A few years back I wrote an editorial in which I bemoaned the fact that thanks to the effortless ability to communicate virtually anywhere by picking up the phone (wired or wireless), fewer young people were interested in communicating via the ether, and amateur radio in general was not growing. This went over like a lead balloon with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), which refuted my claim by providing statistics proving just the opposite. And they were right; it was growing, albeit slowly. So I was wrong and they were right, although I received 29 emails, some of which were several hundred words long, agreeing that it was indeed difficult to get today’s youth interested in amateur radio.
So how is amateur radio doing these days? Thankfully, surprisingly well, as you can see from the figure. In January the ARRL sent out a press release based on the FCC Universal Licensing System database. Although the ranks of the amateur community plummeted between 2004 and 2007, it has since risen to record numbers, thanks in no small measure to the FCC’s elimination of the dreaded Morse code test in 2007.
At the end of last year, the FCC database showed 717,201 licensed amateurs in the U.S. -- a record -- and an increase of 7,626 from the previous 12 month period. Club station licenses showed a record number of 11,363, having risen by 7% over the previous year (28,886 versus 27,082).
Of all amateurs, 349,163 were Technicians, 167,257 were Generals, 133,191 were Extras, and 54,293 were Advanced licenses. There were still about 13,000 Novices on record, even though the Novice or Advanced licenses are no longer offered. Technician licensees have increased by 8.2% in the last decade and General class licensees by about 18%. The most incredible statistic to me was that Extra class licensees rose by a healthy 27%, so a lot of hams were taking the step upward.
So while there may not be as many RF and microwave engineers who got their start as hams, the amateur radio community overall is healthy, and that’s a very good thing.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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