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Issue #27: Building our Radio Future -- Together!

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Wouldn't you love to know what Amateur Radio will look like in 10 or 15 years? I sure would. There are a lot of opinions about this topic, and many of them have been expressed here on QRZ or other social media forums where hams get together and gnash it out. Yes - there's a fair amount of gnashing, perhaps better stated as "discussion." That's because ham operators are often notorious for having very strong opinions. I'm providing you with mine today.

I know I'll be stepping on a few toes with this editorial, but I'd like you to first recognize that my topic (ARRL overreach) needs to be discussed. Knowing the importance of the topic should allow us, as holders of a special privilege, to discuss those privileges and to help shape the way that the future unfolds as we go forward. Our younger hams may see a personal impact on the future radio service, while others (of my age group) can comment and put resources together to make things happen -- but we won't see as much of that radio future. That's the very dynamic aspect of the amateur radio service . . . our diversity in age makes us so unique. Not only do we have to understand the other's point of view, we have to first understand their world view. We may be a generation (or two) separated from each other, which makes this frequently a unique challenge.

A Sacred Cow?

The topic here is the ARRL's actions to apparently stomp on "competitors." I want you to know that I am a strong supporter of the League, through my membership and other donations. I always mention the organization in a positive way and support ARRL investments being made on our behalf. This includes publishing, education, and spectrum defense. (I believe there's no finer publication for amateur radio than QST). The ARRL has been the key driver behind the radio hobby over many decades, allowing us to flourish to the point where we have a wonderful selection of bands to work with. Whether your goal is play, experimentation, or community action, the ARRL and sister organizations worldwide have been there to generate respect and to ensure that important others know what amateur radio can do for individuals and society.

But there's been a change that concerns me a great deal. Perhaps our non-profit association has become something that it wasn't intended to be. I looked away for a while, continued to pay my dues and provide donations, but recently gave the League another look when I detected a dark side emerging. I heard tales of a large, bureaucratic organization trying to squash smaller entitites who are building important places for themselves in our ham radio future. It became disconcerting to me that the ARRL appeared to be taking a "big brother" approach to those who were doing anything -- in any way -- that might be considered as competition to interests of the League. Instead of working together and building our future through education and publication of Amateur Radio content, the League appears to squash the interests of small business innovators. Why is this the case? Why would an organization that exists for its members want to strangle the tiny foothold that some members, out of a sense of passion and love for their hobby, have built for their ideas?

Specifically, the League appears to want to shut down pipelines of educational content if they don't appear under their still-buggy "learning center." Tomorrow evening (Friday, September 8th) the QSO Today Academy event begins, something that has appealed to me in the past and for which I'm ticketed this year as well (yes -- this program also had a buggy start). I've always found the material presented there by amateur radio operators to be of interest and presented professionally. While "live action" ham seminars are now back, these recorded collections of QSO Today events over the years have been quite meaningful to many in their understanding of amateur radio issues and technology. Many people feel as I do, that the team at QSO Today should be given the full support of the community to produce their material. Why shouldn't this support include the ARRL?

Should All Educational Content be Run by ARRL?

Recently, however, that event has received the same heavy-handed treatment that RATPAC and others have received . . . His material will not be referenced by the League, and all the support QSO Today has had in the past will now be cut off as the new ARRL Learning Center comes up to speed. You may have read from other blogs or social media how the League has stomped down on RATPAC (another fine source of radio educational videos). ARRL is apparently assuming a "controlling" attitude about their areas of service to our hobby, of which Education is a key part. Personally, I think it would be better to approach those content providers as the leader of the pack, with an emphasis on the team approach. Open a stream for Eric and QSO Today, RATPAC, or any other training/education outlet that helps our amateur radio service. Or, link all . . . bring them into the fold, with no strongarm methods employed to brush them into the collective waste-bin of ARRL "competitors."

As another example, there's the topic of ARRL Director Ria Jairam's departure from the ARRL board. Ria (N2RJ) brought some diversity to the ARRL board but left in March after a dispute began when she published a book on obtaining the Technician License. She'd cleared it in advance, but for some reason it didn't look like a good idea to the ARRL in hindsite. She was recused from discussing publications in board meetings but later submitted a resignation. I'm sure there are two sides to that story, and perhaps Ria should have seen it coming, but the feeling I am left with is that anything can now be considered competition to the ARRL. And if you are a part of this competition, you will not be looked upon in a friendly manner by the League. 

As I mentioned at the top, I'm still a strong supporter. All I want to do is to bring parties together and ensure that we as a team are doing everything we can to develop a solid future for the Amateur Radio Service. But it is very hard to do that when the ARRL operates with hard-and-fast policies. A gentle hand is needed, instead of the somewhat aggressive manner in which many have been approached by the marketing arm of the League. Nasty letters and phone calls are not the approach to be taken here. I recently received a quite cordial email from David Minster at the League, and I believe that cooler heads could still prevail and that this fracture can be repaired. However, I've seen many online discussions from a wide variety of amateur radio operators who brag about their "no ARRL" status. I believe that is wrong headed thinking as well in the long run.

We have no one but the ARRL to represent us. If the ARRL loses memberships, they lose power . . .  but we also lose representation. Instead of suggesting that we boycott the League for their behavior with regards to "competitiion," I would suggest that we give them as much support as possible so that we have a say in the way the future rolls out before us. This isn't the time to hold back on your ARRL membership and your QST subscription. Let's build upon the organization we have right now, get more diversity of thought back into the ARRL Board and regain (as a team) some control over the future of these privileges we've been given with our licenses. It's not the time to discuss alternatives to the ARRL. It's the time to double down and support them -- that is, IF the League can come back to a place of collaboration and kindness. 

(PS - You might wonder what happened to my original graphic, a photo of the ARRL booth at a hamfest, with ARRL staff being visited by a group of teens. It was very appropriate for my column and showed a positive aspect of the League. Unfortunately, I was asked to take it down. I have placed a generic logo in that spot. If someone owns a picture of an ARRL booth and can give me permission to use it, it would be great. Thanks!)

73 for now!


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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 September 17, 2023 05:06