Traditional amateur radio protest hits a demographic cliff

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08/04/2021

Frank Howell, K4FMH, attended his National competition journal (NCJ) series, “The demography of the protest”, with a Publish to his blog on social circuits, titled “Lemmings over a Demographic Cliff?” (His original articles appeared in the July / August and September / October 2020 issues of NCJ.) Howell points to data showing that radio contestants are older than the average ARRL member. Take into account information of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics on Leisure Time Use, Howell believes this is to be expected.

“Leisure activities are highest among youth and young adults, but decline dramatically around the age of 25 to 34 through the age of 55 and over,” Howell said. “This reduction in leisure and sport time is a predictable result of competitive and larger activities. According to Howell, the main competitor of radio amateurs engaged in on-air or workshop activities is television (now more widely known as “screen time”). There, no surprise.

A Brooking Institution A study on the subject using the Time Use Survey 2005-2015 shows how “free time has become screen time”. Around 2007, screen time (not just television) surpassed other active leisure activities in terms of average time spent. In 2015, the gap in favor of screen time was over an hour, reflecting an average of around 11 hours per week of activity. Howell argues that large radio competition formats may serve the recreational interests of established competitors – those at the end of the demographic spectrum – but may not offer the best experience for newcomers to the competition.

“Traditional radio sport faces a demographic cliff of aging ham competitors,” Howell says. “Those who are heavily invested in the status quo will not be there to experience the decrease [number of] participants, [but] they now have the political clout to lead strategic actions.

The ability for a single operator to compete at a high level in a major competition requires time, equipment and skills which are probably beyond much at the “caterpillar” stage, ARRL competition update Editor Brian Moran, N9ADG, recently observed. He suggests that most school-aged operators don’t have time to sit in the chair all weekend.

“Those fortunate enough to be able to join seasoned multi-operator teams at well-equipped resorts have a different competitive experience than those who fend for themselves,” said Moran. “With the opportunity for mentorship, the camaraderie of a group effort, and the chance to be a part of something bigger, they’ll be more likely to come out of their expected dormant period as a contest butterfly.” “

Howell argues that demographics don’t have to be fate. “It requires removing the blinders from tradition and evaluating it for what it is today and what it means for the future,” he concluded. – Thanks to Frank Howell, K4FMH and The update of the ARRL competition


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