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Discussing the future of ham radio

Maintaining ham radio is no objective - developing ham radio is

Volker Grassmann, DF5AI

April, 2005

Amateur radio is indeed an image of our society: there is a broad and strong feeling of not being prepared to the challenges waiting in the future, we are fully aware of the need to change or goals and objectives and we have already realized the lack of visions which could provide guidance at the beginning of the new century. Our leaders and representatives cannot provide the answers because we have replaced the generation of visionary leaders by controllers, technocrats and bureaucrats. How does our world look like in, say 5, 10 or 20 years? We do not even discuss this question - even worse: we haven’t teached our kids raising this question. The nihilism in amateur radio is an everyday experience: ham radio is old fashioned, has been neutralized by computer and information technology, does not provide new challenges and the establishment has lost contact to the community of radio amateurs - this is what hams communicate almost on an everyday basis. Again: amateur radio is indeed an image of our society.

Maintaing ham radio - a fundamental mistake. The declining number of newcomers is considered a severe threat to the future of ham radio, which is certainly a true statement. Many radio amateurs therefore wish to intensify all this traditional ham initiatives and activities in order to stabilize the existing nature of ham radio - and this appears to be a fundamental mistake: we cannot maintain ham radio by promoting our ideals from the 1980s and 1990s. This ideals are actually the reason (among other reasons as well) why ham radio can no longer attract the interest of newcomers and young people (and our own interest?), i.e. promoting those ideals definitely leads in the wrong direction. You wouldn’t buy a car manufactured many decades ago even if the dealer would promote this old banger aggressively in the market, would you?

Developing ham radio. Maintaining ham radio is no objective, developing ham radio is. We need to abandon this passive position in which we defend a bastion which is fallen already. We need to restructure our strengths and capabilities and we need to define ambitious goals and challenging objectives. In recent years, ham radio has defined goals of low attractivness, goals which are too easy to achieve or no goals at all resulting in this destructive no-future-mentality which has paralized ham radio considerably. Achieving excellence in all disciplines of radio sciences and radio engineering by promoting innovations, experimental and even theoretical studies, cooperation with professionals and even the industry appears a highly attractive goal indeed. If you consider this ideas too ambitious and too revolutionary: the opposite of excellence is no excellence - do you really believe ham radio will face a brilliant future without demonstrating some sort of excellence?

There is no problem with ham radio but with ham radio organizations. It is important to realize and to accept that the majority of problems does not affect ham radio in general but ham radio organizations in particular. Many national ham radio organizations have a self-conception which is perhaps best described by a self-appointed ham radio government (some of them are perhaps better described by a totalitarian regime locking up its people behind an iron curtain of ignorance). In recent years, amateur radio enjoyed a number of important technological and operational improvements and innovations which make radio amateurs proud but, surprisingly, make some ham organizations jealous. Major improvements in ham radio result from individual radio amateurs communicating and cooperating independent from organizational structures. Ham radio organizations have therefore disliked packet-radio and they still dislike the internet because they do not know how to handle this massive decentralization which has changed amateur radio considerably. To use the above picture again: this self-appointed ham radio governments are loosing their people and they want to make us believe that ham radio is desintegrating because their organizations are desintegrating, slowly but steadily. Actually, the crisis of ham radio organizations hasn’t resulted in a crisis of ham radio - and this documents a strength and stability which indeed allows some positive outlook from which ham radio organizations will finally benefit too. Ham radio organizations will change because they have to change when approaching the critical mass required to survive (some of them have more or less arrived at this point already).

Don’t blame people but subjects. However, we all do not benefit from permanent critism by blaming the offical organizations including the people in and behind it. Even more important: we must not frustrate and demoralize those people because they are all colleagues and friends and they all want to support ham radio even if we disagree on objectives and strategies. Many of them (not all) are fully aware of the problems and obstacles but cannot find suitable tools and levers to change their organizational structures. Those fellow hams are operating in a quite complicated terrain, they therefore deserve support and backup from the ham community in general. If you are unhappy with the offical appearance of ham radio, you may choose from two alternatives: become an offical yourself or support those officials that want to implement changes. Choose now.

Peristroika in ham radio - launching the contest of ideas. No matter how you will decide, we need to discuss alternative models of ham radio organizations and we need to discuss potential directions in which ham radio may develop. We all have missed the opportunity of relaunchig ham radio in the first half of the first decade in the new century. It is therefore important to take advantage of the first decade’s second half, future ham generations will blame our ignorance otherwise. The contest of ideas will certainly result in dispute and conflicts, will cause harsh reactions here and there and will distrupt the silence with loud noises ... yes please. As long as we do not fight against people but structures, each dispute may contribute to the future of ham radio. Let’s start now ...


Copyright (C) of Volker Grassmann. All rights reserved. The material, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission of the author.