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Author Topic: How can you save a dying club?  (Read 8325 times)
AG5T
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« on: July 09, 2001, 05:39:47 PM »

I am the club president of a group called the Houston ECHO Society in Houston, Texas (ECHO is an acronym for Emergency Communications by Ham Operators).  Our club has faded from a total of nearly 200 members about 10 years ago to about a dozen active members.  Most of the members attribute the problem to the loss of several good repeater sites.  They say that without an open autopatch long range repeater that the club will die and there will be no new members.  By long range they mean county-wide.  In Houston we don't have the luxury of 10,000 feet or even 2,000 feet mountaintop repeater sites.  We used to have free sites on towers and on top of buildings, but that's basically a thing of the past as most repeater sites in this area are extremely expensive now as businesses now charge for these locations.  If a newcomer with an HT tries to talk to someone on a repeater that has poor range and sometimes audio problems, I can see why they would be discouraged.  But, I would like to know from others, is a repeater really necessary?  Can some good topics and presentations at club meetings help revive the group?  What is the best way to recruit?  Who should we try to recruit?  Should we spend our entire budget on an expensive (long range) repeater site for one year and then call it quits if that doesn't attract more members?  I am looking for any ideas on what would attract a newcomer to a radio club and any suggestions on how to revive a club that is quickly fading.  Thanks in advance for your suggestions. -- de AG5T in Houston, Texas















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KC8CON
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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2001, 09:33:14 AM »

The one thing I could suggest is not to rely on repeaters.  We have a good repeater here in WV at an elevation of about 2560' on a cell tower with the antenna about 240' on the tower.  Even with our repeater we are loosing club members.  Well I don't know if you would say loosing, they just don't attend any meetings.  We have 50 members but only about 8 or so show up.

We changed our meetings to conduct business in about 30 minutes with the rest of the meeting be a discussion or show and tell of amateur radio.  I myself did a demostration of the various digital modes like PSK, MFSK, SSTV, Hellschrieber and Throb.  Then I shocked those by who were there telling them that this was not just for low band activity, they could do these modes on 2 Meter FM.  A few friends and I have been doing these modes on simplex for over a month.  We have several who are interested and getting ready to join us.

We had a discussion one meeting about lightning and grounding.  Another meeting was about splicing coax together and not using a soldiering gun.  Just some Nolax and connecting the coax using a technic that I like to call the Chinese finger basket.  This is using pieces of shield to connect and hold the center conductor together and then connecting and holding the shields together, and some black electrical tape.  Hey don't laugh it works.  The fellow who showed us this technic has three pieces spliced together like this and it has held up for over 4 years.  This method cuts down on the db loss from a barrel connector.

Another thing is trying to get new hams beyond the HT mode.  Get them involved in actually setting up a station.  A good antenna system and a nice 50 watt mobile in the house.  Then get them to try and make contact with others in the club via simplex frequencies.  Repeaters are nice, but it is a lot of fun to talk 20 to 30 miles, and maybe more depending on the terrain, to other amateurs on simplex.

I monitor the repeater at home on one radio, but do most of my rag chew on simplex with my other radio.

I also think the problem you are seeing is a nationwide problem.  People are either getting to busy to have any hobbies or the excitement has left them about the hobby.  Try and make the meetings enjoyable, get some new modes introduced, and let those attending that there is more than just repeater amateur radio.

Just my two cents worth and I hope some of it is helpful.

73
Juddie, KC8CON
Plateau Amateur Radio Association (PARA) Trustee
former President and Secretary of PARA
WV ARRL Section Traffic Manager
WV ARES District 7 DEC
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WN3VAW
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« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2001, 07:02:02 PM »

1.  Stop thinking of it as a "dying" club.  In trouble, yes, but if you think of it as terminal, you're starting in a deep hole.

2.  Sit down with the remaining active membership and hammer out who you are, why you exist, and how you plan to accomplish that.  It doesn't have to be detailed, but a "mission statement" like this can stand as a goal to strive towards and helps define the group.

3.  Start or revive a club newsletter.  Send it to any former members (except Silent Key's of course) and any other area hams you can find who potentially might be interested. Emphasize your purpose.  Emphasize where and when you get together.  Emphasize other things.  And the little things count -- do you get together on a particular repeater or repeaters during drive time?  Do some of you meet for dinner before, or coffee after, the meeting?  Be positive without being syruppy.  See www.washarc.org or www.qsl.net/~wm0g for examples of newsletters that fit the bill.

4.  You can't be all things to all comers.  Don't try.  Concentrate on your mission statement.

5.  Recruit, recruit, recruit.  Going to a hamfest?  Have a table with flyers and newsletters.  Operating an event?  Ditto if allowed.  Get an embroidered shirt with the club logo on it (I know someone who does them for about $20 each) and WEAR IT at Amateur Radio events.  If people know you exist, they'll be interested.

6.  Be patient.  It won't happen overnight and it won't be easy.

Three years ago, my club had some hard times.  But a few of us refused to let it wither away (I swore that we might end up the "Ron's Radio Room ARC" but we weren't going to fold up and blow away)  Today, we're growing, our hamfest is growing, our 2M simplex contest has been used as a model by several other clubs (and even got mentioned in CQ magzine), and I keep hearing lots of nice things.  So believe me when I tell you that it CAN be done IF you're willing to do it.

73, ron wn3vaw
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VE8NX
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2001, 04:40:26 AM »

Some good ideas from the others.

my 2 cents Smiley

 Get people interested in other modes/bands, bring them out for field day, special events (they just had a museum ship weekend for example) any excuse to get them on the air - if only for an hour or two.

Got any lakes in the area? Do they have islands on them? Activate them. Boating, camping and radio - good mix!

 do you have regular informal get togethers? like meeting for breakfast on a saturday morning? Bring your newest or niftiest or oddest or most inexplicable toy to show around.

What about aiming recruiting at seniors and the quasi retired? They have time and many are probably looking for something to stimulate their minds.

Kids, sure, put on a basic license course for a Scout and/or Guide group.

Keep the group open and relativly informal. Encourage new ideas.

Repeaters? I dunno if that is such a critical element. There is so much more to amateur radio! But if you want to check something out repeater wise look at

http://www.synergenics.com/sc/
(have to be honest that i just found this site and have not tried it out, but it looks interesting)

73 & GL
Larry VE7LFN
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KE4SKY
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2001, 08:26:50 AM »

Houston is probably very much like any other large metropolitan area, roof space on high-rise building sites and tower space are at a premium.  I am president of a repeater association in the Washington, DC area.  In the last few years we lost several of our remote sites and one main repeater site to money-grubbing, commercial interests.  We had enjoyed space since 1971 for "free," but the bank which owned the building was taken over by another and the "new team" terminated our lease and gave us 30 days notice to remove three racks of equipment, all of our roof hardware and antennas, so they could bring in a 25-channel commercial paging company which now pays them $1000/month/rack!  We wouldn't have been able to deal with all of the pager noise if we had stayed!  

Since then we have gotten new leases and sites by working closely with our ARES / RACES served agencies, getting space on local hospitals, and federally leased buildings of the General Services Administration and county and city government facilities by working with local emergency managers and our County Board of Supervisors.

We reduced the number of our repeaters to simplify the system and focus on availability for public and community service activities, Skywarn, ARES / RACES nets, and as a backup repeater for an NTS net which normally meets on another repeater.  We eliminated four repeaters which showed the least use, but which consumed the most resources: a 6 meter machine, one of our 220 machines, a 918 mhz and a 1292.  Instead we focussed our money and manpower into upgrading and improving reliabilty and service of our most-used two 2-meter repeaters, the remaining wide-area coverage 220 machine and our 440 machine.  

We are replacing 30-year old equipment and coax with  new equipment, supported mostly by member donations.  We are more interested in QUALITY than quantity. Our core group of members is committed to serving the community through supporting Skywarn, emergency and public service activities and our experience has been favorable.

It is true that our association membership is down to about 250 members from a peak of 600, but I also believe that many past members joined only for the autopatch and that they have moved to cellular and PCS services.  Our association phone bill at commercial rates used to be horrendous, hundreds of calls per month on the patch.  We have only a dozen or so today per site, which is very manageable now.  The patch is being used almost only for 911 Emergency as it was intended, and almost never for "Honey, I'm in the car do you want me to get anything at the store" anymore.

I much prefer the current situation to years past. Our machines are more readily available for users and local activities and we don't seem to have the problems with repeater hogs, jammers and lids that we once did.  

My advice is to look past your own members and present users.  Look towards your community and ask what it needs.  Provide that service and the community will support you!  

73 de KE4SKY
President Northern Virgina FM Association
Virginia State RACES Training Ofdficer
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N4ZOU
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2001, 12:07:00 PM »

  It sounds like your club was a 2 meter repeter only club. By that I mean that the only thing the club did was to maintain a 2 meter repeter with a phone patch and maby a 440 link for the repeter to phone connection. I hate to say it but Cell phones have pretty much killed off all the "Phone patch clubs". I have a Cell phone and it's just so easy and cheap compaired to trying to use 2 meters and a repeter to make phone calls.  About the only thing you can do is simply get away from the thought that your club will only support a 2 meter repeter with a phone patch. Start having other areas of intrest like classes on upgrading to General and above. Fox hunts one time a month on a weekend with a covered lunch where everyone agrees to bring a diffrent food and everyone shares. Start having special events several times a year. Have Ham partys to help fellow hams put up antennas or set up a shack. This item is a big draw of older hams who can no longer get out and put up some kind of wire antenna for the HF bands or even a vertical for 6 meters, 2 meters, or even 440. Have speakers come to your club meetings. The list is endless. If you can't get the hams in the club now to agree then you might as well walk away from it as it's dead already.
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AC7NA
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« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2001, 11:43:18 AM »

I agree with other previous posters that maintaining an autopatch capable repeater as the basis for an amateur radio club doesn't cut it anymore.

I have a couple suggestions in addition to those mentioned already:

1. Promote the tech-plus license as the entry level license vs. the tech.  HF voice privileges are the "hook" that keeps people involved and interested in ham radio.  I know, the code, the code....but let's be honest here.  5 WPM is not the barrier it's been hyped to be.  Besides, if all your members are interested in is "county-wide" communications, use CB instead.....or better yet, get them on HF and get "country-wide" (or better) communications.

2.  Recruit teen-agers in the middle or high schools.  Our club has been successful in promoting ham radio in the middle schools by maintaining stations at two schools, and teaching classes to allow these youngsters to earn their licenses.  Trust me, code has never been a barrier for these kids.  About half of our success in recruiting youngsters has also resulted in one or both parents getting licensed shortly thereafter.  Don't forget to elmer!  There is a lot of two way learning that occurs when you pair a teen-ager with an OF (If you have computer problems, these kids are a great resource!).  All of our youngsters are tech-plus or higher, including a 14 yr old extra who operates exclusively on CW (at 20 WPM).

3.  As mentioned previously, participate in civic events and demonstrate our capabilities whenever and wherever possible.  Include as many modes as possible, including digital and CW.  Our experience is that these two modes attact the most attention from onlookers.  Many passersby seem to associate speaking into a microphone with CB or broadcasting.  If you have a voice station operating, make an honest attempt to snag some trans-continental or DX to draw people in.  Another idea is to send radiograms to demonstrate how the NTS works, or if possible, use an HF phone patch to allow onlookers to speak to relatives a great distance away.  These are the activities that demonstrate why hams are still an important resource in an emergency, and why being a ham is just plain fun!

4.  Don't give up. Maintaining an active club takes work, but members won't be willing to work unless they are getting satisfaction from their efforts.
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WU3U
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« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2001, 03:50:00 AM »

I have been a member of several Amateur Radio clubs and honestly, all but one was a waste of time.

The name of that club is TSRAC (Triple States Amateur Radio Club).  I think that they key to this club's
success is that it did not rely on a narrow interest segment of the hobby like FM repeaters, although they did operate and maintain two excellent repeaters that were also used for emergency communications.  

The Club has had an excellent newsletter called BNT, that was, without a doubt, the finest club newsletter I have ever seen, extremely well written and informative on a wide range of Ham related topics, not just that the club is having a picnic and all that stuff.  

TSRAC also had nets on several different bands, from HF to 2 meters, and hams from three states away and beyond checked in and were members.

There were a lotof activities, something for everyone,
and the varied nature of the club's activities was key to its success, I believe.

I should give a hats off to one man, Ralph McDonough,
K8AN, who was the club's leader and editor of BNT.  Ralph is possessed of a tireless dedication to ham radio, and the force of his personality was a key factor in TSRAC's high level of interest and membership.  It sure doesn't hurt if you have a dynamic personality to spark things.

Aside from all of this, there is one thing I have not found that I believe would make a ham radio club more cohesive and active; the erection of an excellent club station, complete, all bands and modes, with the station being located in the "clubhouse."  Now I know that this is an expensive proposition, requiring either renting, having donated, or buying real estate for the club to operate a world class ham station.  But I think it is do-able with the right mix of people.

I am getting ready to purchase my first home in the next year or so, and am making ham radio and enough space to erect a real antenna farm a priority.  I plan to leave this house to a ham radio club with the exclusive provision that it must remain a club radio station QTH for as long as the club owns it after my death, and I will not let them put my name on it either, as it is not for ego, but only for the love of radio and a desire to preserve it, that I would do so.

Have you ever been to a volunteer fire department?  Often, these guys are really dedicated and LOVE what they do.  The station firehouse provides them a place to call their own.  They often go down to the firehouse even when there is no meeting and nothing specific to do, just to shoot the breeze and maybe discuss their common interest.  This encourges cohesiveness, something I think hams greatly lack.
A place like a club station, complete with a work bench and a membership who could help people with techical projects, would go a long way toward bringing hams together.

Club stations like this are common in countries where
there is little space for big antennas at members' QTHs, or perhaps where financial restraints bar home hamming.  Either way, they must act as a group to enjoy their common interest, much like a volunteer fire company, only with radio.  And I would venture that they have a lot of fun doing it.

I know I went on here but I  hope some of these ideas help you.

73,


Tim
N8LXR
Springfield, Pa

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KK7FM
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« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2001, 08:05:24 PM »

I agree with WN3VAW.  Gather the faithful and focus on what you HAVE rather than what you don't have.  Look for solutions rather than dwelling on the problems that brought you to this present.  Find the passion and fan the flame.  When others see that, they will want to be a part.  Participation breeds participation.

Be inclusive.  Treat the newbie and the veteran with equal reverence.  Each has something to offer--energy, experience, humor, culinary skill, whatever.  Clubs are about BELONGING.  Don't forget the kids.  They are the future of your club.  More than that, ham radio is one of the few places in our increasingly age-segregated society where we can mingle across generations on an equal basis.  The teenager computer whiz should be able to share with the 60+ who built all his original equipment from scrounged tubes etc.  There's magic for both in this relationship.

There is so much exciting in this hobby.  Don't get bogged down in the negatives.

73 de KK7FM    George
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« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2001, 03:21:11 AM »

Get the YOUNGER people and generations involved... This may even require a restructuring or change of the club from strictly a ham radio club to a general communications club. (or how about a change to an amateur youth support club, or focus on emergency communications & combine cell phone users and groups such as SKYWARN! You might be astounded how many people would be interested in learning about emergency communications given they don't need a ham license to be actively involved! Then promote it afterwards...) I agree that times have changed, but folks interested in communications are out there and we need to pull them out of the woodwork from somewheres...
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AD7DB
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« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2001, 12:05:39 PM »

I tend to agree with most of you concerning repeater and autopatch support. Autopatch isn't nearly as "unique" as it was in the '70s, you can get a cellphone for practically nothing nowadays. If the club wants to help out a local repeater, there's nothing wrong with a periodic donation to it.

I think clubs should concentrate on helping new hams get on the air. That means a club station. It could be at someone's house. Members could donate or loan equipment for it. This way new hams can get real on-air experience. I know this would have been a real help to me when I first got started; it was years before I could afford anything at all.
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AA0B
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« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2001, 11:43:18 AM »

I saw an article a while back in Shutterbug about what was wrong with many of the local photography clubs.  What was said might apply to lots of clubs.  The important members tend to form a "good ol boys group" as an inner circle.  And there are times when that's not a bad system, but there should be a way for younger members to learn and progress in skills.  In the end the change has to come from every member.  Each should help new members, make people feel at home, and try to sooth things should trouble occur.  Part of our activity is technical, part is like art.  Make an environment where members are free to experiment, learn, & lead even if it seems foolish, you can learn by being free to try something new.  Have fun.
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N1YRK
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« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2001, 11:50:32 AM »

What assets does the club have? If  you can tell people "hey join us and you can play with all this cool gear", that may help.

Survey your remaining membership and see what your strengths and weaknesses are, in terms of skills, personalities/politics. Narrowing  your charter to a specific interest will make you seem more serious among those that share that interest. But you will probably remain small in numbers.

Linking up with other organizations has worked, I hear. Boy scouts, volunteer FDs (though I don't know that you'll find a volunteer FD in Houston!), etc.

As far as repeater sites, if you put some time into a document explaining how repeater sites help hams serve the community in times of disaster, you may be able to convince a few places to host you. Government/pseudo-government agencies may respond best to this.

Maybe you could build a linked network of repeaters. This is complex and expensive though.

As far as pager transmitter interference, well the pager industry is dying, pushed out by cellphones. Good riddance, I say, as far as hams are concerned!
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W5VPU
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« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2001, 08:58:00 AM »

     I have dealt with groups and systems within larger organizations professionally for more than 45 years. I have experienced and observed the kinds of frustrations you are describing in many organizations in numerous towns and cities.
     I suggest the following: (1) recognize that your club is a system, (2) discover how groups have their cycles of experience, and (3) decide what you want to do within the club.
     Organizations go through predictable cycles. First, the dream and the vision. Second, the excitement of getting the dream into reality. Third, a plateauing when every thing seems to be a realized. Fourth, a kind of stagnation or disenchantment with the status quo. Fifth, the falling away of many of the folk while the original group is nostalgic about the past. Sixth, frustration and grief over what is gone and longing for it to be brought back. And then, either the death or the rebirth of a new and different vision. Thus: to "save a dying club" you have to have a new dream and new vision.
     It just may be you are trying to hold onto what was, is gone, and is no more. Perhaps you need to make a tiny redirection for the club to have as a goal for itself. Leaders dream first and then gather the dreams of others and guide the group into reaching those dreams.
     Enough basic principles. Let's talk specifics now. Why was the club formed? Be sure to come to know all the reasons . . . this may be far more than the one stated reason of "keeping up repeaters." Was it "to have fun together?" DId it include, "do a real service?" "Discover new ways of doing amateur radio?" Has the club reached its reasons for existence? Have the externals changes (You say people now charge for what used to be free. Another responder remarked about the inexpense fad of cell phones. Remember, at one time the fad was pagers.)?
     I suggest that you broaden your club mission to include some new and totally different (although related) kinds of goals. The purpose for a club is not to keep itself in existence, but to achieve goals outside itself. In my opinion your question, "How can you save a dying club," needs to be be reworded. It appears to me that original purposes of the club are no longer viable and you no longer have resources for today. You can't bring back the past but you can create a new future. Houston is a big city and you are obviously creative folk. You can do it.
     You might read the book, "Who Moved My Cheese?" to get another picture of where your club may actually be now and a picture of what you want your club to address in its future. Actually, this is good advice for everyone. Even for myself.  
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N3DQU
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« Reply #14 on: November 26, 2001, 01:39:12 PM »

   Have been this route also and altho it sounds defeatist, sometimes it is best to let the club die and regroup after a respectful period of mourning.
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