Tuesday, 17 April 2018

New hams and the RSGB.

According to an ARRL article I saw on the internet yesterday, the number of licenced amateur radio operators in the UK has risen by 10% over the past 5 years.  Similar claims have appeared at an earlier stage, and have not always been accepted as being entirely accurate.

If true, this is good news.  But are we doing enough to attract new and younger members into this wonderful hobby?

UK Labour Party's current message.  Also should apply to ham radio.

Looking at the RSGB's Facebook pages, there was a nice feature about its demonstration radio station at Bletchley Park, the former WW2 codebreaking site. 

I don't dispute that the RSGB should show some of the best modern technology that makes ham radio ever-more interesting and exciting these days.

Once you see the expensive stuff inside, you may be more likely to walk in the opposite direction.

But should we be presenting amateur radio to the public solely as something you can enjoy only if you have the latest SDR transceiver and remote-control head?  After all, there is an entire generation in the UK now unable to buy their own homes, facing long-term falling incomes and rising prices.  They are not likely to have a spare £6000 to spend on non-essential things like a radio transceiver, even less so a place to operate from free of RFI that might remotely justify such a massive financial investment.

Some of the Bletchely Park station equipment is donated by commercial outlets.  Whilst the demonstration benefits from this, it is undeniably, at least in part, a form of advertising that pushes certain - in this case very expensive - equipment on potential customers.  The PR value when the stuff is presented can also be very valuable, especially when several articles celebrating the donation are free, when an equally-sized advert in a print magazine might cost the donating company a large amount of money.

My first rig was £270 off E-bay.  You can now get a new, basic rig for not much more than that.  An antenna can be made from any old wire, provided it's strong enough to withstand the weather.  12V DC power supplies can be obtained for just a few pounds.  It might not look space-age, but it is, in essence, ham radio all the same.  Few of us buy a new Mercedes when we first pass our driving test.  We build up to better things, if we can.  So it should be with radio.

I asked the RSGB, using its FB page, whether it had any plans to show people how easily and cheaply amateur radio can be set up, rather than promote the kind of radio that only the rich retired can take part in?

I was glad to see the RSGB responded, saying it was looking at ways to appeal to newcomers to radio.  I hope it doesn't need to dwell on it too long, because some of the answers are pretty easy to identify.  Not portraying ham radio a hobby only for the wealthy is one of them.

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