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ARRL wants to boost its membership even more

ARRL Entry-Level License Committee Digs in to Study Survey Results

As its April 7 online survey deadline approaches, the ARRL Board of Directors’ Entry Level License Committee is preparing for a deep dive into what turned out to be an overwhelming response. Committee Chair and New England Division Director Tom Frenaye, K1KI, said the survey’s 8,000 responses, when perhaps 1,500 were anticipated, reflects the high degree of interest in the overall topic. Established by the Board in 2016, the Committee has been gathering input from the Amateur Radio community with an eye toward recommending either a makeover of the Technician license or an altogether new entry-level Amateur Radio license class.

ARRL New England Division Director Tom Frenaye, K1KI, at the January 2017 Board of Directors meeting. New England Division Vice Director Mike Raisbeck, K1TWF, is seated behind him. [Steve Ford, WB8IMY, photo]

“I think it’s our job to come up with the two best proposals,” said Frenaye, conceding that the committee’s work is fraught with details that include reaching a consensus both within the Amateur Radio community and at the FCC, which pays little attention to Amateur Radio generally. For his part, Frenaye started out thinking that a new entry-level license would be the answer, but now he’s leaning more toward changing up the Technician license, in part because he thinks the FCC may be reluctant to create a fourth license class after whittling the number to three in 1999.

It’s not just about numbers, but Amateur Radio’s future. Amateur Radio growth, at approximately 1% a year, is “pretty good,” Frenaye conceded, and in tune with US population growth, but he thinks it could be better, and a big step in that direction is to take a hard look at ham radio’s entry gate. He suggested a new pool of prospective radio amateurs might be more drawn to the hobby from the Maker movement, for example, or from among those who tinker with computer technology or experiment with electronics — areas with high appeal to some young people.

Frenaye said a lot of young newcomers don’t seem to find the current license manual very enticing, possibly due to the Amateur Radio terminology and the manual’s 12th-grade reading level, which he believes should be lower. One interesting statistic plucked from the survey: Just 23% of recently licensed Technicians went through a club, while 65% studied on their own.

The current Technician license is mainly a VHF/UHF license, Frenaye pointed out, with limited privileges on HF, where he believes a lot of newcomers would prefer to operate. “Either the test covers material that’s not needed for a newcomer, or the privileges don’t match well enough with what a newcomer needs to see in ham radio in order to decide whether to continue,” he said. Technician licensees have only CW privileges on HF below 10 meters, “and CW isn’t even a requirement anymore,” Frenaye pointed out. He suggested some HF digital privileges may provide one incentive.

The Entry-Level License Committee wants to see better outreach “on both sides of the license” — from exam preparation to operator training and mentoring.

Whether it’s retooling the Technician license to offer newcomers a larger, more attractive slice of Amateur Radio privileges or developing the framework for an entirely new entry-level license, the panel wants to see a more relevant examination with privileges more appropriate to newcomers and better outreach “on both sides of the license” — from exam preparation to operator training and mentoring.

Frenaye is not afraid to respond to critics who say the entry-level license effort and such initiatives as reaching out the Maker Movement are just ARRL ploys to boost the Amateur Radio population and, in turn, League membership.

“I guess the answer to that is, ‘Yes, what’s wrong with that?'” he said. “The more trained ham radio operators we have, the more likely we are to actually be able to keep our bands and maybe get new ones.”

The committee has only looked at the first “several thousand” survey responses, Frenaye said. The hard work lies ahead. “It’s going to take a little time to sort through it all,” Frenaye allowed, adding that the committee hopes to have a report to the Board of Directors in July.


–My 2 cents–

When I first became a ham, there were about 250,000 of us in the U.S. I went QRT for a few decades. Upon returning to the air, I find there are about 750,000 of us. The ARRL was very crafty in convincing the FCC to do away with the morse code license requirement. This opened up the flood gates to let in countless new hams from the ranks of the CBers and other questionable sources. Over the decades the FCC license exams have been dumbed down too. Another crafty way to increase ARRL membership.

As I tune the HF phone bands, it startles me to see how much our hobby has declined. Here is only one of a thousand examples…on any Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday evening beginning at 9pm Pacific time, listen on 3.908MHz or 3.840MHz lower sideband. You will be surprised…

My draconian view is that at all costs the ARRL wants more hams to bolster its revenue streams…quantity over quality.

To avoid the ramifications of our declining hobby, you’ll find me hanging out in the Extra Class CW segments of the HF bands. The only phone work I do is during major DX contests — I can get in and out quickly.

And yes, I am an ARRL member. The ARRL does some really good work for all of us….just not in this case in my opinion.