Millennials Are Killing Ham Radio

I just wanted to write this to start the conversation in order to disrupt amateur radio’s status quo, in response to K0NR’s blog, “Is The Internet Destroying Amateur Radio?” This was a great analysis by Bob, and it really paints a picture of the current state of the hobby, including the apparent distaste for internet-connected amateur radio technologies.

And also because nobody else has had an article with this title, so why not?  Despite being clickbait, the title isn’t wrong. Millennials are definitely killing ham radio, just like they’re killing everything else. Here’s how.

Full disclosure: I am 25 years old. Also and this blog is a rant, full of unverifiable anecdotes and wild propositions, probably a few spelling errors, and many incoherent thoughts. Opinions are my own. QRZ OM’s beware.

The Maker Movement

The Hobbiest Computer movement of the 80s (all of you with a TRS-80) is now the hacker/maker movement, automating life with microcontrollers, tiny computers, and data centers.

Amateur radio is to The Baby Boomer and Generation X’s youth as IOT is to Millennials and Gen Y.

Interest in “talking to people on the radio” is waning; it’s about talking to machines, and enabling machines to talk to us. That’s why the maker movement is such a hit, especially now as commercial entities have also entered the fray with off the shelf IoT devices. I’m thankful for the the ARRL for realizing this critical market, and repping ham radio at many Makerfaires and Hackercons.

Homebrewing on the Decline

China controls hardware development and manufacturing. We (the US (Silicon Valley)) specialize in software. Homebrewing hardware from scratch isn’t going to be a thing in the next 20 years, because the ashes of failed electronic appliances from which many a ham radio Phoenix was born are no longer durable, salvageable, salvageable goods – once dead and broken, they’re trash.

Now is the time of software homebrewing, and the idea of ham radio as a means to an end.

The evidence:

  1. Heathkit, despite their resurrection, can’t figure their $h!+ out. They just can’t. Other kit companies (like Ramsey) have shut down, as well as Radioshack.
  2. Elecraft stopped making thru-hole kits in favor of assembly projects with pre-populated surface-mount PCBs. Many other outfits stopped kit building entirely, because it’s just cheaper to have China do all of the fab and assembly.
  3. Software defined radio, in general, is dominating the radio communications market, both from a hobbyist perspective (RTLSDR, HackRF), an academic one (GNURadio, USRP) to commercial and military (to name a few: cell phones, airband radios; weather, civil air, and tactical radar systems; radio observatories; MANET; JTIDS)
  4. The non-traditional sense of ham radio is quickly becoming a centerpiece, if not a regular side-item, of Hackaday articles, makerspaces, and makerfaires.

However,  I will admit the Ham Nation Pineboard project is particularly popular, and is doing a great thing bringing tubes back into focus and captivating/inspiring viewers to try it themselves, but I’m going out on a limb saying it’s probably most popular with their target demographic…a young person might be following along but it’s not changing the face of the hobby anytime soon. One of the student members of  W0EEE (Missouri S&T) is a die-hard tube fanatic, but to everyone else, he’s the tube guy.

Speaking of which – target demographic. The target demographic of every single amateur radio show, podcast, club, media outlet, society, magazine, livestream, or otherwise, is not young people.

The ARRL however, has been making a lot of good strides to engage the new generation of hams (1)(2)(3)(4), yet still, the ARRL can only do so much to interest younger people, which takes away resources from engaging their demographic core of white male retirees.  For example – why no youth editor? I was the last one, before my editor, Khrystyne K1SFA, left the ARRL, which left a hole requiring them to kill the Youth Editor (the articles still remain on their website), and The Amateur Amateur (which still exists at his website). But why no top-level Youth Coordinator? Why not a report on the effort of, or a collaboration between, our Section Youth Coordinators in the ARRL Field Organization Structure? Are we all just relying on Carole Perry‘s and the late Ellie and Rip Van Winkel’s of the ham radio world to inspire and educate young people about ham radio? Surely there’s opportunity for ARRL, as well as every ham radio club out there.

Kids LOVE Digital Modes! Right?

No. From my experience over the last seven years, digital Amateur Radio is not intrinsically exciting to young people, as many have been touting. It is a lot better than voice and CW, but still exists the fact that as an individual, it’s a troubling process to decide where to spend your (mother’s) money – $300 on a DSTAR radio, $100 for a DMR, both full of people talking about how robotic they sound, or $400 for an HF station to do digital data modes, full of canned responses (PSK31) or hardly any response at all (FT8).

These are also communication between people, which begs the titular question posed by K0NR. People-to-people communication is trivial, and although some young hams (me) find it really cool to talk to people beyond shouting distance with the raw elements of a radio station,what’s much more interesting and impactful to the next generation is is the idea of people-to-machine communication. In other words, Digital Voice is dumb, Digital Data is smart, and the only ways to utilize digital data are explicitly NOT provided by the commercial manufacturers of amateur radio(1), but instead by Adafruit, Ubiquiti; HackRF, RFSpace, and USRP; and soon FaradayRF, among others.

The Next Big Things for Ham Radio

Remote Operating for HF

Here’s where I disagree with K0NR’s analysis.

Perhaps more importantly, we can’t really stop the impact of new technology. Oh, I suppose the amateur radio community could petition the FCC to restrict [internet assisted] use of ham radio. There could be regulations that limit the use of the internet being interconnected with Part 97 radio operation.

I believe that remote operating, and other internet-assisted means of ham radio operation, are critical to youth engagement.

RemoteHamRadio is the shining example of where ham radio operating is heading. they have an awesome Youth Program, allowing young people that are:

– 25 years old or younger
– A General class or higher license
– A member of the ARRL
– Interested in or Experienced with in DXing/Contesting

to operate remote online stations for free.

Remote Hams is a totally free alternative, but it’s up to the host to restrict operation, which is frustrating when you’re clicking through servers, only to find it’s locked by membership to whatever radio club is hosting it.

Finally WebSDR and OpenWebRX are always open to everyone to receive tons of spectrum, remotely.

Despite that, it’s ultimately a much MUCH better solution in the short term for young hams to operate remotely, than it is to persuade their mom’s to fork up a relative ton of money for a radio, antenna, a pole if no trees are around…etc.

Because young people do not often have access to the the kind of money an HF radio station requires, I strongly believe to captivate more young people, we need to do more of one of these two things.

  1. Promote your club’s shack, your own shack to young people.
  2. Put your shack on a remote service provider for others to use when you’re not.

For young people to join the hobby, it’s critically important to bring ham radio where the young people are, which is, for the most part, the internet.

If I knew this when I was younger, my mom would have been around $900 richer!

Ham Radio Hackathons

One thing I’m thinking of  starting up are Ham Radio Hackathons. I mentioned it in a previous blog which has surprisingly gotten a lot of traction with my tiny contingent of readers.

A hackathon isn’t a coding competition. It’s explained well in this Medium article. It goes even further than that, not limited to coders and engineers, but open to thinkers, doers, philosophers, system engineers, math people, teachers, students, artists, stakeholders…anyone with an interest in solving a problem with technology.

Ham radio has a bunch of problems with technology.

  1. It’s far behind the curve. We’re spitting out digital modes faster than K9PG can work a sweep, but compared to what’s already on the shelf, why would anyone bother with ham radio?
  2. When I think about software like Log4OM, LOTW, eQSL, and HRD, I get frustrated. It’s great software, and many volunteer hours have poured into their development, but it’s so feature dense, developed in vacuums, hard to use, buggy, and lacking in UX.  A good example of software is Fldigi – it’s fast, and light…hence *FL*digi. APRS is really nifty, especially aprs.fi, but a person needs too much stuff or really expensive radios to get on it via RF (most people seem to be going direct to APRS-IS anyway) and getting into the development side of it is making me pull my hair out, just starting with the fact it’s based on the Bell 202 modem invented in 1972!!! Are you $#!++!n& me!? I mean, what a fantastic utilization of resources…in 1978. It’s time for something fresh, now. 
  3. There are dozens of ham radio websites stuck in 1990 (two of them are in K0NR’s blog (1)(2)…I’d  almost argue that ham radio is killing the internet!), it seems like every ham radio developer has to repeatedly reinventing the wheel with logging programs, everyone still uses email reflectors, tons of ham radio apps just crash upon startup, the Digital Voice debate (when we should really focus on digital data, breaking through the baudrate limitation, and interlinking everything), the logistical challenges of testing (3 VEs to proctor a test in person, c’mon…that’s not to say I don’t disagree with the lack of practical on-the-air knowledge in the newbie amateur radio generation; however I don’t think that’s not a fault of the amateur, that’s a fault on the lack of elmership to personally show them how it’s done).
  4. What gets us excited is contesting, YOTA, giant spectrum monitors, networking, automation, IOT, SDRs, remote ham radio operation, and the general advancement of radio technology, which is abreast of the core of amateur radio’s mission statement. But, how are we going to be at the cutting edge, when things like Wifi, LTE, Zigbee, P25, etc has passed our tech up?
  5. If anything, hackathons could stir up a lot of discussion and disrupt the status quo, for example baudrate limitations or, as Bob seems hopeful for, regulatory snafu’s regarding remote operations.

I think hackathons are, right now, the best opportunity to identify and start solving the technical and even social problems of ham radio.

I’m helping plan such ham radio hackathon (hamathon?). Let me know if you’re interested. I forsee a pre-Hamvention hackathon/thinktank event much like Four Days in May and Contest University, as well as standalone events accompanying the larger ARRL conventions like Pacificon, Huntsville Hamfest, Hamcation, and so on.

Does this mean Ham Radio is Dying?

No. Licensing is on the rise, contest log submittals are in constant growth, the HF bands are dense with stations, and the amount of hype behind AMSAT launches, ISS contacts, and High Altitude Ballooning is massive.

But it is changing.

Over the next twenty years, I expect “traditional” ham radio to stick around. these are things like contesting, homebrewing, working satellites, chatting on repeaters, DXing, tropo, special event operating emcomm/pub service, digital modes, and on and on, anything you can see on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amateur_radio. All the things you know and love will still be around so long as you are alive and kicking.

But what will happen after the big hump of 40-80 year old hams passes on? To know what ham radio will be like in 20 years, we need to know what the 10-30 age range is up to now. Here’s my analysis from being a kid to now being a person who promotes ham radio to kids:

Age 10-13

Very few kids are getting experience using ham radio to communicate, through scouting and parenting (like the Lee family.) This is also a target age range to learn basic programming skills through game-like tools like https://scratch.mit.edu/ and blinking lights with Arduinos, in between watching YouTube, and playing Nintendo Switch and mobile games.

Age 14-18

Scouting is the main common interest for hams this age. A majority are getting experience making a contact with a ham radio, but won’t go much further. We see a few superhams, like Marty KC1CWF, Skyler KD0WHB, Chris KD8YVJ, and Bryant KG5HVO starting to pop up out of the noise, already having some incredibly noteworthy accomplishments.

This is the range where youth are finding themselves: their likes, dislikes, capabilities, skills, talents, hormones, etc. If ham radio was a part of this part of their life, it’ll likely be a part for the rest of it too.

Age 18-26

Most hams from this range have already been hams before, coming into the hobby around age 12-15, and so they continue their interests in their post-high school career, whether or not it includes college.

College draws a few newcomers too, especially thanks to the Collegiate Amateur Radio Initiative, and the individual education and licensing initatives at collegiate ARCs like W0EEE.

I think we also get a lot of licensee’s in this age range from drone hobbyists, wireless/IOT programmers, and networking gurus who want to experiment with more range out of their devices.

This was the majority of hams at YOTA. From my YOTA experience, the most captivating events were the ISS operation, SOTA excursion, and operating the OE2YOTA special event. However, when prior to everyone getting a Raspberry Pi and a Mikrotik router to link up to HamNet, many groups of hacker-hams chugging through command line interfaces doing who-knows-what was seen throughout the rest of the week.


Overall, young people are growing up in the age of automation, machine learning/AI, IOT, ubiquitous fast internet, cellphones, and wifi, and extremely low-cost, high performance processing and computing (Arduino, STM32, MSP430; RasPi, BeagleBone, etc etc). Contrast that with Baby boomers and Generation X, who grew up in the age of a radio, TV, the maturation of computers and the internet, and the beginnings of technology miniaturization.

With that said, I don’t think ham radio is going away, but it will become more remote, more transparent, more available, and more technologically matured, but as always, like K0NR says, ham radio is all about having fun messing around with radios. And that will never change.

73 es gud 5.8GHz DX in 2037,
a Millennial


  1. Yes, D-STAR supports digital data, but a specific D-STAR radio is required, and its maximum speed of 128kbps at 1.2GHz is ridiculously slow. The alternative to data rates that slow comes at a fraction of the cost, which does comes at a fraction of the range for a comparative setup, but that’s addressed by directional antennas, or COTS high-power Wifi radios & dish antennas.
  2. Featured image background composted from https://twitter.com/theindiealto

Edit1: better link for the Pineboard Project credit /u/pongo000 (28 Nov)

Author: N0SSC

25 year old amateur radio operator. I love everything about ham radio. Trying to learn CW and contest more, and doing my best to promote youth involvement and retention in this aging hobby.

25 thoughts on “Millennials Are Killing Ham Radio”

  1. Amateur Radio is evolving, as it should. If it did not, we would all be using spark gap transmitters. Tubes were great in their day, and still are depending on who you ask. Then transistors came along, and they were originally not as good as a tube, and many complained about transistor based radios. Today, what gets me, is all the surface mount IC’s and DSP chips. No longer can the average ham ever hope to be able to fix their own radio, or much else. The internet was not as big as it was when I was in my 30’s, I don’t think i even knew what it was. It was in universities, and not accessible from your home. But dial-up networking between two computers was the rage for many years before the internet came in its initial form as Compuserve, and for others it was AOL. There were others, but once the internet started to spread across big cities, those modem accessed networks were on their way out, but they did not go away, they merely connected themselves to the internet. The point being, evolution does not only happen to people, it also happens in technology. Welcome to the new age.
    What worries me is that if there is every another world war, the internet may stop, and there will be millions of young people that don’t know what to do with themselves. Cell phones may stop, and people will finally have to talk to each other live, without the shield of electronics between them.

  2. Amateur Radio is evolving, but a lot of our rules are not. Data modes are still treated as inferior to image etc. And the line gets blurrier every year as to what kinds emissions are what. Digital voice like FreeDV is classified as phone. So that upsets the older crowd who doesn’t want to hear digital noises in the phone part of the band. When is someone going to wake up and revamp the rules? Of all the countries our rules here in the USA are the most restrictive. No wonder all the innovation comes from over seas!

  3. I have been involved in many facets of ham radio, DXing, Contesting, Satellites, digimodes, BBS, during 45 years as a licensed ham and I believe than one solution could be applying the digital convergence principles, a mode or family of modes that accepts and transmit bitstreams (voice, data, video, whatever…). Each bitstream could be conveniently source encoded (compressed) and channel encoded, according to bands, bandwidth, multipath, fading, and mapped to different modulation schemes, according, once more, to the RF channel in use. This is a fact already established from the telecommunications industry (a digital channel can carry anything digitized) that I think has not been grasped well enough in amateur communications and I believe it could make a difference, instead of a miriad of specific modes. Perhaps, some standarization will be required, and also Eb/No decides if certain scheme is acceptable in some specific conditions. Agreed, it perhaps could not be a “one size fits all”, but could be a good attempt in the right direction. Of course, this should not demean the classic operating habits, as I also enjoy them a lot.

    Jose, CO2JA

  4. Why do Millennial’s get the blame? How come we don’t blame ourselves? I’ll tell you why. Because we are ignorant. We are ignorant because we don’t want to change our way of thinking. Because our way is right and Millennials are wrong. We are closed minded. Like it our not digital is the way of life from here on out. We just can’t except it. Why? Because it’s change. We can’t except change. We are closed minded dinosaurs. I’ve been licensed for 25 years and every time there’s a change the amateur community stands up and complains. Just a few examples….We complained when the Tech plus license was suggested. We complained when CW restrictions were lifted. We complained because nobody works on our own radios. We complained when FT8 took us all by storm. We are a bunch of big cry baby’s. Everybody must understand that this is a hobby. You put into it what you want out of it. At least I do. I can’t and don’t want to work on my on radios. I have no interest in working on my own radios. When I have time for radio I talk on mine. I certainly don’t want to work on one. After all that’s why I got my ticket….to talk to people. If I wanted to work on my own radio why would I study my rear end off to get my ticket when I could have worked on my own radio without my license. We need to mind our own busy. Don’t worry about me and what I do on ham radio. I don’t complain about what you do. Maybe we complain because it gives us an excuse to show off…fluff our own feathers. I’ve heard it before. As a ham complains that nobody works on their own radios as he builds his own amplifier. Good for him. Just because he builds his own stuff doesn’t mean I have an interest in it. Or the guy who complains about no coders and then brags about doing 30 wpm cw. Good for him too. But I again have no interest in cw. How many of us help others get involved in ham radio? I bet not as many of us that set back and complain that the hobby is going to hell and nobody wants to join in. And when somebody new does get their license and gets on the radio how many of us who set back and complain actually join in and talk to the new guy? I think we need to clean up our own backyard before we start blaming the Millennials or anyone else in a hobby that we ourselves are killing. Don’t blame the Millennials. Look in the mirror before we start pointing fingers.

    N8WAC/Tony

  5. As a ham who actually works in the semiconductor industry (and NOT in Silicon Valley), let me point out that you have it completely wrong about why through-hole parts are no longer available. It’s a simple matter of cost: drilling perfectly aligned holes in PCBs is slow and expensive, driving up manufacturing costs for the end products. Surface mount assembly is basically pick, place, and bake (solder): fast and cheap. Surface mount PCB design also allows better packing density, which leads to smaller PCBs and less cost. And all of this is done at the request of our customers, who want smaller, cheaper boards made in automated assembly lines. Even SOICs, which are hand solderable, are becoming less popular in favor of LFCSPs and BGAs. Again, all of this is customer driven. I think it’s been 30 years since we last released a part in a through-hole DIP. It has nothing to do with China.

    As for choice of operating activities, I’m hoping to complete a QRP design for 40m CW to show the QRP community that it’s OK to use modern parts.

    Bob, N1RC

  6. SMT parts shouldn’t be an excuse for not building! You will have to lean new skills from both the design and assembly side, but that’s good for the gray matter! Learn KiKad and design your own PCB’s! Or just buy some breadboards from China with the right sized SMT footprints on them to bring out the leads to wider spacing for point to point hand wiring. Soldering the larger sized SMT parts by hand isn’t impossible. If my 65 year old fingers and eyes can manage to solder QFTP parts with 0.5mm lead spacing, surly the younger hams out there can figure it out!

    1. I find SMT soldering and reworking easier and faster than through-hole, and after demonstrating use of either a rework station or reflow oven and how to use solder paste my friends are also convinced and now buying surface mount amp and filter kits. Cheap rework stations are $100 on fleabay, I’d prefer kids be shown how to do that first before finishing off boards (connectors, headers, etc) with through hole.

    2. eBay modules ready built and cheap, nowdays who needs to solder SMD parts on PCB, anyway most of the effort is in software

  7. As a younger person in amateur radio (18), I definitely understand where you’re coming from, and, you make a lot of good points. Personally, I kind of hate talking on radio, mainly because I find that I don’t really connect with many other people on radio. I don’t think that millennials are KILLING the hobby, though. That said, I still love the *idea* of ham radio, especially the idea of building things on top of it.

    I really like your Ham Hackathon idea, and I’d love to participate in one when they become a reality. Building the repeater for Youth Forum this year was an interesting challenge, and, I’d love to do something else in the space, especially if it could incorporate other technologies.

    I liked this article a lot, thanks for writing it!

    1. Evan,

      I’ve known a lot of people like you who enjoy ham radio but not necessarily the speaking portion of it. The Hackathon idea is getting some traction and I’d suspect we will see some interesting developments over the next several months from that. It’s also important to remember that the headline of this post isn’t indicative of the point Sterling is making. He’s essentially advocating that the old paradigm is being killed but there’s a glimmer of what could be https://faradayrf.com/millennials-are-reinventing-ham-radio/

  8. It’s easier to write phone apps then interface with radios…..
    Maybe writing code over APRS will do the trick… but it’s just analog. Cell phones are digital, have TCP/IP built in, anyone want to reverse engineer D-STAR/FUSION??
    The rest of the world has an API for that, and ham peaked with digital ARES drills. 🙁
    Where is the Fusion API to send “news” from wordpress to my ftm-100dr? What does “WIRES-X NEWS” even do??? No repeater has news. Can my club wordpress post into FUSION NEWS? Hell no it can’t.
    Where is the D-STAR API to send TX messages from a Python script using 9600 serial? No such interface exists. Just phone app + $100 module by ICOM…
    Android phones cost $100…. I can diy WIFI apps for free….. share with millions in the app store.

    1. Biggest mistake from day one DSTAR locked in closed source codec, why did JARL who devised DSTAR used AMBE codec and not for example a open ETSI, ISO or ITU codec at the time ??

    2. We need $10 AMBE Codec USB keys to get D-STAR voice beyond a few users, simple DV modulator/demodulator based on direct modulation of legacy analoug radios, ie $10 surplus rig & Raspberry-PI/AMBE Codec USB key, might start some interest ??

  9. I found the article thought provoking and I also learnt a lot too. When I started being a ham I had hoped that these sorts of conversations were the norm in the hobby but I find that it is really the exception.

  10. RF Makers & Hackers are very alive and well, look at SDR & Wireless hackers, its ironic sadly Ham Radio is no longer the cradle of radio hacking & experimenting, going by users on forums, groups & blogs

  11. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I’d like to throw mine at you and your readers as well. (Btw, I’m 32 and have had my license for about 5 years.)

    There are a number of OMs out there who make comments about how the younger generations are generally disinterested in ham radio because of the availability and convenience of cell phones and internet connectivity among their peers and families. In addition, I’ve heard other OMs speak about how they are “trying to get their grandson licensed” or that “their daughter is really interested in coding”, etc. I find these two views to be opposing; they can’t both be true at the same time. If both were accurate, it would mean that the younger generations like technology, yet are afraid to try ham radio — a statement that makes no intrinsic sense to me.

    What else? How about an explanation or theory? I’ll propose one. First, I think it’s inaccurate to define “younger generations” as those from Gen X, Gen Y, etc. In my opinion, being young in ham radio is anyone under 50. You read that right. 50. At 32, I’m literally half the age of the vast majority of guys in my local club. Can I speak for people who are 32 years old? Yes. Can I speak for kids who are 14 years old? No. The problem isn’t isolated to millennials; the real disparity is the overwhelming generation(al) gap between the OMs and “the young guys”. It’s hard enough for me to connect with the (literal) war stories of my elmers. I can’t imagine how challenging it would be for a 14-year-old to listen to a WWII vet talk about getting his first ticket in 1960.

    The technology isn’t the problem. The 40-year (+) age gap between generations is the root of the issue.

    As a teacher, I’ve tried to bring ham radio into the classroom. I asked a local ham with an Extra class license to come in and teach electronics for a couple of hours my elementary/middle school students. He had recently retired, and I thought he would be an excellent teacher (I have learned plenty from him, after all.) After one session, he quit. Why? Because, although he knew plenty electronics and ham radio, he wasn’t a teacher after all. He could connect to content, but he couldn’t connect to kids.

    The problem isn’t the age of those who aren’t in the hobby. The problem is the age of those who are in the hobby. How can we effectively recruit young people into ham radio (or any other hobby) unless there is someone who can show them around? We need to find someone who is engaging to kids while also being someone with whom a child can form a relationship.

    The short answer: We need more young adults (aged somewhere between 20-50) in the hobby before we can get youth involved in the hobby.

    73, KD0YEP

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