None of this wpuld be hostpry with out mentoring from W7OS & VE3FAS. W7OS WAS A VE1 BEFbefor moving west………. de VE3TCK

  25. I myself being a technician class ham radio operator found out that when talking to a local radio club all they were interested in doing was rag chewing, I wanted to get into the digital end i.e. remote control and other digital formats and they pretty much ignored me. We need more young people to help expand ham radio for example building some form of remote controlled robot using ham radio and by adding SSTV for and have hams work with schools to get students to control it from half way around the world. That might peak their interest.

    1. You’re confusing a local club with the amateur radio service. A club can be as exclusive as they want to be, and you’re not required to be a member of any club to explore any aspect of the the amateur radio service your license entitles you to. If you’re in a metropolitan area, chances are there is more than one amateur radio club, so I would look into what other clubs are about. If you can’t find one, create one. Start a Meetup group. There are probably a number of others in your area interested in more modern uses of radio. Or maybe not, if it’s a small town, but keep in mind that a radio community can be much larger, physically, than a town. There are certainly amateurs out there interested in what you describe. Search for or start an online hobby/interest group.

  26. It sounds like ARRL needs a new president, if he’s JUST figured out that what HE gets out of amateur radio doesn’t do jack for today’s kids.

    Some things about amateur radio:
    1) It’s a shared, limited resource. That’s why there are rules, and a lot of them, for using it. And that’s why the restrictions on amateur usage encourage amateurs to use the frequencies that aren’t already being used commercially. And although you do need to know the rules to get licensed, even the ones that don’t apply to what you want to do with your radio, there really aren’t that many rules for any given frequency band, and these are easy enough to look up on the Internet.
    2) It’s never going to compete with the Internet. It never HAS competed with the Internet. Sending someone who has access to the Internet a file over an amateur radio session is just stupid. I mean, sure, if you want to experiment just to see that it can be done, by all means, send that file, but it’s both inefficient and silly to use amateur radio as your primary way of exchanging computer files. BUT, saying that this makes amateur radio obsolete is like saying the automobile made hiking trails obsolete.
    3) As far as I’m concerned, good RIDDANCE to 2M repeaters! WTF? Don’t you have a cell phone? Back in my second “maybe I should try this amateur radio stuff” phase in the 1980s, 2M repeater clubs were the big thing. They were used, from what I could tell, by people who really wanted portable phones. Very limited portable phones that could only call a few people, unless you were in a club that had a phone patch on the repeater, and paid your dues to get access to it. Wasn’t interested in it then, CERTAINLY not interested now, now that we have commercial networks that do this way way WAY better.
    4) Equipment: you can pay a lot, you can pay a little, you can spend a lot of time designing and building, you can spend no time at all and buy crap from China or dusty gems from eBay. It’s all up to you, why bitch about what other people are using? You have your choices, they have theirs.
    5) Old people. Yeah, they seem to like talking to each other on the radio. Don’t like it? Don’t talk to them. You probably don’t like most of the people on the Internet, either. That’s not a criticism; it’s just the way things are. Go where the people you want to talk to are.
    6) If you want to talk like a human being, i.e., using your voice and ears, you will only be able to communicate with others who want to talk like human beings. If you want to talk like a 19th century telegrapher, you will only be able to communicate with others with similar desires, and it’s going to be a challenge. If you want to be able to communicate using a keyboard and monitor, adding ridiculous restrictions like milliwatt power levels and bandwidths not much higher than the telegraphers, there’s a specific crowd you’re only going to reach that way. And if you for whatever reason want to make line-of-sight connections to others at frequencies that act more like light than like radio, well, you’d probably best find a friend or two you can talk into doing the same thing, because that’s the frontier, son. What I mean to say is, for every amateur radio operator out there, there are a WHOLE BUNCH of other operators they don’t have enough in common with to talk to. Just like most activities. That doesn’t mean they’re all snobs who don’t want to talk to you. It means they’re individuals with their own interests.

    Much of what I’ve read in the comments here comes down to “WAAAAH, it’s too hard and nobody wants to take my hand and lead me down the right path.” This is utter nonsense. The ARRL has published an annual handbook, i.e., a huge reference book on what the latest trends are, including all kinds of articles on theory AND practical examples, every year since long before I was born. You can still find these at the public library. Add to that several monthly magazines and a big community on the Internet who will tell you exactly how they designed and built their equipment. Most of these are happy to help you, and many will send you a circuit board, a kit of parts, or in some cases a completed copy of some of their projects, all for more-than-fair prices. Sure, some of these choose to use surface mount parts, while others will use through-hole parts exclusively. They didn’t design these for your needs, they designed them for their own needs and are going out of their way to share what they can with you.

    1. What do cellphones and 2 meter repeaters have in common? How can either replace the other?

      If I want to generally call out to a group of local friends, see who is available and maybe talk to more than one at a time… repeaters are good for that. Cellphones not so much.

      If I want to call a specific person, alert them with an annoying bell to get their attention regardless if they are actually available for me at the moment… It’s cellphones all the way.

      I don’t see any connection between the two.

  27. Some random thoughts from someone making a living designing RF equipment. (Although I’ve played around a bit, I’m not a licensed amateur radio enthusiast). If you want to make amateur radio more palatable to new generation:

    1) As someone already mentioned, quit using the the word “HAM”. I’m going to try to stop using this terminology from here on out.
    2) Stop using the terms Shortwave, and xxx meter bands. Use frequency ranges/designators instead.
    3) Allow people to legally communicate with encryption. This is a reasonable request in this century.
    4) Encourage more use of the so called “digital modes”. Especially ones that have a reasonable chance of replacing some of the analog modes in many cases. CODEC 2 for example. Very high quality voice with very narrow bandwidth.
    5) Start using modern open-source tools for design on a regular basis in journals like ARRL. For example: openEMS, QUCS, etc. EM simulations can *really* open your mind for RF design / board layout.
    6) Encourage more designs using SDR, FPGA, Quadrature, FFT/OFDM, and other modern techniques.

    I realize I’m going to get some nasty feedback for this, but these are what I’m thinking if you want to attract younger generation. Although I’m not an amateur radio guy myself (not yet), I can definitely appreciate all the great things that have been done by this community over the years. Amazing modulation schemes, moon-bounce, <200 Hz channel bw, and a lot more that I know nothing about. Don't mean to be disrespectful. Just throwing some thoughts out there after a couple of whiskey drinks.

    1. I agree with some of this – “HAM” is distinctly unattractive, and I’m definitely with you as far as using the term myself.

      However.

      2) “meter” terminology. Worldwide, radio bands have been specified by their approximate wavelength from day one. This was an arbitrary choice that was made at a time when it was easier to measure the wavelength of a signal than its frequency, and bands used for international broadcasting are still named by their wavelengths. Nobody would know what you meant if you said “5.8-6.2 MHz band”, but “49 meter band” is well known. Furthermore, wavelength gives you information that’s useful – you can visualize how big an antenna needs to be for the “2 meter band”, but how big is an antenna for 144 MHz? But you’re right about “shortwave” – that’s just antiquated, and we now have more precise terms like “HF”.
      3) encryption. The negotiations that took place that enabled amateur radio service to exist in the first place are responsible for this restriction. Commercial phone companies had to pay a lot to license the microwave links needed for most long-distance phone service, and enabling amateurs to have private conversations would have been in direct competition with them. This is even more relevant today, with cell phone and 4G carriers paying huge fees for their bandwidth.
      4) digital modes. I’m not sure who you’re suggesting should encourage more usage of digital modes, but the amateur radio community is already pretty solidly behind this. What action are you suggesting?

  28. I’m an amateur radio operator in Canada. I’m also an ARRL member, largely so that I can get QST (their magazine).

    A lot of the issues that this article raises are real. I’ve pretty much given up on local radio clubs. Mostly it is just a bunch of old white men (and I’m a young-middle-aged white man!) yakking. I hate to say it, but it really is the worst kind of older white male conversation, too: lots of offering of opinions about politics (I guess since you aren’t supposed to put that stuff on the air these guys figure they need to get it out of their systems somewhere), etc. This is a circular problem, though. The mantra has always been find an Elmer (mentor), and to do that you find a local club. Well, many clubs are just holding tanks for a large pool of people who don’t know what they are doing (or are the worst kinds of ambassadors for the hobby), plus a few technically savvy lost souls who really are doing their best to try and get the hordes up to speed.

    Ugh, the above makes me seem like a complete asshole, but trust me, I have been one of those lost souls, going so far as to get elected as a relatively large club’s executive officer, only to be mocked by some of the moderately intelligent club members for taking an interest in actually educating new members.

    The only clubs that I would put any stock in are those at colleges and universities (and to a similar extent at high schools), as the mentors in these areas are educators who take a genuine professional interest in passing on what they know. On top of that, there is a steady stream of new members and (perhaps most importantly) the moving on of old members. It never has a chance to get stale and the cohort automatically renews itself.

    The ARRL (and other big clubs/orgs) are in a tough spot, as they have large “legacy” memberships that they are beholden to – many of whom seem to be happiest whining about how much better things were in the 50s – and in addition, they are paralyzed by the “use it or lose it” mantra. They are terrified that they will lose the band allocations that we have if they are not put to active use.

    What do I do now in this hobby? As an engineer, I am primarily interested in building things and setting up systems. The using them is almost secondary. I build antennas, and am interested in exploring the software side of this hobby.

    1. Okay Chris, nothing personal against you, but this is starting to get tiring. Everybody is bitching about old white men’s clubs, as if they controlled the hobby. This simply isn’t true. I’m an old white man myself, but I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with the ones you describe, and you really MUST understand that these clubs do not even REPRESENT the hobby, much less control it. FCC Part 97 controls it. You don’t like the club? Find another club. Can’t find a club that’s not just a bunch of old white men? Hey, maybe that’s because none of the young whatever-you-happen-to-be’s are starting clubs, if it’s clubs you want.

      And here’s the rude awakening part: if you’re wanting to learn about the latest and greatest modes and practices, you’re NOT looking for an Elmer. An Elmer is a guy with decades of experience, and by definition you can’t have guys with decades of experience IN NEW THINGS. It’s YOUR frontier, and there’s a whole Internet out there to tell you how the new things work.

      1. i’m a ‘not quite old yet’ white man. I would say our local club is kind of like what people are complaining about. No, not the whole club, there are some pretty good people there. Some are a real pleasure to talk to. When they get talking politics though.. and they often do… it’s enough to make me vomit a little in my mouth. I wouldn’t say it’s an old white man thing though.. I’ve heard it from women there just as much!

      2. I have no trouble finding wonderful things to do in amateur radio and I love the hobby, but when the default advice to newcomers is “go find a local club an get involved”, the kinds of people that one typically finds in these clubs de facto become the gatekeepers. Elmers/mentors need not have “decades of experience”, they just need to have more experience than the people they are mentoring and know what they are talking about (and be honest when they do not know the answer to a question). As someone who has been licensed for almost 20 years and who has been involved with SEVERAL clubs in different parts of the country, let me assure you that the stereotypes that I described DO represent the typical face of the hobby that most newcomers encounter when they go to a local club.

        It doesn’t need to be this way, though. Clubs in academic settings (i.e. schools of all levels) tend to be much better, and there are many people who are doing great things (perhaps even a majority) in the hobby, but they tend to stay away from clubs.

        1. “but when the default advice to newcomers is “go find a local club an get involved”, the kinds of people that one typically finds in these clubs de facto become the gatekeepers. ”

          So your advice is ‘go home and figure it out yourself’? How’s that work out?

          1. When the default people prospective new hams are sent to to get help often scare them away, staying at home and finding help online tends to have better outcomes. The knowledge one needs to get their license is easily obtained. Most of it for the entry level licenses is regulatory, with the technical requirements being within the reach of grade schoolers. Want to find a fun project idea? Go to Instructables, Youtube, the ARRL webpage… the list of online resources is endless.

            Every club conversation I ever have witnessed about how to get more young people into the hobby (and young typically meaning college/university, possibly high school), it always comes back to strategies to get the potential new hams to like what the club members like, rather than find out what the newbies might be interested in. What’s that? You don’t have a lot of money? Buy an HT and then you can talk to all of us even when you’re not here! Ugh. No thanks. Is everyone at the local club like this? Hell no, but its a large enough (and loud enough) cohort that I’d rather do without.

  29. This was me too. I let my callsign lapse after I got stuck renewing my license on the FCC site, but was stuck as tech anyways, I was never able to pass the code portion when I lived in the US where my amateur radio pals live. Back in the mandatory code days I offered to design and build a radio in front of an examiner as well as passing the general exam. No beans, the code test was there to keep the rifraf out, even those who can build a radio while the human modems who can memorize a test pol need only a credit card and HRO for full access.
    FWIW there is no code test anymore for Americans, but I met few cutting edge tech design people outside of some online QRP listserves, mostly ragchews and a few radio-cop-wannabe bunny hunters. Even amsat is lagging with everyone’s cubesats taking up all of the hitchiker launch space, Phase3E has been in storage for over ten years now waiting for a ride which will probably never come.
    I can do most of what I want cheating on various ISM/CB bands, and RX.
    I found that hitting the transmit button or key was not actually that much fun considering the closed-clubber scolders you might have to interact with; that and the creepyness of having my callsign attached to a real name and address and using that to interact with those personalities. Callsigns+Internet = easy dox.
    Those of us who DIY and hack have left the construct of amateur radio behind because it is a difficult painful entry.
    At this point I suggest giving a taste on a nice sample of few more bands within power limits on a narrow slices of frequency not unlike the ultralight rules in aviation requiring no license of any kind for both aircraft and pilot. Make a nice deregulated bicycle lane and plenty of geeks will level up, and those who dont will still find an easy place to push the boundaries of RF-tech.

    1. Hi dave, FWIW, the removal of the code test was kind of moot for me, as it turned out. If you want to use the lower HF bands, you need at least a General Class license to use anything besides CW/Morse anyway, and Extra Class to remove other restrictions! So even though there’s no test, you either need to learn Morse, or do what I did, which was test to a higher class. I doubt that this has been a barrier to many people considering Amateur Radio Service. The Technician and General Class tests really aren’t that hard.

  30. It’s hardly a surprise.
    Whilst I’m interested in this kind of stuff:
    I don’t have hundreds to spunk up a wall buying “hobby toys” – at least not for a single purchase.
    License restrictions mean I can’t even “borrow” gear to see if I like it before investing.
    Just listening, is of course license free, but it is the equivalent of telling someone who wants to make movies to just watch TV.
    Taking time to study for a test is not appealing before buying equipment to use it. (I l mean how many people are taking truck driving tests “just in case” they “might” like to do something later?
    21st century reality for most is rented accommodation, with little to no outside space (I.e no place to mount large antenna.)

    A decline in consumer radios away from tuneable devices that you could build into complex sets, driving a throw away and buy new culture does not help…

    my first experiments with radio was making a spark gap transmitter from a Tandy 100 in 1 set. Listening to it on the AM band of my Walkman radio tuner. – these avenues are just not available any more…

    Of course everything I’m saying applies only to the hobby in the traditional sense.

    The other problem is image based… The stereotype ham is an older man sat on his own in a darkened room. The stereotype parent won’t encourage their kids to interact with him!

    1. Dan: I don’t know where you live, but in the U.S., you don’t have to prove you have a license to buy or build equipment capable of transmitting on amateur bands. There is one specific restriction brought on by the CB debacle of the 1970s, which is that to sell any transmitter or RF amplifier capable of being tuned to the 10 meter band above a certain power level, you must ensure that you are selling to a licensed amateur operator. Or something like that. As for “try before you buy”, you can certainly buy or borrow equipment to monitor any amateur band you want to without a license, to see if it would fit in with your desires/requirements.

      This is not like “telling someone who wants to make movies to just watch TV”; sorry, but that’s pretty much the poorest analogy I’ve seen this week, and I can’t even respond to it. But it is VERY much like Commercial Driver’s Licenses: you have to get the CDL before you’re allowed to operate certain vehicles on public roads, period. Operating these vehicles on the highway without the proper skills and training is a hazard to the others using that highway, as is operation of high-powered transmitters on the air without proper skills and training. And I’m sure there are actually plenty of people who have gone to the trouble of obtaining a CDL, only to learn that it wasn’t really their cup of tea after all. And pretty much any hobby requires SOME kind of investment in learning and/or tools that you won’t be able to recoup if it turns out you don’t enjoy it. You buy your ticket, you take your chances.

      1. I live in the UK, you don’t have to be licensed to buy or build equipment of any power as far as I know…
        certainly how could the enforce you not to build transmitters of any given power.
        you do however have to be licensed to USE these transmitters, so:
        you can build whatever transmitter you like, but you can’t use it
        you can “borrow” a radio transmitter, but you can’t use it,
        you can buy a radio transmitter, but you can’t use it, because the operator needs to be licensed,

        so that is exactly the point, and why your poor understanding of the law makes the analogy look flawed.

        that’s why I say it is like telling an aspiring movie maker who wants to share their content with the world say that they must only consume content (watch TV). – unless licensed you can ONLY receive and not transmit.!

        I’m aware of commercial vehicle licenses, and that is why I mentioned them, – again you failed to understand.
        yes, plenty of people get a license with the intent of forming a career from it, something that they can do to provide for themselves and their family, they may, or may not decide that they like that after getting the license… Not a lot of people are taking commercial driving tests so that they can go for a Sunday drive… in context, not many people are taking commercial vehicle tests so that they might save to buy a truck to go for a Sunday drive to see if they like it.

        the same is true of radio licenses, plenty of people are doing the study and taking the tests, but those are people where it is linked to a career, (fishermen, pilots etc) not people sitting in their bedroom thinking that they might like to save and buy transmitting equipment some vague time in the future… – those test takers are in the minority…

        Restrictions and licensing are a huge barrier to entry for the hobby for those that want to transmit…
        Those that only want to listen (conversely) with cheap SDRs have never had it better!

    2. Ham radio was a technical hobby. It’s still the least restrictive radio service, a “technical playground”.

      The testing is there to provide some level of technical capability, before letting people loose. If you don’t want to build, there are other radio services. Cellphones give everyone radio capability, albeit one requiring a lot of infrastructure, but it only requires the user to pay money, no technical ability needed, but then you don’t get to build equipment, etc.

      This is some of what happened. People decided that more people needed to be hams, to justify the spectrum allocation. And outsiders didn’t want to fuss with testing, they just wanted to get on the air and yack. So there’s been a lot of simplification of the entry requirements. In Canada the entry license doesn’t allow the building of transmitters, a radical shift from what the hobby had been. In the US, the Novice license went away, it was limited but created conditions where many might at least try building a simple transmitter. The Technician license had started out for the technical type, now it’s the entry level license, an open door to get a walkie talkie and yack to the locals.

      This did change things. Traditionally, many came into the hobby as a kid, the technical test and even the Morse code test were not impediments, they were challenges. The changes catered to an older crowd, those who somehow failed as a kid to pass the test, or those who got interested at an older age. They saw the hobby differently, the appeal was yacking on the radio, rather than the yacking being a means of testing the home built equipment or trying to wring a bit more performance so you could talk further.

      Some of the changes are well in the past now. Canada restructured in 1990, 18 years after I was licensed, but now 27 years in the past. That means the new breed has had a chance to get anchored, especially considering technical types are less likely to be administrators.

      So what remain of the ham magazines have become less technical. The good articles are shifted elsewhere, less visible for all to see. The yackers don’t have the experience of building at the start, so they don’t see it as appealing. They try to sell the hobby as about communication, especially local with walkie talkies. That further appeals to a less technical person, and it keeps going. More numbers are needed since it’s less about technical learning or innovation.

      The hobby should be something else, indeed the space is there as well as the wide open rules. You don’t need a “test drive” (though one can always visit a ham and talk on the radio, the rules allow it so long as the licensee is in control), because curiosity and technical interest should drive you. “Expensive equipment” is for the operator. Building and scrounging and modifying is the realm of the technical hobbyist.

      Michael

  31. What is so extraordinary on making a call through world…You can do this with cell phone…that the problem hard to explain.

    Instead here in Poland we are collecting some electronic waste as it falls off the sky…Kids like it.
    Geocaching is soooo boring…

    And believe me…Catching Wednesday Lindenberg is a real sport…
    15 minutes after landing You are late! There’s nothing left.

    http://radiosondy.info/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/RadioSondyPolska/

  32. +1.
    Standard fare on most electrical and electronic engineers’ bookshelves used to be a copy of the ARRL Handbook, and technical library copies were a ‘given’. A lot of very bright PhDs got interested in electronics because of ham radio (as well as other very bright individuals with less lofty degrees)’…not any more; not for a long time now.
    From my vantage point, I’d have to say that Jenny is correct;

    “Amateur Radio Just Isn’t Exciting”

    It’s sad, because ham radio was the original source of our best hackers. We’ve ALWAYS had hackers; they used to be called “hams”.

  33. If you want to find out more about Amateur Radio – locate and join your local Amateur Radio Club. They do exist, and yes there are more than likely a number of grey haired old guys who think valves ate interesting, but there is more to the hobby than talking to people ‘over the air’.

    There is a world of things happening with low power transmission, antenna design, Software Defined Radio (you may have heard of that), as well as the old steadfasts like packet radio and satellites.

    There are requirements to get a license – it’s based on recognising individuals skills and abilities. Yes – there is regulation, but its primarily about ensuring that the people using the amateur frequencies don’t ‘step out’ and use other spectrum that people paid good money to the government for the right to use. There are conventions about how to use radio – primarily to help people find each other and not ruin things for other spectrum users.

    Go find your local Amateur radio club or association and give it a try – they generally encourage new members and are thesedays keen to have new members.

  34. Hello Jenny,

    There are many facets to the Amateur Radio Service. The unfortunate side effect of trying to popularize ham radio with contests, certificate chasing, award tracking (and so on …) is the tendency of ham radio becoming boring to those who find a shiny certificate or plaque to be the end-game.

    I have always been interested in the technical side; operating my station (rebuilt many times due to the mobile nature of my first career) was just the means of testing whether I had achieved my goals on improving my equipment, and sharing what I’ve learned with others.

    Whether in the US, UK, or elsewhere in the world, one needs to go back to WHY amateur radio is authorized (provide trained radio operators, improve the state-of-the-art of RF communications) and you will find a great deal of interest.

    Part of what I do is mentor younger people interested in ham radio. The HARDEST part of mentoring is standing back, giving occasional advice, and keeping your hands behind your back! I certainly could fall into the trap of doing, rather than explaining … but I never liked that method of non-teaching!

    Weak signal digital communications is making great strides these days (for more information, take a look at the rapid adoption of FT-8). People ARE interested in doing new things, and pulling a weak signal out of the noise, from your antenna-restricted residence is drawing interest around the globe.

    What ever you do, don’t base your assumptions on one facet of ANY service, hobby, vocation, etc. At best, it’s generalization, at worst, stereotyping (the lazy person’s way of categorizing people quickly).

    I appreciate your interest in ham radio. I simply ask that you look objectively at an issue, and not grab an assumption and write an article around that assumption. Trust me, you will be called out on that writing style.

    Cheers,

    Rick

  35. I think every comment is spot on.

    Difficulty of entry, rules, training, exams needed-compared to youtube and other entertainment medium

    Average age – very few young persons clubs and dying membership and activity

    However it has also become a lot easier to be involved:
    -Online training
    -Kits and information from worldwide over the internet
    -Increased modes and features only available in the last 10 to 20 years
    -Ability to collaborate online to achieve much more complicated systems and tasks.

    The future:
    Well in depends on your interest,
    -soldering and electronics, then kits and custom hardware
    -RF, Antenna building, propagation studies, DX
    -Contesting
    -Rag chewing social side playing about with new modes on the side
    -Cutting edge researching newest technology, a sense of a challenge
    -Self education, learning all the different things you can do such as satellite communication, an interest in technology

    Some say those interested in it will find there way there, but there is lots of competing hobbies and entertainment services that do not require much effort.

    I for one am promoting Amateur Radio to children aged 11 to 17, by organising an Amateur Radio link up to the International Space Station, with not only audio, but live Amateur Television, all done by hobbiests. I am not sure if many of the kids will go for the licence (2 events approximately 2,000 students), but we are linking up with local clubs that do classes, and giving everyone a brief introduction to the technology and what it is capable of.

    See: http:///www.arriss.org and http://www.amsat-on.be/hamtv-summary/ for more

  36. In Australia, apart from the basic license you need to learn morse code of which people I know under 50 are simply not learning. The basic license is very restricted and no digital information or connection to a computer or microprocessor allowed. The result is instead there is a large amount of innovation and learning happening on the unlicensed bands, mostly from young people. The demographics here are clear, you need to be over 50 to find amateur radio interesting.

  37. Whereas communication with someone on the other side of the planet or, for that matter, in another moving vehicle used to be things that were very unusual, with the Internet and cellphones they no longer are. Also, the “rag chewing” that amateur radio enabled is now done over the Internet and via cell phones.

    Therefore, in order to attract younger people to the hobby, capabilities that cannot be otherwise duplicated without amateur radio should be emphasized, such as contacts via amateur satcom, or simply just reception and decoding of the interesting telemetry from same with the goal of always doing so at an absolute minimum cost (ex., sound card decoding of data). QRP DX contacts in newer digital modes made for this has the attraction of taking advantage of atmospheric propagation with the fun goal of working as many countries and continents as possible at the lowest possible power and lowest possible cost.

  38. “And lobby for construction to be an integral part of the licensing process, it is very sad indeed that where this is being written at least, the lowest tier of amateur radio licence precludes home-made radio equipment. ”

    I don’t know “where this is being written” but I assume the US, and entry-level Technician licensees have CW privileges on 40 and 15 meter bands, along with voice privileges on 10 meters (7, 21, an 28 MHz respectively), and CW kits on 40 and 15 meters are available for $10 from China. Of course, because nothing’s ever easy, you have to change the crystal to a technician frequency.

    Let’s consider your ‘build’ suggestion – how would that play out? Would you give an applicant access to a well-stocked junkbox and ask them to build a receiver? Would you hand them a well-documented kit, or what? Who pays for the kit? Is the build pass/fail? By limiting access to the hobby only to those folks capable and sufficiently interested to build a receiver or transmitter you do not expand involvement in the hobby.

    I tell new hams to find a club and join, monthly meeting expose you to new topics, club members can share their knowledge and experience and help them find their way in the hobby.

    1. “..Let’s consider your ‘build’ suggestion – how would that play out? Would you give an applicant access to a well-stocked junkbox and ask them to build a receiver? Would you hand them a well-documented kit, or what? Who pays for the kit? Is the build pass/fail? By limiting access to the hobby only to those folks capable and sufficiently interested to build a receiver or transmitter you do not expand involvement in the hobby.”

      This is called “deflection” or “diversion” in debating circles, and is the most popular form of ‘making an argument’ amongst politicians, because it is so much trouble for the general populace to think.
      The answer to your argument is ridiculously simple, as are all rebuttals to this type of “logic”:

      “…how would that play out?…”

      Exactly the same way it played out years ago, before it became your right to be subsidized for everything and to not have to work hard–or have to think hard–for anything.

      Do you tend to vote for people who promise you that you can stop working hard, that you’ll be given everything you want and need? Like Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

      1. What?

        I ask about the logistics, organization, and cost and you get political on me?

        Exams are offered by literally several hundreds of volunteer teams, are all expected to have identically-stocked ‘junk boxes’ to pull parts from? Will there be ‘kits’ provided with all needed parts and build instructions?

        Increasing complexity (build vs multiple choice test), cost (currently $14-15/exam sitting), and increasing demands on VECs is NOT the path to increase participation in Amateur Radio.

        It isn’t about an entitlement mentality, it’s about thinking through the reality of how it will play out.

  39. I think proselytising is spelled with a Z instead of S. It also is limited to conversion, so probably not the best word for this statement.

    Maybe it’s Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but that’s the third time HaD writers used this word in the ten days.

    “Promoting”, “preaching”, or “peddling” are more accurate and understandable P words.

    If the goal is to communicate in an obscure fashion to give the illusion of intelligence, use “promulgate”.

    Although, since HaD is primarily a content aggregator, maybe that’s not the best mindset either:
    http://wordsbyapro.com/how-to-use-and-avoid-obscure-words/

    1. I’m British. I spell in a different way.

      And I spent quite a few years working for the Oxford Dictionaries. Trust me on this one, those are not particularly long words.

  40. Why not push part 15 as a gateway hobby?

    Maybe Arduino controlled QRSS on the Lowfer or Hifer license free bands received with an RTLSDR or something like that.

    Was that fun? Ready for some more power? The tech test is pretty easy, go ahead.. give it a try!

    I’ve contemplated seeing if the local hackerspace would allow me to set up a Hifer shack for non-hams to play with. I don’t know how many other Hifer users there would be for them to make contact with but if this became a popular hackerspace activity… it could be interesting!

    Of course at those power levels actual contacts would be limited to really really low baud rates and/or very rare (thus exciting) band conditions.

    1. I don’t see ‘Part 15’ as being an attractive gateway to Anateur Radio – youhave to cobble together a transmitter out of odd parts, you can only put out a tiny fraction of a watt, your antenna can only be marginally more efficient than a dummy load (except for 13.555 MHz ‘HIfer’ operation where you can feed your fraction of away into a 1/4 vertical or 1/2 wave dipole)…

      You obviously have no personal experience working what hams call QRP operation. It could be days, weeks between contacts, and that only appeals toacertain very, very small percentage of the community.

      You might as well hand someone a single crystal-controlled channel 14 CB walker-talkie and tell them if they like that, they’ll love Amateur Radio!

      And yes, I researched this activity, here’s a useful link: http://www.lwca.org/sitepage/part15/index-what.htm

    2. I had to look up QRSS because I’ve never encountered the term (or LowFER or HiFER, for that matter). WOW! It’s Morse code that even *I* could copy! Reminds me of an old military system I once was peripherally involved with called Survivable Low Frequency Communications System (SLFCS/Green Pine) that was intended for communicating with submerged submarines and SAC bombers AFTER the first salvo of nukes. Used a carrier somewhere between 15 kHz and 60 kHz for the submarines and UHF for the bombers, and a baud rate of something like 10 or 15. This was to deal with the expected very high noise level that would exist for a while, world-wide. Sorry, I can’t remember with any more precision than that – it was a long time ago. I was at Cold Bay AFS Alaska, which was one of the translator stations between the VLF and UHF components. The VLF could be received anywhere on Earth, but the bombers couldn’t manage the big antennae, so the idea was to locate the translator stations near the standby positions for the bombers so they could get orders. I guess it doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth to send codes for “go for it” or “stand down”. But QRSS takes this to the extreme, with receiver bandwidths in the mHz (that’s millihertz, not megahertz) region.

  41. HAM radio is about DOING. most internet is about passively receiving. The value and excitement from amateur radio comes from what the OPERATOR puts into it. Join local SAR and it becomes a lot more “exciting” than sitting around getting political memes and crappy ads automatically served to your face. the amateur radio operator controls what goes out and what comes in. Control requires responsibility and knowledge. Which appeals to a larger demographic than HAM operators.
    Being able to transmit for WWII hardware is just a benefit :)

  42. “the lowest tier of amateur radio licence precludes home-made radio equipment”

    I disagree with that statement. Technicians can do SSB on 10m and other modes on the VHF and UHF bands. They could even build a simple am or ssb rig to use on 2m. There is a LOT of home-brew radio equipment a technician licensee can do.

    1. No. In some countries the lowest tier licensee legally cannot build a transmitter. Or at least if they do they can never turn it on. I’m not sure of the exact wording. I’m pretty sure that’s what the “where this is being written at least” part was about.

      This is something we are lucky about here in the states. Build on my friend!

  43. I started out listening to my mother’s Trans-Oceanic 3 radio growing up (I still have her radio at my workbench). I worked in radio as a technician or some area radio stations. I had my “little yellow card” (3rd class restricted – was used to BE on the radio back in the day), AND later my First Class license (with RADAR privilidges.) I was licensed a Technician around ’96. I was very interested in digital mode operations, namely APRS, Packet, and satellite communications. The Technician license was the one for me. As my interests grew in long distant communications and radio support for emergency services (ARES, and Civil Air Patrol COMM OPS,” I pursued getting my General Class License. It was the second tier of license used for Amateur Radio here in the U.S. While this was good, I was experimenting with radio propagation and building front ends for some signal reception. The sky was the limit. Amateur radio is a hobby, and I made it part of my life. I have fun making QSO’s with people whom I may never see in my life, but the feeling you get from talking to someone hundreds of miles away on the amount of power it takes to light a night-lite bulb…it’s indescribable. So, in closing, Amateur Radio has helped me in my career, my breaking out of the social awkwardness I suffered as a young adult, AND furthering my understanding in technology that helped start many of our communication devices and methods of today. If you want the challenge, get your license and hack something new into the bands. Just Hack some RF and make it do interesting things for you. 73’s de KC8KVA

  44. I suggest the ARRL open their Handbook at look at the first thing written in it. The ham radio operators who believe the hobby is dying are themselves the problem. And it’s because they are failing to follow their own code of ethics.

    Considerate: New hams are treated very badly and made fun of. 2m is a nationwide cesspool of egomaniacal jerks.
    Loyal: I don’t like blanket loyalty but don’t go around telling everyone that ham radio is dying when it’s at a historic peak.
    Progressive: FM and SSB and DXing are 1940s technology. Grow up.
    Friendly: See Considerate. Help new hams however you can and stop trying to force them to do things they don’t like.
    Balanced: Stop DXing 40 hours a week and go get involved in the local ham community. Maybe you will learn about new technology.
    Patriotic: This one needs to go.

    The Radio Amateur’s Code:
    http://www.arrl.org/amateur-code

  45. To Mr Rick Roderick:
    The answer to your problem is as simple and as elegant as following the advice of Ms. List in this article’s fourth paragraph (emphasis mine):

    “…we’d…suggest a return to the roots of amateur radio, a time in the early 20th century when it was the technology that mattered rather than the collecting of DXCC entities or grid squares, and an amateur had first to build their own equipment rather than simply order a shiny radio before they could make a contact. Give a room full of kids a kit-building session, have them make a little radio. And lobby for construction to be an integral part of the licensing process…”

    You won’t find a better answer.

    “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”–Winston Churchill

    1. I don’t understand the ‘Amateur Radio Hobby is Dying’ sentiment – it is evolving, there are nearly thre-quarters of a million licensees in the US, a decent dual-band handheld (Alinco DJ-500) is $100, HF radios are $600+ at retailers, and dual-band mobiles are $250+, and there are an incredible number of different pursuits within the hobby…

      The hobby is no longer what it used to be, but that’s OK.

      1. “…it is evolving…”

        A major, and extremely important, element of the evolution process is that most evolution ends in the dying out of a species.

        “The hobby is no longer what it used to be…”.

        Very true. The source of Mr Roderick’s concern. What this entire article and all its comments are about. Exactly what this article is warning of…

        1. The vast majority of the comments here are about trying to turn back the clock and force smateur radio to be what it was, not to grow, change and evolve with society.

          One could argue that the hobby should return to taking car parts from model Ts and powering their spark gap transmitters with lead acid batteries. The number of licensees is nearing three quarter of a million people. Attempts to force soldering irons into one hand of Amateur Radio operators, and a sending key in the other is pushing the hobby backwards, not forwards – it will only serve to limit the number of participants.

          1. “…it will only serve to limit the number of participants.”

            The IEEE experienced this same problem years ago, when the organization was run by and for engineers. When it became a political organization, intent only on its own survival, meaningful entrance requirements were abandoned so that practically anyone could become a member. The IEEE has lost, but it has LOTS of members…

            Any message here for the ARRL?. Of course; major message. Will the ARRL take heed? Remains to be seen.

          2. The IEEE (where I once worked) had membership issues because as an organization because it wasn’t relevant to the carrers of it’s members.

            At the height of the IEEE’s success it was seen as a respected source of information available through a wide-array of peer-reviewed journals and symposiums. With the rise of the internet, the IEEE was regarded to something college engineering students joined to network with future employers.

            The ARRL needs to continue to evolve to meet the needs of it’s members. The organization has evolved from it’s roots as a coalition of independent operators that worked together to ‘pass traffic’ by relaying it from station-to-station (that’s what the two R’sstood for in their name – ‘radio relay’).

            As I said, increasing the hurdles one must overcome to get licensed will not increase the numbers in the hobby, but today I work in the Amateur Radio industry, and business is good… The reports of the hobby dying are premature, there are 720,000 license holders in America.

  46. Been an amateur radio operator for 46 years and enjoy every minute of operating, repairing, building equipment. Use the knowledge and skills learned from the Amateur Service every day. I am the chief technical person at my job. Amateur Radio has help me to THINK.

  47. I’m 39. I studied Ameture Radio back in the 1980s as a 3rd-4th-5th grade student. I always wanted to build stuff with what I could buy at Radio Shack. What discouraged me from the hobby was all the project books the local libraries had were things like “Build a 2m transmitter” and then “Build a 5m receiver” but there were never projects that showed how to build both a transmitter and receiver for the same frequency ranges. I got my Technician no-code license in 1996, but let it lapse because I never found any projects that I could build myself, and the idea of spending hundreds on a rig to a high school/college student with other expenses just discouraged me further.

    With the advent of inexpensive SDR, I’m thinking of giving it another go however. It’s encouraging to me to read the comments of the younger folks that are talking about using it for digital communication, and since I experiment with a lot of electronics, that’s exactly what I’ll be looking to do.

    I made a mental connection with DXing and using internet forums back in the late 1990s, so my interest in DXing has basically vanished.

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