Friday, April 27, 2012

While I was engaged in conversation the other day with a US Ham, he noted that the Technician License seems to now have become a "destination license" for many.

I tend to agree.

That is, despite our so-called "incentive" licensing structure, the truth (which I'm sure the FCC "Gods" would rather we not advertise) is that nearly half (48.8 percent to be exact) of all US Hams have apparently told the FCC to stick their stupid "incentive" nonsense where the Sun doesn't shine.  That's because these folks (at last count, some 343,000 of them) seem to be quite content to remain licensed as entry-level Technicians.

I've also been told (by someone who has actually seen the information) that the ARRL has been doing some of their own "scientific" sampling as of late along these lines and their "scientific" data tends to track pretty closely with my "anecdotal" data. 

Indeed, their data very clearly shows a disturbing downward trend that, unless things quickly turn around and we begin attracting much larger numbers of youthful newcomers to our Service, our overall demographics start "tanking" in the out years.

But, once again, these scientific surveys are simply confirming what should be becoming blatantly obvious to anyone in our Service in the United States who still holds a license and has eyes to see and ears to hear.  Indeed, all one really has to do these days is to simply look around the room at the advancing age of the participants at various amateur radio-related gatherings to see these very clear demographic trends. 

Any way you cut it, participation in our hobby is down and we are, as a group, getting older.  What's more, once active bands (even during sunspot minimums) are increasingly less crowded.  Save for the occasional contest weekend or 75 meter net, overall, our bands are becoming ever more quiet as compared to just a few years ago. 

For example, how often have we called "CQ" with no results just before a contest into a seemingly "dead" band, only to have that band very quickly come alive with DX contesters once the contest began?  Try doing the same thing after the contest and you'll most likely get the same (dismal) results as before the contest.

A lot of the time, our bands are absolutely wide open.  It's just that there's fewer and fewer people actively operating these days.

Once active VHF and UHF repeaters, too, are falling increasingly silent…if they are even still on the air.  

Nowadays, the bulk of repeater activity occurs during "drive time".  The rest of the day, usually all one hears…sometimes for hours at a stretch and up and down the band…are repeater IDs.

Hamfests, too, are feeling the pinch.  Even the "granddaddy" hamfest of them all in the USA… the Dayton Hamvention…is attracting less and less participation these days.  I'm told by someone who has actually seen the final numbers that this year's Dayton participation was well under 20,000. Any way you cut it, this is an abysmal showing for an extravaganza that, in years past, has routinely attracted upwards of 35,000 participants. 

What's more, other, once very popular hamfests (like the Miami hamfest) have now gone the way of the dinosaur from lack of participation.  Countless other smaller 'fests have long since evaporated as well.

Now, granted, each of these trends, taken by themselves, would not be cause for alarm.  But when viewed collectively, they paint an (admittedly anecdotal) picture that our hobby is now dying a very slow, painful death.  

And, as I have noted in previous posts, we really have nobody but ourselves to blame for it. 

For decades now, we have been obsessively maintaining an absolutely arcane licensing and regulatory system for our Service in the United States that's been based largely on ego-stroking "exclusivity".  Unfortunately, all we now have to show for years of that narcissistic foolishness is an ever-shrinking brain pool of younger talent. 

Or, to put it another way, it now appears we've been very successfully (and very happily) "eating" an ever-larger portion of our "young" along the way. And, predictably, our Service is now paying a very high price for that FCC-sanctioned, ego-stoking nonsense.

Indeed, it may very well prove to be our "swan song".

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