Monday, August 11, 2008

An investment of "self"

A friend and I have been privately corresponding over the past week about the decline of the retention of "Newbies" to Amateur Radio; and the increase in the popularity of QRP. We have been engaging in philosophical arguments as to whether not the two phenomena are somehow linked.

Personally, I think that the explosion of the popularity of QRP and the decline of "Newbies" staying interested in Amateur Radio are totally non-related and are 180 degrees apart in the spectrum.

My personal opinion is that for many, QRP hearkens back to the "Golden Age" of Amateur Radio. The tradition of building, homebrewing, operating on a shoe string is very akin to Amateur Radio of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Back in those days, it was very rare for a Ham to open up some boxes, plug a few things in and get on the air. Back then you had to scavenge, scrounge and build. Getting on the air was the end step of an entire process. Back then, after you took your test, you waited six weeks or more for your license to come and you used that time to make final preparations. When you got on the air, you knew how and why your station worked. Heck, you built most of it yourself, including the antenna. Fortunately, there still seems to be a large segment of the Amateur Radio population that shares that ethic and wants to enjoy it, again.

Today things are different - radically different. Without getting into arguments, the process today is more akin to this:

1) Take a multiple choice test
2) Find out your results within 15 minutes of completing your exam
3) Go to the FCC Website within a week and get your callsign.
4) Use that week to order and receive a fancy new "box" and antenna from HRO or AES.
5) Open the boxes, plug a few things in and get on the air.

Where's the romance in that? Where's the anticipation in that? Where's the pride of a "job well done" in that? Where's the "magic" in that? Is it any wonder then, that so many of today's new licensees are losing interest?

Amateur Radio was so popular way back when; and retained its newly licensed because they had made a major investment of "self". It WAS harder back then! It took a lot of effort, discipline and self motivation to study, scrounge, build and get on the air. The words "instant" and "gratification" hadn't even been linked together yet! After all that study, building, effort, blood, sweat and tears, you would have looked like a bloody idiot to go through all that only to say, "Nah, this isn't for me".

Today's "plug and play" society makes it easier to walk away. The "investment of self" has turned into an "investment of money". Open some boxes, throw some stuff together and get on the air. It turns Amateur Radio into a (yawn) "been there, done that" kind of thing. And even the 'investment of money" isn't a total loss; because if you find out that Amateur Radio isn't your "thing", then there's always eBay.

73 de Larry W2LJ


  1. Anonymous10:46 PM

    It's just not that simple. Putting a ham radio system together is a bit more complicated than installing a stereo system. I went down this path and I'm now selling off all of my first generation equipment to get a better transceiver with 100 watts instead of 5 watts, along with a much better antenna.

  2. Anonymous1:48 AM

    Today's world is all about "The mouse-click".

    "I want that and I only need to click my mouse"
    There's no more involvement, nothing achieved really. Just a matter of "Today I want that".

    Next they need no st***ng elmer, they just appear on the band and agressively open their 'minds'. It's like they are on an internet forum.
    I'm ashamed of what I hear on the bands nowadays.
    Neglect negative behavior, be on the bands regularly, talk to people about ham stuff.
    Write cute ham articles.
    Keep the positive thinking.

    '73 Mark

  3. Anonymous10:31 PM

    Anonymous has it right. There is no less "self" involved in a "turn key" setup these days then there was when someone 30 years ago ordered their FT-101 out of the back of QST.

    There are two major issues surrounding the hobby and the lack of new licensees: 1. We are no longer "pushing the envelope" technology and are being left behind by the consumer side of technology. 2. Often, people who are trying to do new and inventive things within amateur radio are discouraged by Hams dismissing it as "not really Ham Radio."

    It's no longer a "big deal" to be able to talk to far flung reaches of the world. While there are folks who do enjoy the "magic" of the radio aether, myself included, it is no longer the big draw as it once was.