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Issue #41: How Do New Operators View Amateur Radio?

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

I'm not a big fan of social media, but there is some value you can pull from open forum discussions. On QRZ you can learn a lot about Amateur Radio through our content. The only caveat is that sometimes you have to have thick skin, as there are readers who would just love to blast you out of the water for asking a naive question. That's not a QRZ problem as we have great moderators here. That's a problem inherent in ALL social media forums.

I was surprised, however, when I stumbled into other fora that were almost exactly the opposite of QRZ. There are Facebook groups such as Friendly Amateur Radio Elmers, and sites like Reddit where new operators congregate. And in those forums, you get gripers just as you do here. Except they are younger than 35 instead of older than 65. It was illuminating to read, because while QRZ forum posters do share some of the same gripes with these young operators, it was interesting (and sometimes sad) to see how young people view our radio interests.

In this issue, I've collected many comments from social media forums about the Amateur Radio Services to show you how newer operators see things. Some of them will hit you as clear evidence of a big generation gap, while others you may agree and commiserate with. Many are from an original poster's query that asked, "What do you hate most about amateur radio?" In some cases, I've applied light editing to ensure their readability.

The "Most Hated" Things about Amateur Radio from the Newcomer's Perspective


One Upsmanship and Scolding 

- "It seems as if Amateur Radio has some kind of weird one-upsmanship going on, where instead of building people up and celebrating their successes and learnings, it's become some kind of competition."

- "In my area, the most popular repeater always has several guys monitoring it to scold people incessantly who might make a radio faux pas - no bad words, no mature subjects, accidentally doubling, etc. And if it happens more than once they’ll shut off the repeater for hours. I tried to get my buddy into ham by showing him the basics and at the end he said "No thanks -- ham radio seems like a rule-following club for geriatrics.”

- "The alpha OM operators who tell me I’m not a real ham because I didn’t have to learn morse code to get my ticket or don’t have some massive antenna HF setup because I live in an apartment."

- "Mode haters” is my new favorite term. Pretty much captures AR for me. Lots of grumpy old guys."

- "The major internet forum communities are horrible (QRZ, eHam). These forums are dominated by a handful of posters who have essentially the same opinions on everything and tend to stifle any opinions to the contrary. If you're like me and tend to read forums for months before diving into a new hobby, reading those can be very discouraging."

Amateur Radio Clubs

- "The lack of people my own age entering the hobby is evident when I look at current radio clubs."

"The first years of amateur radio were all about people experimenting and making their own stuff to play around with. That sounds to me a lot like the hacker and maker clubs we have now. If I have an RF problem nowadays, I won't go to an amateur radio club . . . I go to the next chaos computer club (or our Maker Club). They toy around with all kinds of digital wireless systems and it is where you can find quite a few EE students who specialize in communication. So even radio knowledge is leaving clubs and moving elsewhere - it is a bit sad. The only reason i go to amateur radio clubs now is to figure out how to build antennas."

- "The old guys in our club didn't take me seriously when I showed up at my first winter Field Day with a Baofeng and a tape measure antenna, but their minds were blown when I tagged not one but two satellites in front of them. I worked over 60 satellite QSOs at summer field day this year." 

- "Club meetings are nearly all boring as hell and their collective result is altogether tarnishing the public perception of the hobby. Surprisingly, there’s no mass sense of urgency or support to bring youth or new blood into it. In fact, there appears to be far more opposition to that growth."

- "I went to one club meeting. The majority of folks were so cranky and unfriendly and opinionated that I didn’t want to waste my time."

- "Club meetings . . . Boring talk, cliques, constant reference to old technologies. To be clear, I have nothing against old tech in the sense of history and collecting. But it's just not cutting edge and they shouldn't act like it is."

The Price of Gear

- "I hate the price of gear! This hobby really takes a big commitment. Combine that with the difficulty of finding the height and space required to have a nice antenna system. Also, frustratiing to see the prevalence of RF-spewing cheap imported radios."

- "The high entry price is tough! I'm just getting into the hobby, and I only have a Baofeng and repeaters. I don't have much money for a station, which means I just have 2 bands and a few dead repeaters (during the day, at least). This hobby seems really cool, but there's just not much I can do right now until I get the money to expand into HF."

- "Sometimes I feel like I'm never going to be able to obtain my own HF ham equipment. It can be very discouraging."

- "Just started almost a year ago. Don't honestly know if I'll ever be able to justify the cost of the equipment to get on the air waves I'm licensed to use versus my bills to pay. Doesn't help my interests that what I do have (2m and 70cm FM) is too quiet here."

- "I'm sick of people bitching about the costs of rigs from the bigger manufacturers. Coming from a similar industry, I can tell you that It takes a LOT of R&D to make an RF device and 10 times that to make a GOOD RF device. Add to that the cost of sourcing/assembling specialized parts like toridial inductors for filters and binocular baluns for PAs, which are sometimes impossible to make by machine cheaply and are a pain to make by hand. AND, the total market is very small compared to consumer devices, economies of scale are very different when you might expect to only sell 1000 of something vs 10000, vs 100000. The fact that companies are willing to lay down the R&D time to develop some of these radios they may only sell 1000 of is fantastic for the hobby. People need to remember that the $12,000 radios are test beds of technology, proofs of concept for things that may not be economical now but that will be in 10 years. Despite all that... all the development, all the specialized hardware for our relatively small hobby... every time something new comes out, the first or second comment here, on Facebook, QRZ, Eham, etc. Is always "It's too pricy."

New Versus Old Technology

"I feel there is value in old tech. It's documented and we can learn from it. As we go on with replacing that technology, we sometimes fail to replace the knowledge base that went into it. instead the producers think of the marketability and the profit factor of just replacing everything two years out. That gives us a window to be lazy and assume someone else will figure it out in the future. This causes problems as knowledge in the radio arts becomes so fragmented that its impossible to recreate. so there is value in keeping old systems as a reference point and living history. This gives us a good foundation to carefully innovate from."

- "I hate that every single amateur radio website was made in the early 90s and never updated. I just want to find some information; I don't need those crappy tiled jpg's (or gif, shudders), 3D text, or flashing animated buttons. Even some of the big radio stores' websites feel like they are run by one guy who hasn't changed the site since '96."

- "I hate it that most of the older hams are always complaining about anything digital. It is going to save ham radio in my opinion. Also, why are people putting down cheap Chinese radios like they aren't getting people introduced to the hobby? Yes, they are bad but this is an expensive hobby and that's a way to be introduced cheaply."

- "I've been trying to get people interested in trying something different, let alone "new." I've done APRS, satellites, new kits, new digital modes etc and have shown my equipment and made presentations at meetings but always the same polite but zero-interest responses."

What We Talk About on the Air - or our Dead Air

- "I've had my license since April and sometimes I asked myself why I listen in. Nightly nets about trivia and arthritis weren't doing it for me. Then I read an article called 'ham radio isn't for talking' by Bob Witte (K0NR) and it changed my whole perspective. Now I'm chasing satellites. getting set up with APRS and even SSTV which I'm still working on. Having a blast and haven't had a conversation with anyone yet on the air. It's ham radio for introverts!"

- "Those prostate exam reports are killing me."

- "Got myself a Baofeng and an antenna to go with it. I know this is a very basic entry level setup -- it was purchased so I can learn more about radio and listen while I study for a future license exam. But I can't find anything to listen to! I've got a handful of repeaters near me but I can't hear anything. I've even left it on the frequency for hours waiting to perhaps hear something, and nothing. What am I doing wrong?"

- "Contests are the worst, hands down. Here I am, thinking I'm going to enjoy some time on the air, and the bands are wrecked. All they'd have to do is limit contests to the upper or lower half or even two thirds of each licencee bandsection, and we could all get along. Contests. Ugh."

- "I hate the term 'Elmer.' It reminds me of Elmer Fudd, and doesn't do a thing to help the image of Amateur Radio."

- "Some of the people in radio seem to lack social awareness and are generally embarrassing to be associated with. I'd like to see more millenial and younger people involved. And less prepper nonsense. Also, the continual use of Q codes on voice -- is that necessary? Can't you just say you're getting trampled by an adjacent station or there's a lot of noise?"


What Did I Learn by Reading Social Media Meant for Younger People?

I agreed with some of these comments. I'm not a younger operator, but I had the same sad experience with an amateur radio club and the "clique factor." And, the poster who commented on the term Elmer -- I'd pat him on the back. There's nothing more worthless than that expression, which basically means "mentor" but which sends your impressions of ham radio into the old-timers' zone. How about if we just call a mentor by that name instead?

But the biggest lesson learned, for me, is that there is indeed a gulf between the age groups that appears to be almost impossible to patch over. I've seen it happen, however, and it's generally on an informal basis. Instead of inside a club, the interactions that worked the best for me with newcomers have all been because I reached out for help to a younger person, or that younger person reached out for help by contacting me. It's our radios, the love of the airwaves that we have in common, that can "cure" this generation gap on a one-on-one basis.

No matter which side of this divide you are located on, reach out and connect with someone to ask for help or offer it. That's what drove the origins of this fabulous activity, and that's what will secure it for the long run.

73 for now,  Dave


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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 July 3, 2024 21:39