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Author Topic: What killed Ham Radio???  (Read 9497 times)
VE3PLO
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« on: July 01, 2009, 08:33:57 PM »

About a month ago i went to a local hamfest, i was surprised how little people attended it and at the small amount of vendors it housed. Most of the hamfests were like that for the past few years now. I have been wanting to get a license for the past 20 years, and finally as i am getting towards my classes (Sept 09) i see that there is less and less operators on bands. Back in 1990 when i first layed my fingers on a radio the bands were full of people CQDXing etc. These days it seams pretty quiet comparing to then. I also noticed that most people attending last local hamfest were 50-60 plus. I only noticed 3 other guys my age (mid 30s), does that mean that the number people interested in the hobby is dramaticaly decreasing? What will happen in 40 years?
In my opinion it was the requirements that are contributing to this, there should have been a band or two dedicated to novice hams, that do not need all the schematics knowledge, basic electronics, etc.. what will they use it for since most of the newer rigs (15 years and older) are plug and play?
I recently asked my friend if he knows what morse code is, and he replied ..."yes, they use it on submarines".  
I believe if licences would have been more accessible to people, there would have been more people walking around with HTs now than with cell phones.
I saw a guy few days ago in the store with a small Icom attatched to his belt clip. Everyone was looking at him as if he was going to takeover the cash register Tongue
No harm meant in this post...

ps: i am still getting my licence!
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N3OX
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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2009, 09:15:05 PM »

"In my opinion it was the requirements that are contributing to this, there should have been a band or two dedicated to novice hams, that do not need all the schematics knowledge, basic electronics, etc.. what will they use it for since most of the newer rigs (15 years and older) are plug and play? "

That might be true, but in my opinion, it's a lack of  radio-related electronics knowledge that knocks people out of ham radio sometimes.

I think there probably should have been some *real* entry level privileges, where you could get a taste of worldwide communication without having to pass a lot of tests.

But at the same time, I see people wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars and dozens and dozens of hours on a totally commercial system they think will be plug and play but doesn't let them do anything more than talk to a grumpy old dude one state over who tells them they need a stronger signal.

A successful ham radio station, even if you build it from completely commercially manufactured parts, is not necessarily completely plug-and-play.  What do you do when your store-bought antenna is actually only 10% efficient?  What do you do when you have a giant RFI problem?  People told you XXX antenna would work the world, and you can't even get to Kansas... what gives?
Unlike your new Dell, ham radio doesn't have tech support.  

There are some electronics troubleshooting skills that are really useful even to new hams.  Now, I don't think that had anything to do with knowing Morse Code :-)  And I don't necessarily think the tests tested for it.  But there's a technical component to the hobby that seems to lead to a lot of frustration from people who don't think it needs to be technical at all and then run into a technical snag.

"I believe if licences would have been more accessible to people, there would have been more people walking around with HTs now than with cell phones."

Well that would have been terrible!  You can't touch the functionality of a cell phone with that of a HT :-)

But this is the thing... routine worldwide communications are a ***solved problem***.  Routine wireless communications are a solved problem.    You want to be able to keep in touch with someone while you're in your car?  You have a cell phone.  You want to sit in your backyard and talk to your brother in Sweden?  You've got a laptop with Skype and a WiFi connection to your direct fiber optic internet link.

Ham radio has been left in the dust technologically.

This raises the question:  what is ham radio for?

And I think the answer to that has been, and will continue to be simply this:

It's to provide people who like to play with radio gizmos some frequency space where they're allowed to play with radio gizmos.  

That's it.  And it can take many forms, but the key issue is that hams *have to love radio*.

Now, I don't know what the actual active numbers situation is today compared to 1990... and maybe no one does except for their subjective feeling of how active things were.  I was 11 and ham radio was not yet on the radar, so I don't have much perspective on that.

But I think if it has declined, I think it's ultimately because people aren't actually interested in radio that much.

73
Dan
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73,
Dan
http://www.n3ox.net

Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.
WW5AA
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Posts: 2086




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« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2009, 07:01:57 AM »

With the current state of education, it is surprising that we have as many hams as we do. Still, the hobby is declining because the cash registers have a button with a picture of a hamburger and fries, but not a button for an antenna (:-)

73 de Lindy
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WB5JEO
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« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2009, 07:22:09 AM »

Without sufficient technical knowledge to at least make you aware of what you "hobbyize," ham radio is just talking. Now, some people can indeed make a hobby out of talking, but a lot of those folks are more satisfied on an Internet chat group or a USENET newsgroup.

What makes any hobby is doing. And when you're "doing" with radio, the government authority has an obligation to, as best they can, see that you know enough to use your share of the spectrum without messing with users of the other shares. And that "doing," fiddling with your station, etc. is what ham radio mostly is. And even the talking part is something far more than the anonymous (and routinely vicious) Internet venues. It's personal. I can't think of anything else that amounts to a vast international conversation pit where anyone from anywhere might walk in.

And you have to remember that, from a government perspective, amateur radio still represents a robust communications system that, of all of them, is the most resilient and most likely to be functional when all else fails. Every year, there are multiple occasions when amateurs keep public safety systems going when telephone and elaborate 800 trunked commercial systems die. There's really little reason for governments to endorse something like ham radio, outside of emergency preparedness. From that perspective, there's no reason to provide for a radio mode of just talking among folks, other than to encourage them to be there if needed. And to accomplish that, the only legitimate public interest, you need people with more technical knowledge then how to stick a plug in a wall socket and turn a coax connector until it's snug.

And I think there's one big reason amateur radio endures. It's magic. No wires. No cables. Jiggle some electricity in your garage, and on the other side of the world, the infinitesimal effect of what you did jiggles something where another guy has stuck a wire into the air and links your minds. And there's enough still to link you to as many others who might listen. Read radio theory, how it's supposed to make that happen. Read all you want about electricity and magnetism. And oscillating electromagnetic fields propagating through vacuum. That's magical. It's just as magical today as it was to people attending Tesla's lectures or to the people who read the read the newspaper's account of my 14 year old grandfather and his boyhood friend sending up a wire on a balloon and using their spark transmitter to contact a Coast Guard operator an astounding 150 mile away.
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K9FON
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« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2009, 07:41:54 AM »

Radio has to be in your blood as well as a love of tinkering and building things from scratch. I guess thats why i am the only member of my family to be a ham. I love radio, always have, and I love to tinker and build things. Yes some basic electrical and electronics knowledge are essential to be a ham. My wife is also a ham but she doesnt share my passion. I dont think the hobby is dying as there will always be people that have an interest of "how things work" ...
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K4DPK
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« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2009, 09:43:28 PM »

It's unfortunate that you think ham radio has been killed.  Ham radio isn't dead.  

Maybe you're just not doing it right.

Why don't you expand your technical interests, start some building projects, do some antenna experimenting?

Ham radio is primarily a learning experience, and if you don't do that, it will die.

But if you're just referring to the drop in attendance at hamfests, there is a conspiracy of gas prices, internet and lack of interest in homebrewing (and, therefore, reduced need for fleamarket parts).

In that case, the artice should have been titled, "Why don't people attend hamfests nowadays?"

Phil C. Sr.
k4dpk
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N5LRZ
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« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2009, 06:42:18 AM »

IF Amateur Radio is dieing then there sure are a great deal of people and or ghosts out there getting in my way every time I want to hook a station that I need.


OR could it be that the "Global" recession has almost everyone pulling back on discretionary spending.
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KI9A
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« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2009, 07:46:46 AM »

It's not just ham radio that is experincing this.  My other big hobby is old cars. Attendenace at our local swapmeets, both vendors and tailgaters, has been on a huge decline in the past several years.
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WB5JEO
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« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2009, 08:16:03 AM »

I don't know that I'd make too much of that. Before the Internet developed a wealth of forums and such things as eBay, there wasn't much other way to talk and trade with other Hams. All sort of meets, sales, shops, and clubs have declined since then.
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K9FON
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« Reply #9 on: July 04, 2009, 12:18:18 PM »

IMHO ham radio is alive and well. Its just right now we are in a low spot sunspot wise. Just wait. In a few years when the sunspots are starting to pop (Hopefully soon) there will be people to talk to on all bands. Then all this talk of ham radio dying will go away because we will all be busy making DX contacts!!!!!!!! :-)
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W7ETA
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« Reply #10 on: July 04, 2009, 09:48:06 PM »

<What will happen in 40 years? >  The people you saw will either be 90-100 years old, or SK.
<In my opinion it was the requirements that are contributing to this (few people at hamfests)>

Many people stopped going to hamfests when they started finding what they wanted on line.
Plus, if one wanted something, one didn't have to wait for a hamfest; one doesn't have to get on line before sunrise; and, one doesn't have to drive an hour or more round trip to get on the internet.

73
Bob
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N7ZM
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« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2009, 09:12:07 AM »

What killed ham radio? In my opinion it has been several things. The internet, faster communications, cell phones. The hobby attracted the builders and tinkers. Try and build up a modern day radio. Not much home brewing anymore as parts are few and electronic surplus houses are almost all gone. Most two meter repeaters used to have a phone patch, now everyone has a cell phone. Needed help just 20-25 years ago, hams grabed their HT's, today they use a cell phone. During Local or National Disasters it most likely will never be replaced. Kids today are too busy on twitter, face book & my space to even think about radio. Ham radio lost most of the younger generation and if you loose that you cannot grow.
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K4DPK
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« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2009, 10:44:01 AM »

VE3NEAR said: "In my opinion it was the requirements that are contributing to this."

Really?  Are you saying there shouldn't be any requirements?Huh

This is the same mindset that caused ham radio to become a less technical hobby.

We dropped the code because "no-one used it any more".

Now we should drop the technical questions because the radios are all plug-and-play.  Right.

I've got an idea, let's also drop the rest of the questions, because we don't really need to know the rules and regulations in order to get on the air and talk to the other "licensed talkers".

Jeez.

Phil C. Sr.
k4dpk
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G3RZP
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« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2009, 02:13:28 PM »

Back in the late 1940'and 50's, there was a cry 'Ham radio is dying. There are no youngsters coming in'.  

The same cry has been repeated every so often ever since. The same argument appears about old farts. The big problem was that tehy CB boom distorted the numbers coming in. Smooth out the curves to take that boom out and. certainly over here, the growth is steady if not remarkable.

One thing we do not do is to sell ham radio as the start of getting into radio engineering as a reasonably well paid profession. For example, I know of CMOS radio integrated circuit designers (who admittedly work damned hard) on the west coast having to scrape by on $220,000 per year. Poor guys, they're only one step away from food stamps! Even average salaries for not very experienced guys in the San Diego area are running in the $80 to 100k per year. If being a ham means you have an understanding of RF, it helps you get a job - even in today's climate.
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N2EY
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« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2009, 02:27:54 PM »

It's just different than it was 20 years ago.

"We dropped the code because "no-one used it any more". "

Yes, that was one of the claims. Here's a bit of truth:

Last weekend was Field Day.

The group I went with had one (1) CW station. We ran a TS-450SAT into an OCF dipole at 50 feet. A decent setup but hardly a monster contest station.

We made 580 CW QSOs from that setup.

The group ran four (4) other HF stations, all similarly equipped to our CW setup. Three of the stations were SSB only, the fourth was both digital and SSB.

Those four stations made 690 SSB and 85 digital QSOs. 775 total QSOs.

If nobody uses CW any more, how did we make so many CW QSOs?

---

Hamfests and other gatherings have fewer attendees for several reasons. One is the online environment; it's essentially a 24/7 swap meet and conference. But there are more.

Hamfests used to be cheap to attend - gasoline was cheap, entry fees were a couple dollars, tailgating inexpensive too. That's all changed; gasoline was over $4 here last summer, and getting into a 'fest isn't cheap either.

Many hams, particularly younger ones, have busy schedules and lots of responsibilities that don't allow them to disappear for most of Sunday. Particularly if the weather is good.

A lot of hams focus on one specific aspect of amateur radio, and find their community other ways.

The hams who go to hamfests are those who have the interest, the time and the money to go.

As for hams getting older, look around. Americans are getting older! We're living longer, having fewer kids and having them later in life. The Census Bureau says that the median American age was over 39 back in 2000, and has been rising steadily for a long time. (Median Age means "half are older and half are younger".) Since there are very few hams under the age of about 10, it's logical to expect the median age for hams to be even older.


73 de Jim, N2EY
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