Number of Ham Radio Licenses to Reach 750,000 by 2017


The number of unexpired amateur radio licenses in the United States was 733,594 in November 2015, an annual growth rate of 1.05% and five year growth rate of 4.52%.

If this growth trend continues, the number of licensed amateur radio operators in the United States will reach 750,000 by 2017.

License Forecast (2016-2017)

Nearly half of all US licensees hold the Technician license (49.4%), followed by General (23.5%), Amateur Extra (19.0%), Advanced (6.6%), and Novice (1.5%). Despite the large number of Technician licensees, the Amateur Extra class license continues to have the fastest growth rate at a average of 2.54% per year since 2011. The number of Amateur Extra licenses increased 10.5% since 2011 to 139,515.

Extra Class Forecast (2016-2017

The FCC’s restructuring of license classes in 2000 continues to affect the number of Advanced and Novice class licenses.

Since 2011, Advanced class licenses dropped 16.7% to 48,272 from 57,989.

Novice class licenses have dropped 25.2% since 2011, down to 10,988 at the end of 2015. If the number of Novice licenses continues to drop at this rate, the number of unexpired Novice licenses will dip below 10,000 for the first time in late 2016 or early 2017.

Novice Class Licenses Annual Growth/(Decline)
2011 14,687
2012 13,850 (5.70 %)
2013 13,116 (5.30 %)
2014 12,112 (7.65 %)
2015 10,988 (9.28 %)
2016 (Predicted) 10,221 (6.98 %)
2017 (Predicted) 9,507 (6.98%)

Growth in amateur radio licenses remains strong since the elimination of the Morse code requirement in February 2007. Coupled with significant changes to the General class question pool that same year, the number of US licenses has increased 11.8% from its post-2000 low of 655,842 at the end of 2006.

The Positive Side of Data Surveillance


It’s not a good time to advocate data mining.

The mere mention of electronic surveillance makes most people’s Spidey Senses tingle. So this quote should send most privacy advocates to DEFCON 1.

Accurate estimates of the number of people in a given location at a given time can be extrapolated from mobile phone data, without requiring users to install further applications on their smartphones.

This is the conclusion of a study by researchers from the Warwick Business School.

The scientists analyzed two months of mobile phone data and Twitter geo-location data from Milan. Remarkably, they found that the size of spikes in data use allowed them to estimate the number of attendees at a soccer game in the San Siro stadium.

Certainly there are law enforcement applications, such as measuring protests.

Another opportunity is the ability to infer the number of people in a specific area to facilitate emergency evacuations during a disaster. This is a positive opportunity for this research because it doesn’t require users to install further applications on their smartphones to check in during an emergency, such as Facebook’s Safety Check application.

An Open Letter to #HamRadio Manufacturers


Dear Ham Radio Manufacturer,

Once upon a time, companies like yours developed equipment for hams entering the hobby as Novice licensees. Your radios were fairly inexpensive, simple to build, easy to use, and treasured by the young men and women who owned them.

Hams of a certain age fondly recall their first QSOs on your gear. They were excited and nervous as they tuned up and tapped out their first CQ in Morse code.

Your rigs were a right of passage for generations who still enjoy the hobby today.

Most importantly, your radios were designed for them.

Novices. On their bands. At their experience level.

In 2000, the FCC eliminated the Novice, making the Technician the new entry level license. But except for a small patch of spectrum in the 10-meter band, the modern Technician isn’t much different from the Novice license they eliminated. It is fundamentally a Morse code license on HF.

When the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement seven years later, they did so without updating Technician operating privileges. Amateurs entering the hobby are restricted above 10-meters to using Morse code without having to know Morse code.

Unable to use most of their HF privileges for the lack of one skill, Technicians purchased your VHF and UHF radios in droves.

Companies like yours responded with Dual-Band, Tri-Band, and even Quad-Band radios.

For this generation of radio amateurs, FM repeaters have been the first (and maybe only) impression of on-the-air activity. Perhaps a few experiment with APRS, EchoLink or IRLP. Some may try Pico-Sats, but fundamentally, Ham Radio as a Technician is nothing more than GMRS with better repeater coverage.

Why haven’t companies like yours developed radios tailored for Technicians?

Why is it all FM when there are many more possibilities in the world above 50 MHz?

Where are the Dual-Mode radios, such as SSB/FM, on VHF and UHF?

Where are the sound card-ready interfaces? USB interfaces?

Why does it all look like Land Mobile Radio on Amateur Service frequencies?

Is there no imagination, innovation, or experimentation left in your Skunk Works?

Do you still have have a Skunk Works?

Please, let me be clear; this is not a call to bring Morse code back to the hobby.

When I look at your website through a Technician’s eyes, though, I see nothing that I couldn’t purchase at Wal-Mart for less money. Perhaps this is why the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese radios are so popular among entry-level licensees. They do the job their license allows them.

Perhaps you can inject new vigor into the hobby by designing something that takes them beyond a repeater.

Like a rig designed for Technicians of this generation.

Sincerely,

Brian McDaniel,
KC4LMD

UPDATE: Chris Wilson of Yeasu left the following comment. It is nice to know at least one of the Big Boys pays attention.  I’ve moved his comment up.  -KC4LMD

Hello Brian, I read your letter, It’s great to see proactive content being published by our valued customers! Yaesu USA is actively developing technology that incorporates exactly what you are saying. Radios such as the FT-991 have a multi-function USB port, integrated sound card, built in tuner and other features that appeal to the new radio operator as an “Shack in a box”. I have forwarded your letter to the Owner of the company, Mr. Jun Hasegawa and our operations director for review. I will be discussing your concerns with them this month, and you will continue to see progression from Yaesu that incorporate the features you are looking for.

Thank you once again for your wonderful letter.

Facebook Gives Non-Profits a Game Changer


The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100-million through a social media-powered video challenge this past summer on Facebook.

More than a million people made donations, driving a 3,500% year-over-year increase in donations.

How much more might ALS have raised had Facebook offered a Donate Now button to embed on all of those home-made videos?

On the heals of the ALS success story, the ubiquitous social media platform has responded. Now, Nonprofits can add a Donate Now call-to-action button to page posts and link ads, the company announced.

This simple element is a game changer for Nonprofits everywhere.

With the click of a button, local charities and 501(c)(3) organizations can tap the largest on-line community in the world, raising money for causes both big and small while extending their brand awareness through regular campaign marketing.

It doesn’t appear that grassroots organizations or your local High School Band Booster Club can use the system yet; but for IRS-recognized organizations, the Donate Now button will be an important fundraising tool in the coming years.

Crossposted on LinkedIn

Rufus Turner: Ham Radio’s First African American Operator


I ran across a Wikipedia entry about Rufus Turner recently. Rufus was an engineer who developed the 1N34A germanium diode in the 1946.

This particular diode is an old standby in electronics, widely used for detecting the rectifying efficiency of radio and television circuits.  You can build his “ambitious” four-transistor non-superheterodyne AM radio from his 1956 article in Popular Electronics.

Turner, while still a teenager, built what was then the world’s smallest radio set. Three years later, in 1928, Turner became the first African-American to earn an Amateur Radio License.

The Department of Commerce, which issued licenses then, assigned Turner the call sign W3LF. His station was licensed for 15 watts.

He left electronics to become an English professor after earning a PhD in literature.

Rufus Turner died in 1982. He was 74.

How You Can Really Help


There are many ways you can lend a hand to people in developing nations.

Give Time

Charities need volunteers. Stuffing envelops is as tedious as it sounds, but it’s work that must be done. The United Nations has a clearinghouse where you can find ways to volunteer on-line. You could also Donate Your Birthday.

Give Money to Individuals

You’ve seen the television advertisements asking you to sponsor a child. In most cases, cash does not go directly to the child; it’s pooled with other donations to help the child’s community. Heifer International allows you to buy a farm animal that will be given to a family. You can also loan small by meaningful amounts through micro-lending organizations such as Kiva.

Give Money to an Organization

Simple. Straightforward. Just write a check. Silicon Valley uses crowd-funding to raise cash, which is a pretty forward-thinking way to leverage lots of people and a good cause.

The upside is that most donations are tax deductible. The downside is that you are not doing something more direct.

Volunteer in a Developing Country

Exciting. Adventurous. The sort of thing that changes lives for the volunteer and the recipient. Think Peace Corp. But if you have no real skills or relevant experience, you’re better off sending money or doing some of the other things on this list.

Advocate

You can do so much more when you have others helping you. There is nothing stopping you from organizing an event for your favorite charity or petitioning your elected officials to support your cause. Advocacy is the Entrepreneurship of Non-For-Profits.

What ways do you give?

Crossposted on LinkedIn

What Happened When I Added a Counterpoise to My HT


The problem of an electrically short antenna is familiar to anyone operating in medium-wave bands. One solution is the counterpoise ground system, which is a series of radial wires that act as a low-resistance ground connection.

Broadcast Engineers use counterpoise systems to improve AM radio station coverage. Coastal Maritime Stations with limited space use them in conjunction with capacitance hats as a tuning method. HF Backpackers even tie a long radial to their whip antenna to improve their own signal as they hike.

When I read an article about applying the concept to handhelds, I was intrigued.

The antenna on a typical handheld is a vertical monopole with the radio chassis serving as a ground plane. This configuration is terribly inefficient because the antenna is a fraction of a wavelength it should be. Your radio may be rated for 5 watts, but you’d be lucky to have a third of that power radiate from the antenna.

By adding a 1/4-wave counterpoise, you, in effect, turn the antenna into an off-center-fed, vertically polarized 1/2-wave dipole. The modification should improve antenna efficiency so more transmitter power radiates from the antenna than it would without a counterpoise.

Theoretically, it should work.

As an experiment, I added a half-wave counterpoise to my Yaesu VX-8DR during a recent Boy Scout camping trip.

The Communication Challenge

Our Scout Camp is a 700-acre facility on flat elevation. The archery range, fishing dam, and swimming beach are exceptions. They drop 30-35 feet below average terrain over short distances; and it is difficult reaching those sites with 5-watt radios, even though they are less than a mile from most camp sites.

First Test Result

My first test was to see if I could reach a local VHF repeater in nearby Morris, Illinois. Under most conditions, I am fully quiet into this repeater with 1 watt.

I talked with my wife back at our home over the repeater, and she confirmed that my signal was good both at 1-watt and 5-watts.

When I added the VHF counterpoise, I couldn’t kerchunck the repeater on full power.

I was very surprised because the VHF counterpoise, at 19-inches, was nearly as long as the stock VX-8DR antenna. It should behave like a center-fed, 1/2-wave dipole and be 60% to 70% efficient.

I checked my connection and tried again.

Nothing.

I move to a simplex frequency to make sure the counterpoise hadn’t shorted the antenna system.

It did work, but I was 20 feet from the receiver on high power.

Second Test Result

Armed with the knowledge that I had a signal, the next test was a short distance check of 175 yards between our campsite and the dining hall.

Nothing.

When I removed the counterpoise and tried again, the operator on the other end thought I was using the counterpoise and transmitting my test.

I reduced power to 1-watt and carried on the conversation without a problem.

We then tried a UHF counterpoise to see if the fault lay in the construction of the VHF counterpoise.

Again, no signal over the short distance.

Thoughts and Opinions

Without any test equipment, I can’t determine the reason for signal loss. Either the antenna was terribly out of tune and had a SWR greater than 3:1, or the counterpoise I built worked as a shunt away from the antenna. I don’t plan to spend any more time chasing this birdie down.

The antenna theory is logical, but didn’t work for me in practice.

I wouldn’t recommend using a counterpoise on an HT. If you want to improve your signal, construct a better antenna such as a Roll-Up J-Pole.

Experimenting with the #HamRadio Wilderness Protocol


After the Titanic sunk in 1914, nations of the world required ships at sea to maintain a mandatory safety watch on certain radio frequencies in the event of emergency or distress. The Silence Periods took place four times an hour, twice each for voice and Morse code.

Silence periods are no longer required because technology has produced alternative automatic watch-keeping systems.

Just as Morse code was fading in the mid-1990s, the American Radio Relay League proposed the Wilderness Protocol as a way for hikers and campers to call for help in remote areas before mobile cell phone coverage became ubiquitous.

The idea is good, but, as Bob Witte writes, “overly complex for practical use.”

On a recent hike of the Shabbona Trail here in Illinois, I gave the Wilderness Protocol a try. Rather than listen at specific times, as the ARRL recommends, I maintained a continuous watch on 52.525 MHz, 146.52 MHz, 223.5 MHz, and 446.0 MHz.

I also monitored two strong repeaters located in Morris, Illinois.

Before my hike, I announced on the Illinois Ham email reflector when I would be hiking and where I would have my radio tuned. I admitted my low power radio would make simplex communication difficult, but asked people to call me anyway.

I worked four stations using the Morris repeaters but no one on the Wilderness Protocol simplex frequencies during my six hour hike.

I called CQ at the top and bottom of the hour on 52.525 MHz and 146.52 MHz, the two frequencies with the best chance of a band opening during the morning hours.

Either no one heard me, or no one was monitoring.

David Coursey has a practical critique of the protocol that I agree with.

Coursey writes,

If we promote ham radio as an emergency resource, it must be a dependable resouce, no disappointment of the public or fellow hams allowed. Especially when lives are at stake.

And if lives are really at stake, buy a SPOT or similar device and everyone — you, friends, family, even me — will sleep more soundly knowing you aren’t depending on ham help that is unlikely to be there when needed.

Food for thought.