Bear with me, this is a slightly opinionated, philosophical post.
95 years ago today, Minton Cronkhite, 1BCG, and Paul Godley, 2ZE, shared the first recorded transatlantic communication between Connecticut and Scotland. It was a historical technological achievement that ham radio brought to the table that lead to today’s communication infrastructure.
It’s 2016, and we’re working all the national parks….so that’s pretty cool.
But what technological advancement have we made in the last decade? Is radio a solved problem? Maybe it is…
On /r/amateurradio a young twentysomething shared his views on hams who cling onto old, antiquated systems and methodologies in lieu of the lack modern software adaptations. It got over 350 comments from both sides – other twentysomethings like myself agreeing with a lot of it, and oldersomethings asking OP to take a breath and get over himself. The polarization was very interesting but it sort of worried me that a lot of people aren’t getting the message: the lack of modern in ham radio.
I took a quick stock of my friends in ham radio. I have very few friends in the older generation; only a handful of what I call classic hams – those who enjoy DXing, ragchewing, listening to the bands, contesting, hanging out on repeater nets and the like. My friends are much younger, and they’re doing way less of that stuff. Contesting still remains, but there aren’t as many actually talking on radios.
When was the last time I talked on a radio when I wasn’t contesting? Probably when I was working on a mesh antenna installation with SLSRC. Aside from driving, before then I can’t recall a time I just hopped on the radio to chat. I mainly get on the radio to contest.
And we’re also complaining on the internet, being entitled, whiny millennials. lol.
The main brunt of ham radio (1.0) is still, and for a long time will be repeaters, ragchewing, special events, and emcomm, and these things will always have their place.
But what are we doing to help move ham radio, and radio communications in general forward? What are we collective doing to make ourselves modern? What are we doing to continue the legacy of amateur radio?
So maybe radio is a solved problem, and there’s not much more we hams can do to advance the art and science of radio. I mean our next venue of research is in quantum communications, and I don’t see a whole lot of hams building quantum teleporters in their garage…
But that doesn’t spell the doom of ham radio, by any means.
Ham radio is still an incredible tool for teaching electronics, geography, engineering, and design. It’s a playground for development in other areas, like modern mesh networking, datalinks, remote control and the like. That’s in part what our spectrum is for: wireless experimentation. And that philosophy must be embraced by all radio amateurs. We cannot forget our history or else we shall have no future.
I propose a call to action to promote the technological advancement of the hobby and wireless communication.
I urge software developers to be more open to open source to develop a community of programmers. Ego and pride is hurting and slowing development. One can still sell a product for a profit and be open source. Closed source and proprietary information has no place in ham radio. There is the obvious exception with commercial entities – ICOM, Kenwood, Yaesu, etc – but if you’re building a balloon tracker, a ham radio logger, or an APRS widget, what in the world are you doing keeping it closed source? If you want to make a profit, sell complete units and kits, sell .EXEs and support, and sell ads, but try to keep your source code, schematics, and documentation open source so as to let growing developers and engineers contribute. There isn’t enough opportunity in ham radio as it is, and this is something we should be leading the electronics hobby by example. Join the /r/hamdevs community on reddit and help out!
We also need to standardize some platforms, like github, and try to fight at fragmentation. Some people will post their source on Git, others will post it on their grandmas self-hosted home server, and others all over the place. So again, check out /r/hamdevs.
I urge ARRL, IARU, and your local radio club to continue and grow whatever it is you respectively do in promoting the technological art of the hobby and continue to grow your support for youth and schools, whether it be donations of money or equipment, grants, or volunteering your time. I really want to see the higher-level organizations like IARU and the ARRL renew focus on fostering the next generation. ARRL is pushing ahead with Collegiate Amateur Radio Initiative (which at this time isn’t clear on what their action is other than saying stuff, which in itself has caused a surge in collegiate activity on the facebook page and Groupme chat), the ARRL Foundation, and continuing support of Education and Technology. They’re leading by example of what your local club should do too. Support your local college, school, hackerspace, even library – coordinate a high altitude balloon launch, a foxhunt, an ISS contact, a license class or go do something entirely different.
Our first episode of The Phasing Line Podcast was a hit. People really seem to love the new style – at least maybe our target demographic does (younger people, sub age 40, who are already a little experienced in ham radio). I’m excited for episode 2 – if we can find the time to record. I want to shoot for a biweekly release date but Marty and I have tumultuous schedules, so that is TBD. I do want to say we are planning an interview with a rising ham, so that will be exciting!
The big takeaway from the first episode was to avoid interruptions, so that will be fixed. Marty and I both think faster than we can speak too, and the fast-paced topic jumping with tons of tangents can be decisive – some like it, some don’t. We’ll be fine tuning the podcast as it goes on.
But it was such a success that it sparked interest in an old podcast I co-hosted, the Youth in Amateur Radio Podcast (YARP). 18-year old Jacob Keogh KDØNVX has taken the lead and re-branded it to The Noisy Key (jealous of that name) which will probably be a round-table similar to ICQ podcast, perhaps a bit more focused on a single or few topics, unlike the unfiltered consciousness which is The Phasing Line. All of which is to be determined as they work bringing the first episode.
Sweepstakes at WØEEE
WØEEE had another clean sweep during the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes. I came down to help educate and train new guys on HF contesting, spending a lot of time on a whiteboard.
Here’s an album. Click on the photos to make them bigger:
All that mattered (aside from getting the sweep) was that everyone had a ton of fun. It was really great how many people showed up, showed interest, logged, and got on the air. We made 227 QSOs in all 83 sections, so we didn’t really shoot for high numbers, and our antenna system got us down, but it was still a lot of fun. I also got to work Marty twice, lol!
We had to break out the amp for the last two sections of the sweep – PAC (pacific, aka Hawaii) and AK (Alaska). They were working huge pileups since they came on very late in the contest. But, we didn’t have an interface with the FT-897…so I had to do it manually, without ALC. Luckily the SB-220 has a soft-key relay that lets you use a simple switch to key the amp instead of 120V – that would have fried everything!
Thanks for reading! I will follow up this with a post detailing some ideas for college clubs to increase activity, and some ideas for contest coordinators to make contests better for school clubs and younger people as well.
I hope Scott, W9WSW doesn’t mind hijacking his post, but I really think it’s one of the best guides to college ham radio clubs I’ve seen, and it was exactly how Barry KC0YDZ and I revitalized W0EEE after a four-year lull. I want to take his guide and go by the numbers with all the experience I had with W0EEE.
Scott serves the Michigan State University Amateur Radio Club W8MSU, and really leads by example. Go check out their Facebook page,twitter and website.
1. Go where the action is
Aka use modern social media tools to build an online name for yourself. It’s imperative to do this because hams going into college will search for “<college name> ham radio club” when looking for a suitable school.
Even with all the modern media sites, your alumni will always prefer email. Clubs should always have a newsletter or meeting minutes email sent to the alumni to remind them that their alma mater is active. This gives them a sense of accomplishment that their work in the club was worthwhile and leads to more engagement (aka donations and sponsorships) from the alumni base.
I’m only partially speaking for myself, as an alumni. When I was a member, the alum bothered me for updates. I gave in, and it was a very good thing – see the next section for why.
2. Update your shack
A basic HF station is a must-have, which means pursuing a relationship with the University facilities department to allow for an antenna (see #8.2).
Also keep your shack clean. Having a shack that looks like this might mean it’s super active, but clutter can be deterring and stress-inducing.
People are very willing to donate used equipment to clubs, so it behooves the club to follow step 1, 6, and 8 to make your alumni and community aware of your activities. It’s rarely a good idea to solicit donations (read: beg) unless you’re really pressing for equipment. We got:
Just from having an frequently updated alumni email list (see #19) and good relationships within the EE department (see #8.2).
3. Build cool club projects
We collaborated with IEEE to create the “Hide and Seek” program. Imagine an easter egg hunt, but with low-power 80m beacons instead of easter eggs hidden throughout campus. Participants are given a small receiver which begins beeping within 30ft of a beacon. They find and keep the beacons which have various point values assigned to them based on their difficulty. This was a huge event for both W0EEE and IEEE, because not only could you participate for points to bid on things like XBox games and quadcopters, but also learn how to design, layout, procure, and solder the beacons and receivers together.
There’s tons of other stuff that’s out there to build, so my other recommendation is to have tools and an electronics workbench for members to use.
4. Be aggressive in seeking out potential members
#3 was a big draw for meetings. So was free pizza.
I took money out of my pocket to buy pizza for meetings and used personal print quota to print flyers for meetings and events. It was worth every penny to me. Costs were recouped eventually by paying myself back (keep your receipts!) from money gained through donations and membership costs. Which brings me to #20.
But first lets continue with W9WSW’s list:
5. Hold weekly open shack nights
Know one thing when holding meetings: consistency is KEY. Students are regimented individuals, who prey on consistency so they can efficiently schedule their busy lives.
5.5 Pick a good time to meet
For years W0EEE meetings/open shacks were at 7pm on Thursday, and like a contest station running CQ, this was our time to meet, which was not contested by other big clubs and teams. Eventually, a bigger station ran W0EEE off frequency, so the time had to be changed.
Use When2Meet to plan a time to meet if your current time isn’t working so well.
And if you have to cancel a meeting, don’t forget to let everyone know as soon as possible.
Bonus points for streaming your meeting (see #16).
6. Brand, brand, brand
Branding is important.
Branding is really important. And it’s easy to ignore it, thinking your totally awesome programming or events will make up for the lack of having logos and flyers.
A brand gives your organization a major edge in competing with other interests, aka, homework, studying, and other student organizations. It shows an essence of personality and professionalism.
A logo of our mascot, Joe Miner, was edited with permission long ago for use by the radio club. Unfortunately W0EEE doesn’t have a proper logo, though I tried to make one once in PowerPoint. It’s ugly as hell.
How do you avoid having ugly logos? I suggest going to r/freedesign or fiverr and work with a professional. Otherwise, keep it simple!
Branding is not just logos. It’s keeping to the promise of the product you’re delivering. That product is an amateur radio experience. Having consistent meetings, participating and leading regular events, and staying true to your clubs mission is all part of that hook.
7. Get people licensed
This year W0EEE began a licensing class, and its in progress. It is one of the best moves to make
Until then, the Rolla Regional Amateur Radio Society (RRARS) held classes, and did test sessions about 5 or 6 times per year in the electrical engineering building on campus.
It also helps if you can subsidize the cost of licensing, and better yet incentivize it with free handheld radios, 1 year of free membership, or something entirely different. This comes at a cost though, and depends on what money your club has in the bank.
8. Make Connections
90% of knowledge is knowing the right people. And 90% of the time, your alumni are those people.
For example, here’s some notable people from Missouri S&T:
Ward Silver, N0AX (author of innumerable ARRL articles and books)
Tony Parks, KB9YIG (founder of FiveDash who makes the famous Softrock SDR kits)
Knowing these guys have been immeasurably helpful in the revitalization of W0EEE, especially Ward since he always was willing to help and kept my motivation up with his impressive knowledge of ham radio and his deep understanding of the state of the hobby.
8.1 How to find your alumni
Go through your university’s alumni department records.
Go through any old HF logbooks you may have lying around
8.2 Build relationships with the university – student funding, faculty, facilities, department chairs…
This should be #1. You won’t be able to install anything, do events with the university, promote meetings, order pizza, get roof access, get student funding, find avenues for equipment and monetary donations, and much much more if you don’t network.
A good piece of advice is to develop a rapport with your EE department chair. This can make or break a radio club, and in the case of CalPoly, really make the club and subsequently get HUNDREDS of students licensed through ham radio based curriculum. That’s awesome!
9. Create an endowment to provide ARRL memberships to student hams
I think this should go the other way – the ARRL should provide memberships to student hams by default. If Chick-fil-A can giveaway a free sandwich every Thursday with every meal, the ARRL can subsidize a handful of memberships for students. Perhaps lite memberships without QST, OR send extra copies of QST to the college radio club for students to read and give students members-only access privileges to the ARRL web.
10. Have a visible presence at campus events
Every university has events for student organizations to show their stuff. Ours is called MinerRAMA outside in the Fall, and in the spring there are about five Preview, Registration and Orientation days (PRO days) which are a low-key version of MinerRAMA that takes place indoors.
On the table, we have our old sign, QSL cards, tons of radios and CW keys, our awards,one HF rig on and monitoring 14.300, and a tablet running SDR software or digital mode software, or WebSDR, and a tri-fold sign with a bunch of photos and information.
11. Put an APRS beacon on your mascot
This is creative! W0EEE’s never done this, but W8MSU has…we should try it!
12. Great clubs have great programming
W0EEE was heavily involved with IEEE and often did technology demos to dozens, sometimes hundreds of students. W9WSW’s text hits the nail on the head.
13. Repurpose recent ham magazines as giveaways
W0EEE has a backlog of QSTs going back to the 80s and they’re for use by members to read, although we’re tempted to trash them all. What better way to get rid of them than through a giveaway? Although they’re not quite recent…so.
#9 tells you my opinion on how ARRL should approach student membership.
14. Setup a Remote Rig that students can check out
The easiest way to get students on the air is to direct them to WebSDR and now, the home of OpenWebRX, SDR.hu.
If your club has a PC-controlled HF station (better yet a FlexRadio), you should remote-ify it. This makes it fun and easy for members to play radio from the comfort of their dwelling. It’s pretty complicated to set this up, and you also need to worry about lightning protection and FCC regulations.
15. Create Special Events Stations
In other words, operate outside, and post it to your university events calendar. Don’t forget to get permission if needed. Typically, we discover we needed permission after the fact. It’s okay to beg for forgiveness 🙂
16. Stream your meetings
My recommendation is to use Google Hangouts to allow people who don’t want to leave their room or alumni to join meetings, and have them posted to YouTube afterwards as a sort of digital trace of work done. This falls into #17 too.
17. Create a digital resource library
W0EEE has a google drive accessible by members, which contains all the meeting minutes, rosters, presentations, photos, documentation and manuals, logs, website information, design information, and more. Missouri S&T is closely integrated with Google Apps & Services, and it basically gives teams near unlimited storage. If you don’t have this, I recommend buying a Dropbox or Google Drive account for use, or if you’re handy, setting up a “shack server” if your IT department allows it.
18. Reach out to the ARRL
This falls under #8 too, especially since N0AX was a close advisor to the club and was directly connected with the ARRL. The league was quick to provide free promotional materials (flyers, pens, bookmarks, stickers, etc), licensing books, and handbooks. I went to Dayton one year, and they literally sent me off with a stack of books and said “Here. This is for W0EEE.”
19. Keep Alumni Engaged
Alumni are a source of inspiration and motivation through expertise in both technical and historical fields. It’s hard to move forward when you walk into a room full of tens of thousands of dollars of ham radio equipment, all with various history, electrical modifications…and even then you might not know you have a storage outbuilding on someones farm somewhere, or club antennas installed on a tall TV tower dozens of miles away.
Alumni are also a primary source of help, both hands-on, like winning CW sweepstakes (thanks Ward), consultation, and most of all, funding.
20. Keep Costs Low
This goes without saying: because college students are cheap.
21. Be transparent
This is good advice for every endeavor. Being open, honest, and transparent allows for better relationships with members, faculty, the college, and alumni. This is done through regular newsletters, social media updates, lots of photos, and
22. Have a club repeater, and Echolink it, and run a net, and use it.
Our club has this, and we’re guilty of basically never being on it. This frustrates some people. Try to make it a priority to run a short weekly net, perhaps just after your regular club meetings. Be friendly too.
23. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from everyone
Speaking for all collegiate ham radio clubs, we alumni are eager to help in any way.