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Issue #8 - Kick that Radio Club into Gear!

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

 

We have a regular get-together in the local area with a few hams for lunch. In those social scenarios, a lot of interesting stuff gets discussed (both radio related and not). One of the questions I had for this table of hams was “Which local club do you belong to?” The Phoenix valley has five or six Amateur Radio clubs, and there’s quite a variety of interests and regions in that mix. I was surprised when only one person was a club member besides myself.

 

I don’t know what the national/international norm is for ham club membership. I always thought that most of us were club members, even if some are not real active. I explored it further, and one younger guy opened up as we walked towards the cars. “It’s pretty boring. The club is 95% retired guys, and they tend to talk about the same stuff all the time. The club doesn’t really spend any time getting good speakers or reaching out for new members. It just sort of sits there.”

 

It's the “just sits there” part that worries me. After all, so much of the future of our hobby will depend upon clubs and how much enthusiasm we can drum up at a time where people are increasingly wondering what radio is and why the Internet-connected world even needs it. If newer hams consider their local clubs to be like retirement centers, we’ve got a big problem with the future of ham radio.

 

Do a Health Check

 

A few years back, my wife and I moved to a new town without a lot of friends. We were literally trapped in our house due to the pandemic, and of course radio helped me with that. But despite the great long-distance communications possible out of my shack, I missed the interpersonal relationships of ham radio. So, I went about joining a club. I’d been a member of ham clubs in the past, and they were influential. But in this case, my first club meeting didn’t prove to be very heartwarming.

 

It was a Zoom session. Zoom meetings are supposed to take the place of in-person club meetings, but is it natural to sit in front of a computer screen and watch others highlighted by the glow of their monitors? Plus, I agree with my young friend . . . Zoom meetings get boring so darn quickly! I kept expecting someone to comment on me as a new member in attendance, but no one brought it up. It was a terrible way to be introduced to my club, and after 30 minutes I clicked off and don’t think anyone noticed or cared. Believe me, this isn’t the experience you want for new members!

 

Would you like to avoid stagnation in your club? Perhaps it is time to do a health check of your organization. I recently spoke with Marty Buehring (KB4MG) who is President of the Cherokee Amateur Radio Society (CARS) in Woodstock, Georgia. Marty wrote a great piece on clubs a few issues back in the ARRL journal, QST.

 

“First, club leadership must clearly define what the club is all about and what your intent is. Of course, it’s a recreational club that is totally focused on amateur radio, but beyond that your goals need to be broad enough to encompass what can be a much bigger mission than just recreation,” he told me. Besides being fun, Marty suggested that your club needs to be important to your community as well. For example, in Marty’s club, a large percentage of the members take part in ARES activities. The club provides these special technical capabilities to their hometown that will assist in emergencies – with repeaters and experienced operators who practice for just such an event.

 

But the single most important element of health for any club is the continued recruitment of new members. “Go back to your start in radio and remember how it felt . . . it can be overwhelming for the new ham,” said Marty, who believes that clubs facilitate this learning process and help bring new hams into the hobby at large. “Radio clubs are the lifeblood of radio,” he went on. “Without the club, you’d get your tech license, buy an HT and get bored really quickly. It’s your club that is going to give that Tech a better understanding of what he or she can do with their ticket.”

 

Technician Licensees Help the Club

 

My opinion may be different than some who quantify the success of a club by how many Advanced or Extra Class operators are on board. My thinking is that the number of Technician class licensees in a club’s membership roster determines the club’s health. (For my international readers, insert the lowest threshold of your license structure). I wondered how many Tech licensees that club has which my ham friend was commenting about, and it turns out, not many. Clubs provide the incentive to keep studying and help clarify other non-Technician areas of the hobby. These Tech licensees provide the benefit of new blood to the club while the Club provides the benefit of training, experience, and incentives to move up to higher license classes. My estimate of a healthy percentage of Tech Licensees in a club is from 20-25%.

 

 

At club meetings, Marty’s club gets as many as fifty people who will come to hear presentations and talk to other members about their individual interests. When you think about it, can you name any other hobby that is composed of so many different elements, so many “mini hobbies” all rolled into one? You’ve got Contesting, DX Chasing, Experimenters, Satellites and Space Communications, POTA and outdoor radio activities, digital modes, and then the whole Emergency Preparedness and ARES category as well. And I’m sure I’ve missed one or two.

 

“You’ve got to consider each sub-category as important, because there is simply no replacement for getting people together and having them exchange ideas about a topic of mutual interest. We ran ten workshops last year because it is really those activities outside the club meetings that keep people engaged.” Marty told me. He went on to describe a recent outing where the club took their Technician Class members to a local park and had them help set up a POTA activation. “We’re in Red Park in Georgia and we’re talking to someone in the State of Washington . . . they were amazed. It was a lot of fun. At events like this, we always try to get newer people teamed up with an experienced ham.  This buddy system, pairing up a new tech with an experienced operator, keeps the Tech from floundering.”

 

It’s In Our Nature

 

When you think about the personalities of those who are drawn to electronics, computers, or radio gear, quite often we are not as extroverted as those in other hobbies such as cars or sports. Meetings really need to be held in person, which gets us out socializing and continuing the lifelong learning that is so essential to the hobby. Marty added, “It’s also an unusual mix of people you’ll attract, because while we have a large share of old timers, myself included, there’s likely to be interest in our activities from teenagers as well. Few hobbies bring people together who are so different in so many ways.”

 

One suggestion that Marty had, which I can relate to as an introvert myself, is to seat people at tables of four as opposed to classroom style or long tables where people just get lost. The smaller table size helps to keep the conversations going and encourages friendships and discussions. What you really need to avoid, and which my club struggles with all the time, is the “clique factor.” It’s very hard for newcomers to feel comfortable when there are groups who seem to know each other so well that gaining entrance to even their informal discussions sometimes appears impossible.

 

Finally, I’m sure that Marty would agree with me that paying attention to the club’s website is critical. As just one example, I’ve had the experience of using the “Contact Us” web form on multiple occasions where not one response was received in reply. And while an upcoming meeting might be listed with the topic of the presentation, there’s nothing there to promote the event. If you’re going to attract people to attend – even existing members – you need to show a speaker bio and tell them more about the subject and why they might find it of interest. Just listing a talk title doesn’t make it appealing and there absolutely needs to be a sales effort made to get people to attend. In some cases, your members may have a long drive to get to the chosen location and these little things might make a difference between ten people or fifty in your audience.

 

Ham clubs are a part of our hobby that, like anything else, requires the occasional review and refresher. If you’ve got some ideas on how to accomplish these things, please let us know in the forum discussion, as Marty and I are thinking about the content of a future webinar on this topic.

 

73 for now,

Dave

 

Please join the discussion forum at this link to talk about this issue and Ham Clubs in general.


Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.


Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated January 10, 2023 21:41