Much of the growth in the 70s was from CBers upgrading. So for many a radio hobbyist there was no entry test. A main driver was popular culture including TV and music. For example, "Convoy" was number one on the country AND pop charts in 1975.
That was cb, not ham radio. A cb setup could be had for a small amount of money and could be installed in almost any vehicle. It was a fad that came and went.
Ham radio back then required a code test and a theory test. To use the most popular VHF/UHF bands (where the repeaters were) required a Technician, which back then had 5 wpm code and the same written as General.
cb to ham radio was a big step. And our growth continued long after the 1970s.
Plus many of the ham kids of the 50s/60s returned to the hobby, having left during college. Brushing up on Morse and theory was easy for them.
Maybe. But why would a ham leave during college? I sure didn't.
Renewing was just a Form 610. College is 4 years, the license term was 5 years.
I would say that the counterculture, Vietnam and many other factors slowed the growth in the 1960s. Ham radio was "square" - how many hams went to Woodstock?
Here's some data put it in perspective.
The following numbers have been posted by W5ESE on QRZ.com and elsewhere:
Year US Population #Hams Hams as % of US Population
1913 97,225,000 2,000 0.002%
1914 99,111,000 5,000 0.005%
1916 101,961,000 6,000 0.006%
1921 108,538,000 10,809 0.010%
1922 110,049,000 14,179 0.013%
1930 123,202,624 19,000 0.015%
1940 132,164,569 56,000 0.042%
1950 151,325,798 87,000 0.057%
1960 179,323,175 230,000 0.128%
1970 203,211,926 263,918 0.130%
1980 226,545,805 393,353 0.174%
1990 248,709,873 502,677 0.202%
1997 267,783,607 678,733 0.253%
2000 281,421,906 682,240 0.242%
2005 296,410,404 662,600 0.224%
2006 299,291,772 657,814 0.220%
2008 303,000,000 658,648 0.217%
2010 310,425,814 694,313 0.224%
The 2010 figures are for October 7, 2010.
Some significant-to-US-ham-radio historical events:
1912: Mandatory licensing of all US radio amateurs
1917: US amateur radio shut down because of WW1
1919: US amateur radio reopened after WW1
1920s: Radio broadcasting boom; amateurs pioneer use of short-waves, transition from spark to tube transmitters
1929: New regulations require higher quality transmitters and drastically narrow US ham bands. Stock market crashes, radio boom ends.
1930s: Great Depression
1941: US amateur radio shut down because of WW2
1945: US amateur radio reopened after WW2
1951: Restructuring doubles number of US license classes, Novice, Technician and Extra created
1957: Sputnik launched, space age begins.
1958: 27 MHz cb authorized
1960s: SSB replaces AM as most-popular voice mode on HF amateur bands
1968-69: Incentive licensing rules enacted
1970s: Novice becomes renewable, experience requirement for Extra eliminated. Repeater boom era.
1984: VEC system replaces FCC office testing. CSCEs created.
1990: Medical waivers for 13 and 20 wpm code tests
1991: Technician loses its code test completely
2000: Restructuring closes off 3 license classes and reduces test requirements for other 3.
2007: Code testing completely eliminated for US amateur licenses.
There are many more events; add your own. Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, hippies, yuppies, etc.
Note how the growth has varied with time, both in percentages and totals. Oddly enough, the period of most-rapid-growth in terms of percentage was the 1930s, when the number of US hams almost tripled, despite the Great Depression.
The 1950s were high-growth time, in part because of the Novice license (started in 1951). This growth is even more remarkable when you consider that the population growth of the 1950s was mostly in the form of the baby boom.
The 1960s saw very slow growth, but were followed by the faster growth of the 1970s, 1980s and most of the 1990s. The 1970s are particularly interesting because they were a time when the economy was terrible and the full effects of incentive licensing (imposed 1968-1969) were most felt. Yet we had tremendous growth then, and onwards to the mid-1990s.
Since 1997 we've seen ups and downs, and we're still behind where we were in 1997 in terms of hams as a percentage of the population. But the numbers are catching up.
Of course the numbers of licensees only tell part of the story. They don't tell how many licensees are active amateurs, in the form of having a station and getting on the air. They don't tell how many hams use a particular band or mode, or how much they operate, work on projects, etc.
FCC doesn't have age data on all licensees so it's impossible to accurately determine the mean or median age of US amateurs. (When you see "average age" figures tossed around, ask how they were derived.)
The license term went to 10 years in 1984, which means there were no expirations at all from 1989 to 1994, and that a ham can drop out yet be carried on the license totals for almost a decade.
There are lots of other factors - housing, economics, sources of population growth (immigration vs. babies), increasing lifespans, cell phones, the internet, and much more.
I became a ham in 1967, and for 43 years I've heard predictions of doom and gloom for amateur radio. They said incentive licensing would kill it, cb would kill it, Japanese rigs would kill it, PCs, cell phones and internet would kill it, etc. Yet Amateur Radio is still here.
73 de Jim, N2EY