Supercon 2022: Tap Your Rich Uncle To Fund Your Amateur Radio Dreams

Imagine you had a rich uncle who wanted to fund some of your projects. Like, seriously rich — thanks to shrewd investments, he’s sitting on a pile of cash and is now legally obligated to give away $5,000,000 a year to deserving recipients. That would be pretty cool indeed, but like anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right?

Well, maybe not. It turns out that we in the amateur radio community — and even amateur radio adjacent fields — have a rich uncle named Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a foundation with a large endowment and a broad mission to “support amateur radio, funds scholarships and worthy educational programs, and financially support technically innovative amateur radio and digital communications projects.” As the foundation’s Outreach Manager John Hayes (K7EV) explained at Supercon 2022, ARDC is a California-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has been in the business of giving away money to worthy projects in the amateur radio space since 2021.

Early Adopter Indeed!

The group’s roots go back much further than that, though — into the 1980s — and explain its ample endowment. In a brilliantly visionary move, a ham named Hank Magnuski (KA6M) saw the potential for the new hotness of the Internet Protocol (IP) and asked Jon Postel, then the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) administrator and pretty much the guy you went to if you need an IP address in those wild and wooly early days of the Internet. Jon came through big time, with a Class A block of over 16 million IP addresses. Talk about getting in on the ground floor! Fast forward a few decades, and after giving away some of those Class A addresses to deserving amateur radio projects, ARDC decided it was time to cash in some of their largesse. And so in 2019, they sold four million addresses to someone with deep pockets, and they made a ton of money in the process.

The foundation is now legally required to give away at least 5% of its money a year to qualified applicants, and John’s talk (slides — PDF) ably covers exactly what that entails. Basically, anything that supports and grows amateur radio is at least in the right ballpark. Examples of past recipients include the University of Southern Florida’s amateur radio club (WB4USF) getting a $15,000 grant to buy equipment for their club station, $38,000 to build an emergency communication mesh network in Rhode Island, and $236,000 to the Kyushu Institute of Technology to build an open-source CubeSat network. Groups have used grant funds to make repairs and upgrades to storm-damaged repeater networks, build emergency comms trailers, and even $1.6 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to save their famed rooftop radome.

More Than Paying for Gear

Given their mission, a lot of grants go to educational outreach and scholarships. The scholarships include not just the usual post-secondary grants, but also a lot of STEM outreach. One of the first grants went to ARISS, or Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. That 2019 grant gave ARISS the funds necessary to design and build a custom amateur radio station for the ISS, with the aim of getting schoolkids interested in STEM by letting them talk directly to the hams aboard the ISS from a simple handy-talkie transceiver. The ARDC-funded station flew to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-20 resupply mission in March 2020; the station has been used hundreds of times since and can be considered a smashing success in terms of outreach and engagement.

John’s talk was polished and professional — he’d already given it more than 40 times in 2022 by the time Supercon rolled around — and really gets the wheels turning. If you’re in a ham radio group, or even in an area that’s plausibly related, it probably makes sense to think about what your rich uncle can make possible.

11 thoughts on “Supercon 2022: Tap Your Rich Uncle To Fund Your Amateur Radio Dreams

  1. It’s just me, but amateur radio appealed to me because it was one of the last remaining spiritual, idealistic hobbys/movements.
    Amateur radio, to me, was all about tinkering, learning, helping people, fixing things. And by doing the latter, giving things a second chance. It’s more than just a hobby/service, it’s a way of life. It’s the belief of being able to build things with your bare hands, to improve your skills and thise of others. To not let things or people left to their self. Amateur radio is about trying to understand the world we live in, to discover all the wonders in the world. It’s not just some radio license. It’s the spirit of discovery. And that’s why I’m worried about the increasing commercialization. Amateur radio, historically, teached us to get along without money. Sure, ham radio equipment is pricey. But it wasn’t alway the case. Up until the 1990s, homebrewing in the shack in amateur radio was still rivaling commercial products. For example, making little gadgets, like HamComm modems using a 741 opamp. Or your own linear. A decade earlier, hams still built their own transceivers or auxiliary receivers. I don’t think we need money so much, but rather have to find new ham fellows for the hobby. It’s the people that matter, imho.

    1. Great comment. Agree 100%.
      I’m new-ish to hobby, but my approach is a blend of both worlds. I originally got my ticket strictly to use satellite repeaters which I still think is thrilling and fun. I also know approximately zero about electronics design and this seemed like a good way to have a project and end point in mind (specifically: designing and using a CW transceiver) rather than simply meandering and learning stuff in a totally unguided fashion.
      I look at it like old cars though- if you have the means, doing both is much, much better. A working classic car is great, but a project car only that doesn’t run when you just need to get to work and back is pretty bogus. I have my kit transceivers (one working, on in progress), my own design and experimentation radio project ongoing, and just saved up enough to get a brand new modern waterfall-equipped HF transceiver that is really the bee’s knees. Even with the new one, getting all the other modes going and messing with the antenna and stuff is a lot of work and fun and I think still counts as experimentation for me personally, even though it is really well established tech. As long as I’m personally learning and growing, I think it “counts.” I’m also fortunate enough to be able to do it, but I don’t think having to build your own radio that is frustrating and will never work as well as a commercial unit should be a barrier to entry when there is so, so much more the hobby is about.
      Learning CW/Morse is also one of my goals, and without the waterfall it would be so frustrating and time consuming even finding someone to talk to that I’m sure I would give up otherwise.

    2. Great comment. I agree for the most part, but there are aspects of the hobby like satellite payloads that are out of the reach of pretty much everyone who isn’t an oil sheik. I would love to see a geosynchronous satellite with amateur radio payload in view of the western hemisphere. 5 million might get there as a shared payload.

  2. Hello,

    how to contact John Hays from ARDC to fund radio seismic sensors for Turkey to set up Earthquake Prediction System for Turkey based on Precognition and Operation Research Hedging, employing regional Software Defined Radio servers like WebSDR, to be operated by local peers ?


  3. I don’t get this. They grab a bunch of IP addresses in the early days, never really uses them, and now instead of letting them loose,they sell them off. It sounds exploitive.

    1. You mean like the FCC selling radio spectrum to cell phone providers? Why should the IP addresses be free? I think any vastly used resource that is both limited in supply but popular will always create a market where there’s an exchange of compensation for product/service.

    1. We urgently need some funding to stop the third attempt to impose software patents in Euroe, which is happening with the launch of the Unified Patent Court.

      FFII was funded in the past by NLNet, but when I asked for some urgent funding at FOSDEM, they replied that they ran out of private money in 2017, and that they were giving funding with money from the European Commission, which cannot fund legal actions, such the one we want to do.

      We need to bring this gross maladministration to declare this treaty into force (while it should have been renegotiated according to Brexit and the lack of signature of the UK) to Court ASAP.

      There should be also a second lawsuit about the removal of National Courts (infringement of TEU19.1 and TFEU267), which should happen if they manage to launch this new court:

      Academics warned about this issue 10 years ago when it was signed, and the German Constitutional Court refused to escalate the question to the CJEU, this was seen as a ‘political’ decision by observers.

      1. You don’t believe that programmers/software developers should be able to patent the original works that they create? Can you explain your reasoning behind that opinion?

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