Is the internet, millennials or FT-8 killing ham radio?
By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
Amateur radio bloggers love to write about the demise of amateur radio. To wit, we have:
* K0NR’s Is the Internet destroying amateur radio? (http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/2017/11/internet-destroying-amateur-radio/)
* N0SSC’s Millennials are killing ham radio (http://n0ssc.com/posts/583-millennials-are-killing-ham-radio)
* PE4BAS’ Is FT-8 damaging amateur radio? (https://pe4bas.blogspot.com/2018/04/is-ft8-damaging-hamradio.html)
* NZ0T’s Did Joe Taylor K1JT Destroy Amateur Radio? (http://www.ei5di.com/jt.html)
Of course, none of these posts are really saying that the internet, millennials, or FT-8 has killed amateur radio. What they are saying is that all of these are changing amateur radio as we know it. Well, duh, the way we live our lives changes every day. Why should amateur radio be any different?
For example, Bob, K0NR, discusses how the operation of remote stations is changing the game of DX. Can you really claim that you worked a DX station if you rented time on a super station? I’ve written about that topic, too (https://www.kb6nu.com/dx-advisory-committee-wants-to-put-the-screws-to-remote-operation/).
There has also been much written about how FT8 is changing the amateur radio game. One blog post (https://ve7sl.blogspot.com/2017/10/160m-ft8-end-of-era.html), talking about the effect of FT8 on 160m operation, even goes so far to say that this is the “end of an era.” On DX World, the results of the poll, “FT8 – Damaging to Amateur Radio?” (https://dx-world.net/yes-or-no-a-poll-on-ft8/) show more than half of the respondents think that FT8 is damaging amateur radio.
I specifically used the word “game” in the previous two paragraphs because that’s exactly what’s changing. The physics of amateur radio certainly isn’t changing. Our transmitters are still generating electromagnetic waves like they have been for decades, and on the HF bands, anyway, those radio waves are bouncing off the ionosphere just as they have been for more than the past 100 years.
What’s changing is the human component. By that I mean what’s changing is how we think people should participate in the hobby. The hams that are complaining that the internet or millennials or FT8 is killing amateur radio are really just complaining that people aren’t participating in amateur radio the way they want them to participate.
Here’s where we talk about millennials. In his blog post, Sterling, N0SSC, suggests that setting up remote stations is one way to engage young people. He writes, “I believe that remote operating, and other internet-assisted means of ham radio operation, are critical to youth engagement.”
He’s also big on an idea he calls “ham radio hackathons.” He writes,
“A hackathon isn’t a coding competition. It’s explained well in this Medium article (https://medium.com/hackathons-anonymous/wtf-is-a-hackathon-92668579601). It goes even further than that, not limited to coders and engineers, but open to thinkers, doers, philosophers, system engineers, math people, teachers, students, artists, stakeholders…anyone with an interest in solving a problem with technology.”
I support both of these ideas, but I think that millennials (and, to be fair, it isn’t just millennials we’re talking about here, but any newcomers to the hobby) need to step up and get these things going. I don’t think it’s my job to try to get kids interested in amateur radio. I don’t even know if that’s really possible. What I can do, however, is be there to encourage and support kids (and anyone else that expresses a sincere interest in amateur radio).
For example, I’m not sure how fruitful it would be to set up my station to be remotely operable and then saying to some kids, “Hey, come and operate my station.” What I think would be more fruitful is to say to a kid, “Hey, come help me set up my remote control station, so that we both can use it.” Then, it turns into a learning situation, and we both gain from the exercise.
The same kind of thing has to happen with ham radio hackathons. The motivation has to come from the ground up, not the top down. I do hope that this idea gets off the ground, though, and I’m standing by, ready to support this effort however I can.
I think that millennials (I’m really getting tired of that term, by the way) need to grab the bull by the horns and take amateur radio in the direction they want it to go. Feel free to kill amateur radio as we know it. Make it better!
When he’s not trying to figure out how to save amateur radio, Dan builds stuff, blogs about amateur radio at KB6NU.Com, teaches amateur radio classes, and operates CW on the HF bands. Look for him on 30m, 40m, and 80m. You can email him about what you think is killing amateur radio at firstname.lastname@example.org.