Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bull feathers!

by Don Keith

Here's a post just for my amateur radio friends. I've been enjoying a back-and-forth debate with another ham radio guy who has some very strong--but seriously misguided and misinformed--opinions on our hobby and our national organization, the American Radio Relay League. Here is my latest response to him. I think most amateur radio folks will understand what I'm saying without my having to include the other guy's arguments.

(If you do want to see the ongoing conversation, click HERE and scroll toward the bottom of the thread.)



Regardless the field of endeavor, things have to change to keep up with society, its wants and needs. Yes, ham radio experienced solid growth as baby-boomers were impressed with the almost magical ability to communicate worldwide by radio. Gen-Xers and Millennials are not quite so amazed since they have a device on their belts and in their purses that enable them to do that anytime they wish. We do have to show them all the other aspects of our wonderful hobby if we hope to attract their interest and allegiance, and we have to do that in a landscape in which billions of dollars are being spent and the latest technology employed to accomplish that goal for so many other pursuits and products.

The ARRL is clearly working hard to address the needs and wants of all ages of potential hams. Were you a member, you might be more aware of what they are doing, as well as their recent efforts to better learn what would work and how to deliver that experience to those interested in joining us.

You mention a few things you think the League is wrongly doing or not doing to keep the hobby vibrant and relatable. Sponsoring contests? Well, I'd bet the ARRL has nothing to do with 75% of all contesting. But Sweepstakes, the DX contests, VHF/UHF events, and Field Day are among the most popular out there. And if you don't see how radiosport might be a strong draw for generations that grew up on video games, then I'll probably never be able to change your mind anyway. If contests are not popular, they would go away. They don't. They are more popular than ever, based on number of entries.

Try to help hams overcome CCRs/HOAs or all the hands-free-driving legislation? Again, if you were a League member...or bothered to read any of the independent news services that report on amateur would know about a long, long list of League initiatives as well as a plethora of expensive lobbying and legal maneuvering the ARRL has undertaken in those very areas?

Demonstrate the hobby to young people? Holy cow! Even if your head is stuck in the sand, you have to be aware of the many activities the League sponsors and promotes for youth, including scholarships to college, operating events, and a strong push through affiliated clubs. They are also finally doing research to develop an actionable plan to attract a continuing influx of hams of all ages. And this is at the urging of members, first and foremost, but also to benefit everyone, not just members.

(Loaded question, Robert: What have YOU done to demonstrate the hobby to young people? How have you helped those facing issues with covenants, HOAs, or having a mobile radio? Have you contacted your representatives locally and in Sacramento on these issues? Are you a member of a club out there in The People's Republic of Kalifornia?  If not, why not? Have you thought about starting a club that would do outreach to those you believe would make happy, contributing hams? Or urged the club you belong to to do such since you are of the opinion that the hobby dies when we baby-boomers go SK.)

And once again, you cite the old belief that the ARRL's only effort toward growing the hobby is dumbing down the test so my Labrador retriever can become an Extra Class ham. And even that effort is solely to sign up more members, sell more books, and make more money for the fat cats in Connecticut.

To which I say, "Bull feathers!" I maintain the League has done more to build and promote the hobby since I started typing this response than you and other misguided detractors have done...well...ever! Take a minute and visit Give it a look. See what is going on. Then tell me the only thing that bunch in Newington does is cash checks and smoke expensive cigars.

I have never maintained the ARRL is perfect, that every action is correct, that it should not be improved. Like you, I am aware of the demographics of our hobby and what the new-licensee numbers are. But so is the League. And if you were willing to keep yourself better informed, you would know what they are proposing to do about it. There are some dedicated folks who do a lot, whether paid or not, to make this hobby better and attract every single soul out there who might have an interest in it. That's why I support them by being a member, by communicating with my Section Manager and Division Director and letting them know what my concerns are. Not by blasting all things ARRL in some chat forum.

You say the League should be doing those things you mention INSTEAD OF pushing contests? Or dumbing down the tests? (Have you taken a General or Extra practice exam lately, Robert?  How'd you do? If you aced that Extra one, you may want to go ahead and upgrade from Advanced. There is a ton more of 75 meters you could use if you did.)

Read, listen, and make yourself aware and you will see that not only is it NOT an either/or proposition, but these are things our national organization takes very seriously and is doing every single day...with the guidance of its improve all things for all hams, not just League members. That is, when they take a break from promoting all those contests and coming up with easy exam questions!

Now, excuse me but all this diatribe-swapping is cutting into my on-air time. There may be some contest going on I need to work. Or a new, young ham I would like to welcome to the hobby before curmudgeons like you convince them we're all about to be as rare as sunspots and they'd be better off sticking with their video games and Smartphones.


Don N4KC

Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Radio Days"

By Don Keith

A friend of mine recently sent me an old magazine article that proclaimed that the time before World War II should be declared as "Radio Days." The article went on to say that anything related to the medium after the war was downhill, killed off by television. I agree that the '20s and '30s was a magical time for broadcasting, typified by the Woody Allen movie "Radio Days." 

I actually believe each generation has its own "radio days." For me, it was the top 40 radio of the '60s and album rock of the early '70s. My radios were in the dashboard of my VW bug or a smaller Radio Shack AM/FM portable, battery-powered receiver, but with a speaker big enough I could hear the songs.  I further believe radio had two golden ages, the '20s and '30s, as this article describes, and the 60s and 70s, when top 40 and creative deejays saved radio from the onslaught of TV.

(I wrote an article that ran in the December issue of American Legion Magazine about a big broadcast on Christmas Eve 1943, the first time all four radio networks simulcasted a single entertainment program. Bob Hope hosted and they used shortwave to bring in servicemen at many points around the globe...the most ambitious use of remote broadcasting ever attempted, though to mixed results. It ended with a fireside chat from President Roosevelt. But the point of the article was to show the power of radio at the time, to boost morale on a special day in the midst of a brutal war. You can read the article HERE if you are interested.)

Now, this generation probably won't even know the word "radio," and their source of music and entertainment is an iPhone or Pandora or YouTube. Music is not "presented," curated for them, or delivered in a way in which it is part of a "show" or has a host who was telling listeners why they should hear the song about to play. And it is not put together in such a way that the music flows from one song to another so each song "fits." It's not heard on good radios with big speakers so the music sounds good. Sounds good and can be FELT!

Instead, it is "streamed," one song unrelated to the other, selected for them by a computer algorithm, a formula based on what other songs the person typically listens to, almost certainly eliminating the chance the listener will be introduced to new music and artists he or she might actually enjoy, but is culled by the algorithm.  And unless the listener wants to Google the artist, he or she might hear the song and not even know who sang it, who wrote it, why it was sung or written, who played on the session, what other songs the artist might have written or recorded, how popular it might be with other listeners, or whether or not the artist might be coming to town soon for a live concert. The listener is almost totally detached from the stream, thus rendering it little more than background noise.

That's what I think today's music listeners are missing!  Their "radio days" will be "streamed-music-on-an-iPhone days." And that is sad.