Growing the Ranks vs. Growing the Enjoyment

Because I teach amateur radio classes and publish a series of popular amateur radio license study guides (, I often get kudos for “growing the ranks.” In fact, Gordon West, WB6NOA, told me this just last week, when he stopped by the booth I was in at the Dayton Hamvention. I’m paraphrasing a little, but after telling me that he’s heard good things about my study guides, he said something like, “You’re doing good work in helping get more people into ham radio.”

People say that as if this is—or should be—the ultimate goal of teaching a license class. While this may be one of the goals, if that’s your primary goal, I think that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

In a way, creating more hams is selfish. If there are more licensed amateur radio operators, they say, then amateur radio will have more political clout with the FCC and with Congress, making it easier to pass legislation like the Amateur Radio Parity Act. While this may certainly help the new ham down the line, its main thrust is to reduce restrictions on those who are currently hams.

My goal in teaching amateur radio classes isn’t to create more hams. Instead, my goal is to help more people have fun with ham radio. The first step in helping people have fun with ham radio is, of course, helping them get their license. I do that by publishing my study guides and teaching ham classes.

The next step, and I’m only really getting started on this right now, is to help people learn what they need to know to become better ham radio operators. That’s why I got a little excited when I saw the article, “Making a Good hobby Better Through Post-Licensing Enrichment” by Tim Busch, N0CKR in the latest issue of Radio Waves, the ARRL’s email newsletter for amateur radio instructors.

In the article, Tim describes several activities that his club encourages, including a “new ham net” and the Field Day GOTA station, but he also details a program of “mini classes” that will teach specific skills related to ham radio. These include:
* Programming Radios and Getting on the Air
* Soldering 101
* Multimeter 101
* Build and Use a Roll-Up J-Pole Antenna
* Build and Use a Satellite Antenna
* Foxhunts
* Operating Digital Modes: IRLP, AllStar, D-Star, EchoLink, etc.
* Remote Operation
* Software-Defined Radios
* Transitioning from VHF/UHF to HF Operating
* Chasing Awards
* Learn CW
* Contesting

Tim writes, “Each class is intended to be no more than two hours at a sitting, so they can be held before a monthly club meeting. The variety of subject matter allows many club members to get involved in leading a topic. Materials kits are prepared in advance, so students walk away with practical items they can use at home.”

I think this is a great set of classes, and I plan to try some of these in the fall. A couple of other topics that occur to me are:
* Power Supplies 101
* Mobile Operation 101
* ARRL 101
* RFI/TVI 101

Helping new hams—and old hams—have more fun with amateur radio is a lot more satisfying to me than just “growing the ranks.” It would be nice to say that we have a million licensed radio amateurs in the U.S., but I think it would be a lot more valuable to the hobby to say that a larger percentage of licensed hams were active and enjoying ham radio. I know that, for me, increasing the number of active, engaged hams would be more personally satisfying than simply creating a lot of new licensees.