What's Wrong With Amateur Radio in America?

This was a response to an article in the QRPblog entitled "What's Wrong With Ham Radio?"  and reflects comments that I had posted.  Those comments did trigger some very interesting replies.  What do you think about the state of ham radio and how our "national association" is attempting to promote it?

The main problem with amateur radio in this day and age is that it is a venue that has run out of frontiers. There are a lot of reasons for this and it's not necessarily the internet, but technology itself. We have gone from tubes to the transistor to integrated circuits to surface mount technology. We have gone from CW, to AM, to SSB, to FM and now, the overall commercial industry is digital. Same with fast-scan television, we went from monochrome to NTSC color and now to digital transmission.

We have also gone from a culture of builders to a culture of coders. There's only so much you can code to support amateur radio. In some ways, the end of the cold war and the end of the space race has also played a part. When I was growing up, there was a significant aerospace sector and a significant manufacturing segment.

These days, much of the manufacturing and R&D has left our shores and is now overseas in mass produced environments. Much of the new development takes place in the commercial private sector. There are no more pioneers and so far, all of the possible frontiers have been crossed.

In our country, we have a national organization that cares more about their political structure and being a publisher than it is about being a "club". Yes, some IARU societies are publishers but many are more local in their focus.

Our national organization has also put way too much emphasis on emergency communications. They have realized that there are no more frontiers , so they must use what they have. The emergency communications application is more attractive to preppers/militia types, this is tied to a second-amendment movement, which is tied to right-wing conservatism, which for a few, is tied to white supremacy. A twist of the dial on 40 and 75 will show that this type of behavior is rampant.

As humans, our historic culture of misogyny also plays a huge role. Just over 100 years ago, there was a time when women were still considered property, had no right to vote, could not own property or have a credit card.  They were denied the opportunity to have a real role in the development of our nation. A time when women were historically denied an education and those who were educated were never put in certain roles that were deemed as "man's work".  This was a time when amateur radio still had many uncrossed frontiers ahead.

If you walk into a club meeting, you will see the hair color of most members is gray, except for the few, who in their spare time worship their AR-15. Amateur radio clubs are intimidating to women, minorities and even children and are not welcoming and in some cases, hostile towards people of color and the LGBT.

We as a service do not leave a positive first impression for potential amateurs. Just look at that cesspool called the QRZ.com Forums.

A couple of years ago, I filed a Petition for Rulemaking, to nudge the FCC and the NTIA into looking at the possibility of an amateur radio allocation in the 40 MHz band on a secondary basis. One of the things I stated in there was that with the growth of FT8 and its propagation on 10 and 6 meters, it may be a good idea to open a mid-band at 8 meters in order to experiment with transatlantic propagation. I said in the Petition that we need something new in amateur radio to attract "makers" and those willing to build hardware, antennas and software to support digital modes. Then perhaps I made the mistake of mentioning that "we need to do everything we can to get more women and girls interested in STEM subjects". I was raked over the coals for that and as a result, 8 meters became known by some as "the band for girls."

Our national association is too hung up on its history and is not interested in moving forward. They need to let Hiram Percy Maxim and the Wouf-Hong go. The league is losing membership because those who were life members from a time when there were still uncrossed frontiers are now dying off and those who are new are not necessarily interested in how the spark gap worked.

Instead, of improving the quality of life for the average amateur, the League is more interested in raising their membership numbers, in other words, more people reading QST.  They do this by further trying to lower the bar for licensing. A prime example of this is the League's petition to give Technician class amateurs not just a taste of data privileges in the HF bands which is a good thing, but also expanded phone privileges on three HF bands. The League is further deteriorating the concept of incentive licensing in order to gain more members. There was a time when if you wanted extra physical privileges, you had to work for them by studying. This meant upgrading from Novice to Technician to get the VHF bands and before Novice Enhancement, just being able to have a voice. This meant upgrading from Technician to General to gain those coveted HF phone privileges.

Going to Advanced and Extra gave you more "administrative" privileges such as shorter call signs, the ability to be a VE as well as extended frequency privileges in bands they already had access to as a General. If the ARRL gets their way and further devalues incentive licensing, then all upgrades will be for purely administrative reasons.  Perhaps, we should do away with license classes and raise the difficulty of the test to that of at least General.  Oh wait, the sale of study manuals.

Most of our bands that have any real commercial value (420 MHz and up) are already secondary to the Amateur Radio Service and also include federal allocations, which at the drop of a hat or through Congressional mandate can result in the NTIA releasing this spectrum to commercial interests. The loss of these UHF and microwave bands is eminent. The HF and VHF bands, less likely. Places like Ireland have recognized that there is no value in low band VHF. Their regulator, ComReg practically gave amateurs a huge allocation including most of 30 to 70 MHz. We need to be more creative with the spectrum we have. Where it comes to the overall focus of the hobby, experimentation needs to come first, emergency communications second, training third and rag-chewing last. We are currently out of frontiers and it's not the internet to blame, but instead, the many advances in technology that eventually resulted in today's internet. Our service is not obsolete.  A future is possible.  We need to stop protecting it like a relic and maybe someday, our spectrum will discover the next frontier and reach it.  Here’s to the next class of pioneers.