How can we bring more young adults into our hobby?
I am a big proponent of education and enabling our young adults to prepare for the future. Aside from being a great hobby, amateur radio is also a great way to learn about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and to develop social skills. These skills are important regardless of which field one intends to pursue. It also is a great way to meet new people, develop friendships and have fun. I’ll explore some of those areas in my blog post and also challenge you to think about getting younger people involved in our hobby.
When I was younger, I got interested in amateur radio because I liked building things. At the time it was taking apart old TV sets and using the parts to build circuits. Among those in my area of interest were radios. The theory that I learned to get my General class license covered a lot of the material in my high school physics class and also required me to learn algebra and some trigonometry. That paid dividends during my education.
Nowadays, the most practical and economical educational STEM kits include Arduino computers and Raspberry pi systems. Available for less than $150 (and in some cases <$50), these kits allow young adults to explore electronics and computer programming. To do that when I was a teenager in the 1980s would have cost the equivalent of >$1000 today. There are of course many connections between these computing systems and amateur radio, and a lot of what you learn to build circuits that attach to an Arduino or Raspberry pi is also covered in the Technician exam. Thus, robotic STEM programs are a great source of potentially interested people for growing our hobby. Tony, W1TTL has captured the interest of several students at NFA this way. APRS and tracking weather balloons is a great way to demonstrate the diverse capabilities of amateur radio, as is satellite communication. Tony has all of those capabilities at NFA.
Foxhunting is another great way to interest people in the hobby. Who doesn’t like a game of hide and seek? When you couple it with technology that you can build in your basement (tape measure Yagi), it captivates the imagination of many. This weekend at the New London County 4H fair, we hosted a foxhunt with ca. 7 hidden transmitters. By walking around with our gear and asking people if they were interested in a high-tech game of hide and seek, we got several younger children to participate. I had an 8 year old boy guiding his mother to find foxes – and he was operating like a pro once we gave him a little instruction. They took a brochure on amateur radio given out by the ARRL. If you look in the photo gallery of our website, you will see several pictures of young adults hunting foxes.
For those who are microphone-shy (as I was when I first started), digital modes are a great way to get into the hobby. FT8 is very user-friendly and teaches you all the fundamentals of a QSO. It’s not too different from sending a text message on your phone. It also requires you to have some technical skill to get the mode operational on your radio. Once experienced with FT8, operating other modes, including getting behind the microphone, gets easier.
Some people get into the hobby through the RC (radio controlled) vehicle route. I have a friend who did this. The publicly available RC frequencies are often crowded at large events. Most RC vehicles can also be controlled on the 6 meter band, which is reserved for licensed radio amateurs. An amateur radio license is coveted in these groups due to the extra frequency space one can use without interference. We are planning to work with RC PropBusters, a local organization in Salem, CT, to see if their members would be interested in learning how to get an amateur radio license.
So, my challenge again to all of you is how can you help get our younger community members interested in our great hobby? One does not need to get fancy – just bringing a young relative to one of our meetings or events might be a great start!