Radio communications now comes in many forms, with studies showing that more than one-half the planet's population now relies on some form of wireless communications network. Many folks have grown dependent upon their mobile wireless devices, whether they are the latest pocket-sized telephone or portable digital assistant (PDA). But long before cellular networks, people were using radio waves to communicate by means of ham radios. Some may be surprised to learn that in an age where the Internet has seemingly linked almost every aspect of life, amateur radio use is not only still going strong, but growing.
This fact struck home recently after writing an item on amateur radio for the e-mail newsletter, Microwaves & RF Update. Using numbers cited by an industry company's newsletter, the newsletter's story announced that the ranks of ham radio operators were shrinking. In fact, those numbers were wrong, and this writer was wrong to report them without double-checking with other sources, such as the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
Founded in 1914, and now with more than 156,000 members, the ARRL and its web site at www.arrl.org provides a wealth of information on amateur radio activities, education, and the ARRL's continued efforts in support of ham radio. The ARRL interacts with federal US agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to advise on telecommunications policy. It is the FCC that licenses amateur radio operators, in part as a means of providing a trained pool of radio operators in times of emergency.
In looking at the numbers from an ARRL news report from July 13, 2010, based on the number of new amateur radio licenses issued by the FCC, it is clear that the ranks of ham operators are growing, not shrinking. In 2009, a total of 30,144 new licenses were issued, an increase of about 7.5 percent compared with the number of licenses issued in 2008. In the first half of 2010, the number of new licenses stood at 18,270, an increase of about 8.5 percent compared to January through June of 2009.
Clearly, the numbers show growth, not decline. In addition to its value for emergency communications during a crisis, ham radio is a fundamental form of communicating with radio waves, station to station (without the aid of cell towers and switching networks). Earning a license, even though the Morse code requirement was eliminated a few years ago, is still a noble achievement and an effective means to acquire a basic knowledge about radio equipment and wireless communications. For those who felt slighted by my error reporting of declining ham operators in the e-mail newsletter, my apologies. And to all new operators in 2010, my congratulations.