How to Fix Ham Radio’s Youth Problem


Conventional wisdom holds that young people aren’t interested in ham radio anymore.

I don’t buy it.

I agree that the proliferation of computer technology has given bright young minds another outlet to explore engineering and science. I also know that the technology employed in various aspects of the hobby are state of the art. The communications field is as relevant and as top of mind as it ever has been.

Ham radio just hasn’t figured out how to reconnect with America’s youth.

A Message That Doesn’t Resonate

When we talk to young people about ham radio, what do we say?

We ask what they will do if their cell phone doesn’t work anymore.

We talk about emergency preparedness. Disasters.

In my experience, that message is lost on a generation where everything is accessible anywhere at any time, and self-reliance skills aren’t as developed.

Start in the Classroom

Every day in American classrooms, there are future engineers, technicians, and inventors enrolled in a high school physics class. They study the things ham radio operators study: electricity and circuits. They study the mathematical framework of radio such as ohms law, inductance, and reactance.

Some use oscilloscopes. Others use frequency counters.

When it comes to this aspect of their study, ham radio operators are tremendous resources.  In academic parlance, we’re subject matter experts.  We should get to know and be involved with science teachers.

No, not by setting up a contact with the International Space Station.

We should be part of some scientific experiment.

Perhaps building a loop antenna to receive WSPR signals from all over the world.

Perhaps using a Raspberry Pi as a low-power transmitter.

Maybe get ambitious and build a pico-balloon then track it using APRS for a few weeks.

Or whatever the physics teacher cooks up and wants to try.

When you put the hobby front and center, it sparks the imagination. What better way than help further a young person’s education or career, while introducing someone to the greatest hobby in the world?

Does your club have a connection with the local high school physics teacher?

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8 thoughts on “How to Fix Ham Radio’s Youth Problem

  1. Ron Jahr says:

    I just read in the newspaper that School District 200 (Wheaton, Warrenville, and other nearby communities) is conducting a STEM Expo on Saturday, January 28, 2016. http://www.new200.org/event/stem-expo/ While there are many exhibitors ranging from larger organizations (Fermilab) to small (Two Beekeepers), there is no representation for Amateur Radio. Venues of this type would be ideal for introducing young people to our very STEM-related avocation. As a junior high school student (way back in the day) I participated in statewide Science Fair competition with an exhibit of my home-brewed 80-meter transmitter. It seems to me that similar events could be exploited to promote Amateur Radio. Brian, thank you for posting your original commentary.

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  2. Kids respond to computers. When we at the Gwinnett Amateur Radio Society introduce Amateur Radio using computers we see a significant response. QRZ.com, ARRL.org, Ham Radio Delux, FreeDVcodec2, FLDIGI, etc…these sites and programs attract young minds born in the pc generation. Kids like devices. There is an old saying…Fish in the pond where there are fish!

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  3. We’ve got to embrace the new technologies faster and faster digital Technologies for our on air systems mesh Arduino and other technologies which are the newest.

    And a little advertising would help also. Finding the trendy new people and using them to advertise our hobby. a young face for ham radio, made a bit available to radio and TV stations as a public service advertisement. What a concept. All TV and radio stations have to put these on to fill their FCC requirements. But apparently we have nothing available. I’ve never seen anything?

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