This is a reply that I wrote in response to a thread on the “old” QRP-L regarding the dying of ham radio in the US. The post that I was replying to lamented the instant gratification culture that we have developed in the country. I felt that I should stick my reply here on the blog as well.
I believe that it’s true that the addiction to instant gratification in American culture is a huge contributor to the problems with getting younger folks interested in ham radio (the other major factor being the stinky, unkempt, loudmouth curmudgeon contingent). However, with the huge economic challenges facing the USA, I truly believe that we will have to abandon this type of lifestyle and return to some semblance of thrift, frugality, and ingenuity. Instant gratification is going to mostly die, by financial necessity. I don’t think most families will have the resources to just buy the kids a new $500 game system every two years and a new $60 game every month. Nor will many of us be able to afford a lot of the other luxuries that we are accustomed to, such as the $150/mo cable package, dining out most days of the week, and purchasing a lot of the frivolous trinkets that we think we need that actually end up gathering dust in the corner of the garage.
As QRPers, we are uniquely poised to take positive advantage of this situation. We are used to making the most out of the least. We are the weirdos who like to scrounge for junk and salvage components from the cast-off electronics that others have trashed. We can take a handful of cheap parts and turn it into hours and hours of entertainment, as well as education. We are already seeing some of this mentality take root in the “Maker” movement, so there’s potential to rekindle some of the radio magic with the younger generations. The standard ARRL path of getting a kid to take the Technician test and giving them an HT is a dead end. Not many kids are going to be interested in 2 m/70 cm repeater operations. We can’t treat young people like they are too stupid or simple-minded to do anything more than yak on a repeater. They need to be challenged, and our particular slice of the hobby can challenge them.
There’s not going to be any grand, centralized, ARRL-type movement that’s going to change things. We each have to make sure that we live up to the standards that will present the best face for ham radio and homebrewing. Do your part, whether it is through Elmering, evangelizing the hobby in a positive way, designing kits for new hams, taking part in the Maker movement, talking to the media, or anything that uses your strengths to advance the art and science of the hobby. As times get more difficult, keep a positive outlook on things. People will look for outlets from the lousy times, and we have the opportunity to offer them an outlet with a unique combination of fun and learning.