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Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High 358

Velcroman1 writes "The newest trend in American communication isn't another smartphone from Apple or Google but one of the elder statesmen of communication: Ham radio licenses are at an all time high, with over 700,000 licenses in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Ham radio first took the nation by storm nearly a hundred years ago. Last month the FCC logged 700,314 licenses, with nearly 40,000 new ones in the last five years. Compare that with 2005, when only 662,600 people hammed it up and you'll see why the American Radio Relay League — the authority on all things ham — is calling it a 'golden age' for ham. 'Over the last five years we've had 20-25,000 new hams,' said Allen Pitts, a spokesman for the group."
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Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High

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  • by rwade ( 131726 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:04PM (#38136440)

    The article indicates that there are 700,000 licensed radio amateurs. But how many of those that are licensed are alive? There is no provision for the FCC to investigate how many hams are alive -- and they expire only every 10 years. I've attended meetings of a number of local clubs and the average age has got to be 70 -- I would say that the count of living US radio amateurs is 3/5ths or even half that 700,000...

  • That's interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:06PM (#38136480)
    I know a couple of people who were really keen HAM enthusiasts in the UK who have virtually given up on it now. One of them told me the excitement of talking to people all over the world was dulled a bit now that anyone with an internet connection can do the same. I'd love to know whether the people I know are going against the trend and HAM radio is increasing in the UK too or whether we have somehow missed a trick that the American HAM societies are using.
  • N0NEA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Juneau ( 703789 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:06PM (#38136484)
    I got my license over 20 years when I started work at an RF engineering company (I was the accountant). I wanted to learn what we were building and the owner and most of the engineers were hams. I don't use my license much, but I learned a lot about technology. I learned to solder, built my own packet radio rig, and made the assemblers and techs laugh about my skills. I still am able to carry on a decent conversation about radio and it's served me well in all areas of technology.
  • Easier Entry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kenzal ( 1726510 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:07PM (#38136488)
    Don't suppose this has anything to do with the removal of the Morse Code requirement in 2007
  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:11PM (#38136556)

    With the internet, and cell phones, and all; what is the HAM radio attraction?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:24PM (#38136770)

    I'm a younger ham (22) and yes, there aren't too many of us, but we're certainly gaining numbers. What I've found, is that becoming a ham is getting to be very common amongst experimenters. The FCC allows us to design and construct our own equipment, not have to have it type certified, and use it on the air. We get to use higher powers than the unlicensed bands do, and we have a variety of modes to communicate our message. Sure I hop on a repeater once in a while, or I'll talk to Japan on a quiet Saturday, but what I use MY license for most is designing and constructing telemetry systems for high altitude balloons and high power amateur rocketry. It's a lot of fun, and having my license provides a lot of opportunities.

    Also, basic radios are getting cheaper. You can certainly buy the multi-thousand dollar rigs, and they're certainly nice, but for less than $100 these days you can get a nice little handheld, dual band, and will cover most all your local repeaters. If you're at all interested, contact your local club, they would love to have you. In my experience, it's a very welcoming hobby.


  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:29PM (#38136866) Homepage

    If you limit your ham experience to talking to other humans by voice, then I can see where the internet/cell phones/etc would dull your enthusiasm.

    Things get quite exciting when you include using digital modes like WSPR to exchange messages half way around the Earth with less power than a nightlight, or using very high-speed digital modes like FSK441 to exchange messages using signals _reflected off of meteor trails_, or bouncing signals _off the moon_, or using PSK31 to dig signals out of the noise that human ears can't even detect, or work stations from your living room on a handheld transceiver via an amateur-built honest-to-God satellite.

    There's plenty of frontier left in the hobby - you just have to be willing to 'enhance the radio art' by experimenting and learning!

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:02PM (#38137378) Homepage Journal
    For the last 30 years or so, all sorts of interesting hobbies have fallen by the wayside because the big hobby for technically inclined people to take up was tinkering with computers. Growing up in the 1970's and 1980's I saw people lose interest in things like electronics, astronomy, stage lighting, and yes, amateur radio. Everyone wanted to play with computers instead.

    We've finally reached a stage where computers simply aren't interesting anymore. They're so generic, so bland, so uniform and cookie-cutter (yes, even you, Apple) that they just don't appeal as a hobby anymore. Unless you work in the industry they're just a tool to get a job done.

    As a result, there's a new void appearing among people who love to tinker. Amateur radio is a great outlet for that. The equipment is complex enough to enjoy working with but simple enough that you can work on it yourself. Lots of other hobbies will be making a comeback in the same way. I myself have become interested in tinkering with small diesel engines - have you seen the availability of parts out there for CheapChinese(tm) Yanmar 186F clones? A hobbyist can build a go-kart or a homemade pressure washer really easily now.
  • Re: FPV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NetFusion ( 86828 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:11PM (#38137562)
    The HAM license is required for legal use of the FPV 1280 MHz video links and frequency hopping UHF control systems on the ARS 433 MHz bands in the US. They transmit at powers of 500 mW ~ 1000 mW which allows control ranges greater then 10 miles line of sight.

    Warning: FPV is not a cheap or easy hobby! It requires a great deal of electrical, mechanical, engineering, radio, and flying skills to be successful.
    The RCG FPV Forum [] is good place to learn more.
  • Not totally accurate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frozentier ( 1542099 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:27PM (#38137856)
    There's a "dirty little secret" in ham radio that skews these numbers, though. When the morse code requirements were lowered and eventually dropped, many of the "old order" of radio operators literally drove the new hams off the air. There was vile hatred towards the new hams, and they were told they were not "real hams", or that they held a "general lite" or "extra lite" license. They wouldn't speak to the new hams on the air, and in many cases they would deliberately interfere with them on the air. It got so bad that many new hams would work to get their license, spend $1,000 or more on equipment, get on the air, then sell their equipment again a few months later. They had lowered the code requirement to 5 words per minute by the time I got my Extra, and there were people in my own local club trying to belittle me. I did eventually give it up totally about 5 years ago, selling my own gear as well.
  • Re:I am. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:44PM (#38138182) Homepage Journal
    I would guess one large factor in new people getting ham them finally doing away with the requirement for morse code to get the license.

    That was one PITA that likely kept many out of pursuing a ham license?

  • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:32PM (#38139040)

    I know people balk at more tests, but aren't you supposed to know this stuff cold anyways?


    First, there is a lot of stuff on the exams that cover things you are not interested in and will probably never do. It's there because you have the privilege to do it, not the responsibility to do it. You don't need to know it at all because you aren't going to do it at all.

    Second, what is there is incomplete and insufficient to actually use some of the modes you are supposed to know "cold". If I ever want to do heilscrieber (sp?) I'll need to know more than how many lines per minute or what it is. Ditto satellite (U/V, V/U modes?) or almost anything else esoteric on the advanced tests. And I can't tell you the last time I calculated the phase angles of an inductive circuit with a resistor of X and an inductor of Y. Oh, wait, I can, because it was on the test I took many years ago.

    but I don't know of a state with any significant barrier to driver's license renewal).

    How many people might die if I have failed eyesight or don't remember what a stop sign means and I get out on the highway, compared to the vast number of deaths and excessive carnage if I forget that SSTV runs at 240 lpm and turn on the box that does it for me and transmit a piccy?

  • Re:I am. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by epe ( 851815 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:58PM (#38139408)

    Everybody can talk, but CW is an art.
    you are invited to join to improve your CW skills step by step.

    I learnt CW when I was 12, and got my first Ham license when I was 18, I returned to hamradio last year.. after more than 12 years not using it and after tasting digital modes.. Im back to CW.. it is sooo nice.

  • survivalists (Score:4, Interesting)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:22PM (#38139740) Journal

    Not the backwoods, redneck kind, but a lot of young modern geeks, are quietly investing in what is considered classic survivalist preparation. Two big factors are: (1) How to sustainably generate power sans the grid, and (2) how to communicate over distance when the networks are down. I think you're seeing an uptick because of a reduction in confidence that society will hold together. Not necessarily resigned to collapse, but taking reasonable precautions.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"