Is Ham Radio Dying?

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Is Amateur Radio Dying? - A British Perspective

A few weeks ago I went to a local radio rally or Hamfest. At the first glance around the packed rooms it was difficult to imagine that many think that amateur radio is dying. However, what was very noticeable was that the average age of the assembled group must have been in the high fifties. At 41, I was quite a youngster!

This is the evidence upon which many have base their supposition that amateur radio is dying. It is failing to attract younger people.

But, lets look a little more closely again. That rally was packed. It was standing room only for those who had pie and cabbage for lunch. Is that a dying hobby? If I cast my mind back to when I first became interested in radio at the age of about 11 (1970) I can dimly remember the callbook. It was a thin document with less than 30,000 amateurs listed. Today's callbook lists over 50,000 licenced amateurs. As I grew up, this was the time in which teenage boys did actually relish the idea of radio communications. The idea of being to contact people all over the world was rather attractive to many. University and College radio clubs thrived and nets of teenagers could be heard on topband and 80 metres. Over the intervening years this teenage interest has wained until today there is perceived to be a problem. But I suspect those that perceive the problem actually came into radio in the 1970s and base their idea of what is healthy for the hobby on those days.

There have been many efforts to recreate that 1970s environment. Novice licencing, giving an easier point of entry to the transmitting side of the hobby, is just one of those initiatives. In the UK, there is now no minimum age limit for licence holders. These are undoubtedly good things. But I wonder if we are trying to swim against the tide? It is interesting for me to note that those teenagers with whom I spoke in the 1970s on topband and 80m are still, in the main, keen active amateurs. Their interest has not wained. It has never been easier to get on the air than it is today but what I see now is that many of the people who get a licence have quite a shortlived interest in the hobby. And where are all the short-wave listeners - they never did need a licence but these days I seldom get a short-wave listener QSL card. That may suggest that ease of entry into the hobby is not the only factor involved here.

So, is it the younger people that we need to encourage? The conventional view is that for a hobby to be successful it needs young blood. I do not subscribe to that view. My suggestion is that the entry point for amateur radio is changing. It is no longer the younger age groups, it has moved up to the 40-50 age group. I feel that there is no reason to assume that this is an unsustainable position. It is a new one for sure (certainly for us 40 somethings), but needs to be viewed simply as a different starting point rather than the beginning of the end.

I am not against efforts to encourage younger people into the hobby. It has given me many years of enjoyment, it shaped my teenage years and gave me a career. But I do think that we need to view what is happening in the hobby in a wider context.

I want your opinions. Enter my Discussion Forum here to let me know what you think!


Coming up:

bulletAre we encouraging or discouraging new hams by telling them about our home-construction successes?
bulletIs QRP a step forwards or backwards in amateur radio?


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