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Author Topic: 4 Keys to Bring More Youth--and People in General--to Amateur Radio  (Read 71997 times)
AC7WH
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« on: October 21, 2011, 05:24:23 PM »

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in amateur radio. Around the time I was born my father purchased and assembled a Heathkit HW-8 Morse code transceiver. I have many fond memories from throughout my growing-up years of hearing him sending CQ, CQ, CQ as he eagerly awaited a response. I remember being fascinated with the inverted “V” antenna that he had on the roof of our family home for most of my childhood. So I took every opportunity to learn as much as I could about radio and electronics and prepare for the day that I could afford my own transceiver and earn my license.

As I reached my teen years I channeled those interests more toward shortwave listening. This was largely due to the lower cost of new equipment for that branch of the hobby and the instant gratification of being able to get into it without a license requirement. Nevertheless, I still kept in mind the exciting idea of two-way communications with people all around the nation and the world.

Several years later I finally decided that it was time to go for my license. But I didn’t just want to get a good start, I wanted to go all the way to the top and earn my Amateur Extra Class license. So at 21 years old I studied all three license manuals and the 5 words-per-minute Morse code that was required at the time. After several weeks I went to a local exam and passed everything at once. That was a very exciting day! Nine years later I am still very glad to be a licensed ham.

However, I was soon disappointed to discover that amateur radio in the 21st century has only advanced to the level of mainstream technology of the 1980’s with only a few exceptions. In part this has led to a disinterest in amateur radio among the general population and an unnecessary reliance upon cell phones instead. Take a look at some of the following statistics I have found on www.wikipedia.org and www.hamdata.com:

The total United States population is 312.4 million. Between the four major wireless carriers there are 290.6 million cell phone customers in the United States. If one takes into consideration the smaller cell phone companies including prepaid cell phone service providers, I believe it is safe to say that there are as many active cell phones in the United States as there are people. Including the older non-active devices, I am certain that there are more physical cell phones in this country than every man, woman, and child combined. In comparison, there are only 0.74 million active ham radio licenses in the United States. That amounts to just 0.24% of the population.

In the book “200 Meters and Down: The Story of Amateur Radio” by Clinton B. DeSoto, amateur radio operators are described as being on the forefront of new technology. Because of their discoveries, they were able to communicate with people and reach places that most of the population could only dream of. In contrast, today’s most advanced amateur transceivers do not even come close to the voice and data signal quality and reliability of an average smart phone or satellite phone.

Because of all this, ham radio is in danger of becoming obsolete and reduced to hardly more than a technical curiosity and an excuse for people to talk with each other over the air when they have nothing better to do. Of course I understand the tremendous value and service that the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) provide to the community and to the nation as a whole in times of crisis. However, like firefighters and law enforcement offices who are vital to the safety and survival of everyone, they consist of a relatively small number of specialized members of the community. What ham radio needs in order to grow and remain relevant is the capability to provide a needed or desired service to the majority of the population on a daily basis--not just in times of emergency or in remote locations.

In the nine years that I have been a licensed amateur radio operator there has only been one occasion when ham radio has provided a means of communication for me that was not available with a cell phone or computer. That occasion was on a recent camping trip with my brother and some cousins in a remote location where there was no cell phone service and the nearest pay phone was a few miles away. It was not a necessity, but the auto patch function on a nearby repeater gave my brother the convenience to make some phone calls to an unlicensed family member back home. We certainly appreciated that opportunity, but it was the only time that ham radio has given me a communications capability that I did not already have some other way.

Although I do not currently do so, I have sold cell phones for all four of the major cell phone service providers during the past few years. So I have a pretty good idea of what kind of communications technology the average person is typically looking for. Four keys to a successful device are the following: 1. Features (both voice and data, especially texting and the internet); 2. Ease of use; 3. Cost (both for the device itself and also for the service); and 4. Coverage. Whether the device is called a “cell phone” or a “ham rig,” I know for a fact that people will be interested in anything that excels in all four of those key areas. Right now the only areas that ham radio has an advantage are the cost of service--because ham radio is obviously free to use--and the coverage in remote areas. In all other areas cell phones far exceed ham radios.

Therefore, I have the following four suggestions to help make amateur radio more desirable and advantageous for the average person: 1. Increase the focus on digital voice and data. D-STAR is certainly a big step in the right direction, but still falls short of comparable mobile phone technology. There should be a large selection of handheld transceivers with built-in QWERTY keyboards and an easy way to send and receive text. I believe there should also be a way to have full mobile internet access over ham radio without the ability to buy or sell anything with it so that the non-commercial law is not violated. 2. It would help the average person if there were more automatic settings on mobile and handheld transceivers. For example, it should be a standard feature for a 2-meter transceiver to automatically program itself for use with all the local repeaters if the user simply enters their zip code. 3. The cost of a handheld transceiver should closely coincide with that of a cell phone with similar features. 4. Signal coverage and reliability should be increased by the use of advanced digital modes of communication. This would be especially helpful by allowing multiple simultaneous conversations on any given repeater without any interference.

I truly believe that if we as members of the amateur radio community will implement each of these keys to success on a widespread scale, so that they become the norm rather than the exception, we will witness a tremendous and long-lasting surge in the growth of licensed amateur radio operators. Otherwise it will continue to fall behind new communications technology. I personally would like to see amateur radio reach its full potential. The choice is ours. ~ AC7WH
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~ AC7WH
N2EY
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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2011, 09:38:38 AM »

However, I was soon disappointed to discover that amateur radio in the 21st century has only advanced to the level of mainstream technology of the 1980’s with only a few exceptions. In part this has led to a disinterest in amateur radio among the general population and an unnecessary reliance upon cell phones instead.

No, it hasn't.

Cell phones are all about the content. Ham radio is all about the means.

In the book “200 Meters and Down: The Story of Amateur Radio” by Clinton B. DeSoto, amateur radio operators are described as being on the forefront of new technology. Because of their discoveries, they were able to communicate with people and reach places that most of the population could only dream of. In contrast, today’s most advanced amateur transceivers do not even come close to the voice and data signal quality and reliability of an average smart phone or satellite phone.

That's because radio was a New Thing in the 1930s, when DeSoto was writing. And in fact he was writing about the past even then.

What ham radio needs in order to grow and remain relevant is the capability to provide a needed or desired service to the majority of the population on a daily basis--not just in times of emergency or in remote locations.

Except that just won't happen. The required infrastructure is too great.

Amateur radio is about the the journey, not the destination. Cell phones are just the opposite.

I have the following four suggestions to help make amateur radio more desirable and advantageous for the average person: 1. Increase the focus on digital voice and data. D-STAR is certainly a big step in the right direction, but still falls short of comparable mobile phone technology. There should be a large selection of handheld transceivers with built-in QWERTY keyboards and an easy way to send and receive text.

OK. Who is going to design and build them? What will they cost?

Consider that the reason cell phones themselves are cheap is that the cost of the phone is embedded in the cost of the service.

I believe there should also be a way to have full mobile internet access over ham radio without the ability to buy or sell anything with it so that the non-commercial law is not violated.

How would that work?

You'd have to find a way to screen out buy, sell and advertising.
Worse, you have to screen for content. Who gets to design and maintain all that?


2. It would help the average person if there were more automatic settings on mobile and handheld transceivers. For example, it should be a standard feature for a 2-meter transceiver to automatically program itself for use with all the local repeaters if the user simply enters their zip code.

OK - who maintains the repeater database and how does it get to the rigs?

3. The cost of a handheld transceiver should closely coincide with that of a cell phone with similar features.

See above.


4. Signal coverage and reliability should be increased by the use of advanced digital modes of communication. This would be especially helpful by allowing multiple simultaneous conversations on any given repeater without any interference.

Who gets to build and maintain all the repeaters to handle the traffic?

I truly believe that if we as members of the amateur radio community will implement each of these keys to success on a widespread scale, so that they become the norm rather than the exception, we will witness a tremendous and long-lasting surge in the growth of licensed amateur radio operators. Otherwise it will continue to fall behind new communications technology. I personally would like to see amateur radio reach its full potential. The choice is ours.

What you're asking is for amateurs to make large and ongoing investments in infrastructure and development, in direct competition with commercial communications providers.

The reason cell phones work so well is that there's an enormous installed infrastructure for them to work with. Not just the cell sites but the telecom networks connecting them all together. Who gets to build, maintain and pay for all of thatinfrastructure? What happens when something fails?

Amateur radio is not in competition with commercial communications. Never has been, really. We do what we do primarily because we are interested in radio for its own sake.

The big contribution of amateur radio to public service is our *independence* of infrastructure.

The average person with a cell phone sees it as a means to an end, not an end in itself. That's the exact opposite of what hams do.

As for youth, hams have always been few and far between. When I got started back in 1967 I didn't know anybody my age (13) who was a ham. All through high school I knew only a handful of teenage hams. (My high school and the one next door had over 5000 students yet there were never over a half-dozen hams).

The way to interest people of all ages is to find those few who are interested in radio for its own sake.

73 de Jim, N2EY
« Last Edit: October 24, 2011, 09:40:47 AM by N2EY » Logged
AA4PB
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« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2011, 10:12:02 AM »

Even if amateur radio had a repeater infrastructure as complete as cell service and the cost of an HT was equal to that of a cell phone, most young people wouldn't be interested in amateur radio. They would reason, why spend all that time studying and taking a test to get a ham license when I can do the same thing with the cell phone that my parents bought me with no test required.

I agree with Jim. Amateur radio is primarily about the interest in radio rather than about the content of the transmission. Even if all of the cell sites are working perfectly, anything that causes an extremely high usage will take the system off line for many people. The main benefit of amateur radio for emergency use is that it doesn't require an infrastructure. You can hang a piece of wire in the air, connect a simple CW radio to a gel cell and communicate over thousands of miles. And, its the same thing that interests most amateur radio operators.

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K2CMH
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2011, 10:50:35 AM »

With cellphones, you are calling to talk with a specific person.  With ham radio, one of the thrills (at least on HF) is that you don't know who you are going to find out there.  While ham radio can certainly be used to fill a communications need in time of emergency, the vast majority of hams use it for fun and relaxation, not a means to an end.  As so many people have said, it's not about the destination but rather about the journey (ie learning, experimenting, etc).
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ONAIR
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« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2011, 02:59:35 PM »

With cellphones, you are calling to talk with a specific person.  With ham radio, one of the thrills (at least on HF) is that you don't know who you are going to find out there.  While ham radio can certainly be used to fill a communications need in time of emergency, the vast majority of hams use it for fun and relaxation, not a means to an end.  As so many people have said, it's not about the destination but rather about the journey (ie learning, experimenting, etc).
   Exactly!  Today's kids really need to get a "taste of radio" in order to experience what it is all about.  Back in the day, many hams got their start either through shortwave radio listening or CB.  I would not be surprised if a teacher somewhere went out and bought a bunch of old CB radios on eBay and handed them out to the students, that some of those kids might go on to get their ham tickets.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2011, 06:20:15 AM »

Either you've got the interest, or you don't.  Today, with the wealth of information available over the internet and the ease of communication compared to amateur radios' heyday, the interest in radio communication is slowly fading away.  Young people are more likely to get interested in computers and handheld "do it all" telephones.

No matter how you try, getting a person interested in ham radio is a battle--unless they are interested in radio in the first place.  Sadly, not so many young people are.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 06:22:42 AM by K1CJS » Logged
AA4PB
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« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2011, 07:40:54 AM »

Odd that many aren't interested in radio because its old technology. Yet the key to all of their new, interesting widgets is wireless connectivity which is - RADIO.  Huh

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AE4RV
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« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2011, 08:04:11 AM »

Many of us were shown how to tune in distant AM radio stations at night and/or interesting programs and transmissions on shortwave radios when we were impressionable. For me, this was back when long distance communications were either exotic or expensive (or both). I wouldn't bet much that a kid who grew up with free long distance via cellphones and the internet would think that me getting excited about exchanging callsigns with someone in New Zealand is a big deal.

HF radio has been losing relevance since the first communication satellites were launched a long time ago and the internet has quickened the pace. It's still fun and interesting from both a ham and a SWL perspective. But it's going to take a special kind of kid to see it that way. I'm sure they're out there, but how to reach/teach them?
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ONAIR
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« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2011, 10:20:21 AM »

Many of us were shown how to tune in distant AM radio stations at night and/or interesting programs and transmissions on shortwave radios when we were impressionable. For me, this was back when long distance communications were either exotic or expensive (or both). I wouldn't bet much that a kid who grew up with free long distance via cellphones and the internet would think that me getting excited about exchanging callsigns with someone in New Zealand is a big deal.

HF radio has been losing relevance since the first communication satellites were launched a long time ago and the internet has quickened the pace. It's still fun and interesting from both a ham and a SWL perspective. But it's going to take a special kind of kid to see it that way. I'm sure they're out there, but how to reach/teach them?
     They need to be able to HEAR us!!  How 'bout an app that lets them listen to ham radio operators in real time on their Iphones or other devices?
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AE4RV
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« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2011, 12:13:17 PM »

Many of us were shown how to tune in distant AM radio stations at night and/or interesting programs and transmissions on shortwave radios when we were impressionable. For me, this was back when long distance communications were either exotic or expensive (or both). I wouldn't bet much that a kid who grew up with free long distance via cellphones and the internet would think that me getting excited about exchanging callsigns with someone in New Zealand is a big deal.

HF radio has been losing relevance since the first communication satellites were launched a long time ago and the internet has quickened the pace. It's still fun and interesting from both a ham and a SWL perspective. But it's going to take a special kind of kid to see it that way. I'm sure they're out there, but how to reach/teach them?
    They need to be able to HEAR us!!  How 'bout an app that lets them listen to ham radio operators in real time on their Iphones or other devices?

I respectfully disagree with that! When I was a young SWL I very rarely listened to hams. Mostly did just to practice tuning in SSB signals. Pilots on international routes, ship to shore radiotelephone, utility stations, international broadcasters and pirates were much more interesting to me. Listening to hams talk about their radios, antennas, weather, politics and health conditions is quite boring to kids. Of course, now that I am one, I rarely listen outside of the ham bands, but I'm more invested in the amateur bands now, you could say. It's more fun now that I can talk back but passively listening to hams as an outsider is really dull. Drunk CBers is another story...

I think the kid angle would be kit building (making things and DIY is big right now) and somehow instilling a love for radio for the sake of radio. Let's not tell them about how boring (and possibly incomprehensible to an outsider) a typical conversation is just yet. Focus on the thrill of DX, the challenge of CW, the wonders of space weather, the joy of kit building etc. My 2 cents...

« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 12:15:40 PM by AE4RV » Logged
AK4KZ
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« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2011, 12:48:33 PM »

They need to be able to HEAR us!!  How 'bout an app that lets them listen to ham radio operators in real time on their Iphones or other devices?

There are some scanner apps that are out there and some of those guys put up ham freqs. Of course, you can listen to HF all day long on a computer thru websdr and some other sources. Then again.. listening online removes all of that "RF wonder" from the experience.

Ham will never be a replacement for the Internet but it can be an alternate. There's so much work to do for curious young minds. Satellites. Digital. Programming. Antennas. Perhaps some electronics. Using ham radio for the sake of radio will lose it's luster. But are we saying that it's gone as far as it can? Nothing left to do?? Packet was a great technology that seems to be waning. Maybe it needs an application. APRS is kind of cool but could use some expansion. LOTS of programming to do and ideas to be tried. Satellite?? How about being able to use a big, expensive repeaters that's.. uh.. HUNDREDS of miles in space! How cool is that? Especially if there's something to DO with it. SDR is another wide open area. Signal processing has a huge way to go before we can say we're done.

You know, if all there is to do is talk to 79 year old Gus in rural New Mexico every week or so, it's gonna be a hard sell to anyone.. no matter how great Gus is. Ham offers SO much more. But I guess that's driven by ideas and invention. I'm constantly coming up with.. "you know, I wish I could do <whatever> with my radio". Some kid somewhere knows how to make that happen.

It's an expensive hobby to get into anyway you look at it. And that's a problem. And I can imaging there are a lot of kids who would like to play but can't afford it.

But the "draw" isn't going to be Gus. Or the fact that we can talk.. "over the airwaves.. neat huh?". Ham's not dying because of the technology. Every technology reaches a level of maturity. Cars (until recently) haven't changed much but everyone has one. It's the application of the technology. And it's the application that'll draw people at this point.

Of course, we'll have to get past the point of scoffing at people who come with crazy ideas. I saw one conversation where a guy had an idea and was met with all kinds of "you can't do that" or "why would anyone want to?" or.. "that's what the internet's for". Hey.. you know what? It's an interesting idea and you may not get it off the ground but.. work it out. After all, why would anyone want to be a ham? That's what the internet's for. ;-)

73,
Chris
AK4KZ




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K1CJS
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2011, 12:26:01 AM »

Odd that many aren't interested in radio because its old technology. Yet the key to all of their new, interesting widgets is wireless connectivity which is - RADIO.  Huh

Agreed, but that is radio for the ends, not for the means. Sad
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ONAIR
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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2011, 12:36:57 PM »

Many of us were shown how to tune in distant AM radio stations at night and/or interesting programs and transmissions on shortwave radios when we were impressionable. For me, this was back when long distance communications were either exotic or expensive (or both). I wouldn't bet much that a kid who grew up with free long distance via cellphones and the internet would think that me getting excited about exchanging callsigns with someone in New Zealand is a big deal.

HF radio has been losing relevance since the first communication satellites were launched a long time ago and the internet has quickened the pace. It's still fun and interesting from both a ham and a SWL perspective. But it's going to take a special kind of kid to see it that way. I'm sure they're out there, but how to reach/teach them?
    They need to be able to HEAR us!!  How 'bout an app that lets them listen to ham radio operators in real time on their Iphones or other devices?

I respectfully disagree with that! When I was a young SWL I very rarely listened to hams. Mostly did just to practice tuning in SSB signals. Pilots on international routes, ship to shore radiotelephone, utility stations, international broadcasters and pirates were much more interesting to me. Listening to hams talk about their radios, antennas, weather, politics and health conditions is quite boring to kids. Of course, now that I am one, I rarely listen outside of the ham bands, but I'm more invested in the amateur bands now, you could say. It's more fun now that I can talk back but passively listening to hams as an outsider is really dull. Drunk CBers is another story...

I think the kid angle would be kit building (making things and DIY is big right now) and somehow instilling a love for radio for the sake of radio. Let's not tell them about how boring (and possibly incomprehensible to an outsider) a typical conversation is just yet. Focus on the thrill of DX, the challenge of CW, the wonders of space weather, the joy of kit building etc. My 2 cents...


   Well I can only tell it from my own experience, but when I was a kid in the '60s I got a Hallicrafter's S-120 clone as a Christmas gift.  I initially spent a lot of time listening to the big broadcast stations...  Radio Havana Cuba, the BBC, HCJB Equador, Radio Moscow, and the like.   Then one day I started hearing some local Ham operators (easy to tune because most were on AM at  the time), and I was facinated!   I wanted to jump right into the conversation and find out where and who they were.  A few days later I started tuning around the upper end of the radio (27Mhz) which always seemed eerily quiet.  Low and behold, I heard some KIDS around my own age chatting with each other on CBs!  They mentioned that they were on Channel 10, so I  immediately started my quest to get at least a Walkie Talkie so I could contact them.  Once winter night around midnight, standing on the corner in a snowstorm with with my WT in hand, they actually HEARD me!!  The die had been cast, and the rest is now history.
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AC7WH
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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2011, 12:26:29 AM »

N2EY, thank you for taking the time to read my long post and provide valuable feedback. I will now attempt to address in order each of the issues that you brought up, especially since you have some very valid points.

Although I understand that cell phones are generally about the content, I know from first hand experience that many people purchase cell phones just because they are the newest and coolest thing. I have spoken with many customers who had purchased an advanced device even though they only wanted to use it for the basic functions. Nevertheless, I understand that, at least for the time being, ham radio is much more about the means or “journey” than it is about the content or “destination.” However, I would like to see it succeed in both.

But why can’t ham radio produce a new technology or benefit to mankind? I believe that it still has that potential, but it would mean a lot of focused change and development.

I agree that a lot of infrastructure would be required, but we as hams have developed a certain degree of infrastructure for satellite communications. So why not in other areas of communication? I believe that if there is a step forward with infrastructure that it will in turn bring a step forward in support and advancement which will help encourage the implementation of even more infrastructure.

As far as who would design and build the devices, I believe that it would make sense for the existing amateur radio equipment manufacturers to develop some kind of partnership with certain cell phone manufacturers. However, I don’t think it would be very difficult for a company that already produces DTMF microphones to go a step further and create a user friendly QWERTY keyboard. You are exactly right that the cost of cell phones with a contract is embedded in the cost of the service. However, there are several instances where consumers will pay the full retail price in order to avoid a contract. Of course I realize that I did not specify in my original post which price I was referring to. It was more of a rough approximation.

As for my ham radio mobile internet idea, I believe it could be implemented quite easily with existing technology. It didn’t take very many years of development for the special form of mobile internet on cell phones--of course they do have a big budget. Still, in my opinion it can be done with a much smaller budget by engineers with the proper expertise. I would even go so far as to suggest that perhaps some of the regulations should be altered for ham radio when it comes to internet use. Even D-STAR allows for full internet access with all advertisements and commercial websites.

Repeater databases are already all over the internet. It wouldn’t take much of a software application to download that information to a handheld transceiver as long as it had access to the internet.

As for building and maintaining repeaters, we hams have already done a wonderful job with the old technology repeaters. All we would have to do is continue doing the same thing except with new technology.

Ham radio has already made tremendous strides since its first steps. The point I am trying to make is that it can and should continue in its uphill climb toward technological advancement and widespread use. Through a certain degree of trial and error along with a good amount of careful planning and expertise, I believe we can achieve more great things as the ham radio community. If something fails, we will learn from our mistakes and do what we can to make things even better. Besides, hams are excellent at designing backup plans and operating in emergency situations.

I certainly agree that in the past and present most hams have been drawn to the hobby because of their interest in radio for its own sake. That was the primary reason that sparked my own personal interest in amateur radio. However, my opinion remains that ham radio can be so much more than that. If it does reach significantly greater heights in the near future, perhaps we can see that tremendous increase in new hams that I’ve been hoping for. Thank you. ~ AC7WH
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~ AC7WH
AC7WH
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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2011, 01:50:19 AM »

Even if amateur radio had a repeater infrastructure as complete as cell service and the cost of an HT was equal to that of a cell phone, most young people wouldn't be interested in amateur radio. They would reason, why spend all that time studying and taking a test to get a ham license when I can do the same thing with the cell phone that my parents bought me with no test required.

I agree with Jim. Amateur radio is primarily about the interest in radio rather than about the content of the transmission. Even if all of the cell sites are working perfectly, anything that causes an extremely high usage will take the system off line for many people. The main benefit of amateur radio for emergency use is that it doesn't require an infrastructure. You can hang a piece of wire in the air, connect a simple CW radio to a gel cell and communicate over thousands of miles. And, its the same thing that interests most amateur radio operators.



AA4PB, excellent point about young people relying on their parents to pay for their cell phone service. However, some parents would be very glad to get their teenagers into an alternative that wouldn't run up huge cell phone bills. Besides, what about the young people between 18 and 30 years old who have to pay for their own cell phone bills? I realize that my ideas will not replace ALL cell phones, but they can be used as a major alternative. Thanks. ~ AC7WH
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~ AC7WH
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