Adapt or Die

In one of his recent blog posts, Dan KB6NU, asks why ham radio has no presence at the Maker Faire. You may have heard of Make Magazine from Bill at SolderSmoke or other places on the web. Dan writes:

About a week ago, I got an e-mail from a ham down in Texas who had attended the Maker Faire. “Makers” are people who love to tinker and make things. They even have their own magazine, Make.

He was amazed at the lack of any amateur radio content.

This ties in with the “Ham Spaces” e-mail that I wrote on a few weeks ago. I’m not going to argue that ham radio is dying, but there’s no doubt that we need new blood in the hobby. With the resurgence of interest in building your own electronics, now is the perfect time to get ourselves out there.

Ham radio needs to be at these events and get plugged into the “maker community.” The Faire has not yet released attendance figures for this particular Faire, but more than 65,000 people attended the Faire held in May 2008. Dayton, with its attendance of about 20,000, looks anemic by comparison.

Quite a stark contrast, especially given the reports that attendance at Dayton falls nearly every year. Surely, there’s a large untapped potential to recruit Makers into the ham radio fold.

I blogged about this back in May. One of the things I suggested then is moving Dayton to some place like Austin. Seriously, if you were a new, young ham, where would you rather go, Dayton, OH or Austin, TX? Let’s be real here.

And can there be a worse place for an event than Hara Arena? The parking lot, where they hold the flea market looks like a mine field, and it usually rains, making the flea market a wet, unpleasant experience. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer vendors choose to haul stuff out there? Some of us older hams might fondly reminisce about the bargain we found while traipsing around wearing a trash-bag poncho, but a story like that is not going to resonate with new hams.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to badmouth the Dayton Amateur Radio Association or the Hamvention. I actually think that they do a great job, all things considered. I’m just pointing out that if ham radio wants to again be part of the mainstream, we have to get with the program. Unfortunately, that program probably won’t be at the Hara Arena.

I’ve never been to Dayton, but these stories about the quality of the venue are well-known. It’s not going to be easy to get younger folks (especially females) interested in the hobby if they are immediately turned off by the whole environment. Like it or not, image is important these days. We’re going to have to clean up and reform ourselves just a bit if we want the opportunity to pass our hobby down to a new generation.

Ham radio has got to figure out how to latch onto the Maker phenomenon. At the very least, the ARRL should have a booth at the next one, and in addition to all the books and t-shirts, they need to come up with some kind of demo or display to attract makers into ham radio. I don’t know what exactly, but I’m willing to start talking about it.

I agree that the ARRL is missing a huge opportunity here. Their public outreach programs, while well-intentioned, seem a bit anemic and off the mark. They’ve got to start recruiting some new, younger blood into the HQ (W1KRB was a great example, but it appears that she’s gone now) and start making the rounds to these new DIY events. It also wouldn’t hurt to integrate more fully into the social networking sites (I know that there is some effort by private hams in this area, but we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to the Makers).

This phenomenon might also be a boon for clubs who hold hamfests. Just as the computer craze turned ham swaps into ham and computer swaps in the 80s, perhaps ham clubs could turn their hamfests into a combination hamfest and Maker Faire in their communities.

As I said earlier, Makers are exactly the kind of people we want in ham radio. Let’s go out and get them.

Indeed! We need to start building these bridges if we want the hobby to gain some new vitality. Otherwise, I expect ham radio may get pushed further out onto the edges. Meanwhile, with the continued explosion of wireless consumer products, there’s plenty of interests who would love a chance to get their hands on our spectrum. There’s no reason for this to happen, as we have a ready-made pool of new potential hams to recruit from!

One thought on “Adapt or Die

  1. NT7S,

    It has never been a better time to be a ‘homebrewing’ ham. With a very good choice of availiable parts that are used in the ISM bands and the Internet it’s easy to get info on who is doing what and where. The ‘Make’ folks are doing a good job of using the Internet.


    David, KC4ZVW

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