American Radio Relay League
225 Main Street
Newington, CT, 06111-1494 USA
To Whom it May Concern:
I am writing you and the Amateur Radio community as a whole regarding the ARRL’s proposal to expand Technician class privileges. While I am not opposed, I do not feel it solves the overarching issue of young people losing interest in Amateur Radio. In the ARRL’s request for proposed rulemaking it was stated, ”ARRL, as the largest Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) offering examination opportunities to candidates for new and upgraded Amateur Radio licenses, has found that there is insufficient growth in the Amateur Service to sustain the Service in the long term, relative to the benefits of involvement in it, especially among younger people.” I applaud the ARRL for making young people a priority as I am a 29 year old ham and often the youngest person in the room.
The problem to solve should be getting young people to sit the license exam altogether. Mechanisms such as field day, NPOTA, contesting, and ARES will lead to Technician class operators upgrading; the desire to use HF has no bearing on entrants sitting the technician class license. The League relies on clubs recruiting at the local level. Often times hams are created by club VEs attending club offered classes. Unfortunately, clubs have been woefully underwhelming at offering these services and are out of touch with that young people look for in Amateur Radio – this hobby needs elmers again.
Hams are well intentioned but largely fail to spark interest in young people because the instructors are enthusiasts but have no formal training themselves. The classes offered are largely boring and teach nothing but the exam. I believe that the ARRL has an opportunity here. In the day and age of online, on-demand, learning the ARRL should explore online classes. I picture a world where the ARRL could be at the forefront of learning by offering an interactive class similar to that of of Coursera or Udemy. Offering on-demand learning through one of these platforms would drastically improve the consistency of the class as well as the reproducibility. These platforms have proven successful for professional training and would certainly be suitable or able to be emulated by ham radio. Additionally, online platforms could offer skills trainings that enthusiasts may not have. Young people like hands on, many instructors have amazing radios but often times lack proper test equipment. An online platform could emulate seeing a sine wave and could demonstrate and strengthen concept learnings.
Largely our repeaters sit unused. With nearly 50 repeaters in Cleveland a handful see use on the regular basis. The ARRL should support clubs further by assisting clubs in pushing technology forward. Young people are often times at the forefront of technology. Unfortunately, clubs don’t always support new technology. DMR (and all of it’s various networks), P25-NX, ICOM DSTAR and others excite newcomers and make up for repeaters being largely quiet as being able to broaden the repeaters footprint through the internet can lead to more QSOs. The League has an opportunity here as well to offer clubs the ability to present or be part of the maker faire revolution that is sweeping the country. I would love to see the ARRL offer canned presentations and materials that clubs could use to present on the local level. Our regional technical coordinators and specialists could oversee and maybe even present themselves. By being at the forefront of technology the league may be able to reach young people inspired by things such as the raspberry pi. Additionally, the league should consider promoting innovative clubs by redoing the special service club program and encouraging new and old applicants to be innovative with their outreach.
The ARRL additionally has an opportunity with online presence. The Website looks wonderful and modern! Having said that, the QST iPad application is sluggish and laggy. Young people in the app age are used to instantly receiving content. The QST app is a turn off. Additionally, the ARRL publishes some great works but often times are not found in digital form from the website. I would encourage the league to publish, freely, any publications that involve maker faire as well as the ARRL handbook which is a great resource for new hams. While the content is great, people may be turned off by the cost and turn to wikipedia to gain knowledge.
The ARRL must continue to push the cutting edge of technology and issues that are important to young people. We are privileged to have spectrum to play around with and develop with. Older hams may be turned off by digital packet voice technologies but it’s driving new hams and driving innovation. I was disappointed to see the League not take a stance on Network Neutrality. Young people were overwhelmingly against the FCCs overturn of Network Neutrality. As a ham we have access to the Amateur Packet Radio Network, also known as 44-net (220.127.116.11/8). This packet network could be negatively impacted by it. Young people rallied but where was ham radio in this moment? It was another missed opportunity in my eyes as the League stood idle while companies young people admire released statements.
I hope this letter finds you well. I have been a ham since I was in 8th grade elmered by my father, WA8LIU. As a child, I was excited that I had someone to teach me the ropes. My dad was not the most technical but he encouraged me to learn and grow into the hobby. When I went off to college, my professor, WA8JH pushed me as a developing Network Engineer. WA8JH would joke that the original Network Engineers were hams and that I was clearly destined for this career. In my 20s I joined ARES and aligned with a group of hams who were pushing DMR in Cleveland and today we have multiple digital repeaters in the area. I am a product of elmers. Those who taught me did so outside of the club environment. I want this hobby to grow but also feel the hams within the hobby need to do a much better job of supporting the hobby. The League should be leading the charge. Supplying tools to encourage elmering will be much more effective at getting young people into the hobby than simply asking the FCC to make a rule change allowing Technician class operators onto HF.
Thank you for your time.
Andrew L. Kahn – WA8LIV