Declining or not?

Recently, I have met a couple of old friends, Jim W6YA and Chip K7JA, who attended the Visalia DX convention last month. Both of them seemed to have great time with friends, old or new. I asked them how many young people were there. Both answered to me there had been only two young hams. Chip told me those two young ones were 21 years or younger. One was ZL4YL as Jim told me. Jim seemed very pleased to have her there. She was not a conversational CW operator, though. It was Chip's observation that each middle aged hams in thirties or forties in their age was about 10% of the attendees, respectively.

It was a real nice feast for hams interested in DXing. But I could not help feeling it was shedding the last brilliant light in the history of ham radio. DXing is not ham radio itself but is the main genre which attracted young hams and lead them to be good operators. Reduction of the number of young hams in that genre sure means ham radio is declining in every respect, as it has been repeatedly told. Chip, a 66 year old ham, seemed one of the youngest in the main group in the convention. It means the convention won't be carried out or, at least, would be reduced in size in a decade or two.

In Japan, the situation is rather worse than in the US. In addition to the aging process in the society, there are more bureaucracy which benefits those, private or administrative, hunting concessions. Even JARL is letting them seek concession in ham radio. The former heads, directors or the others, would participate in the concession hunting. The license system is getting more and more complicated and requiring more fee. I am sure it will accelerate the tendency of decline of ham radio in our country.

In order to maintain and progress this hobby, it is a matter of urgence to advocate young people into it. Since the high tech in radio communication and the appearance of the internet environment has come in the society, the situation is quite different from that several decades ago when DXing was the only window to foreign countries. We could not invite youth in the same manner as in the old days. The point is, however, the same as before. It should be something true and not changing in time. Any enjoyment which disappears in some time won't attract young people. We are asked if our way of enjoyment is worth calling them for.

In '60s, we have had a club in the town of Kiyose, a suburb in Tokyo, where I started ham radio at the age of 13 years. Ham radio was a hobby for young people interested in radio communication and in home brewing radio gears. Time has passed. Very few are still on the air in that town now. Could we regain the exciting era of ham radio with young people?


  1. Shin,

    First, it was a pleasure to chat with you on the air yesterday. Always good to hear your fist in the ether. And always good to read your blog.

    Second, I share your grave concern about the future of our hobby. I learned code from my father back in 1960 when I was 11, and he learned it in 1929 at age 13 year old boy... The fellow who gave me my 5WPM Novice test, W2ZI, got his license in 1912 as 2ZI. They are SKs now.

    DXing was the thing that pulled me to ham radio: the allure of far-away places was strong. Radio was an almost magic technology that could span the globe and give me, a little kid, access to a world unavailable to most adults! It was the day of the space race, when science was accepted as the solution to a better future. And my ham license - and the code - was my membership in that very exclusive fraternity.

    Sadly, this is a different world. Radio is no longer seen as magic - it is everywhere and part of almost everything, as normal as earth, water, fire, and air... and absolutely everyone has incredibly sophisticated radio technology at their fingertips. The world no longer views being a master of the radio arts as anything special. What to do? I think the answer is too long for this comment.

    Third, I share your love of CW as an art; it is amazing to me, how sometimes, at some speeds, thoughts flow like music, phonemes and words flowing into my mind or out my fingertips as beautiful patterns. Done right - and people like my dad taught me high standards - I often prefer a straight key or bug fist to the mechanical perfection of W1AW. The good news for CW may be the growth of the SKCC club. They are getting thousands of new members every year, people who want to learn or relearn the code or just hang around other who do. True, they don't focus on the conversational aspect of CW - most are happy to complete an RST-QTH-Name QSO. But they have to start somewhere.

    Perhaps, just like my dad before me, and W2ZI before him, our role is to inspire those who follow.

    1. Hi Chris,

      It was nice to have such a chat a few days ago. I totally agree with you as for the past, present and future of this mode. The days when ham radio was a real pioneer and a way of private diplomacy over borders has been over now. How we should deliver it to the next generation is the most important task for us. You have had such good elmers for yourself and have spent the days when ham radio was shining as a brilliant hobby. It is our turn to leave something to the next generation. I am still embarrassed at the direction our authority and JARL are heading to. But I would do what I can. See you again soon.


  2. I think you both have missed the point about the future of ham radio and specifically the future of CW. SKCC, CWops, now FOC are all professing that they need to expand this mode, bring in new people to keep it alive. But, what are they teaching those new people. It's not what we did as young hams, talking to others around the world, knowing about other cultures. Even DXing in the old days was an art form. No RBN, you had to listen to every character sent from each station to know who was there.

    Today, they are teaching how to contest. Computer sent code, computer read code, computer logged code. Look at the list of DXCC recipients in the 1940s. Maybe 100 hams or so. Now, virtually everyone has 300 plus countries. Look at your pan adapter on any weekend (now, on virtually any day of the week) and you will see where the focus is on CW. Contest, contest, contest.

    I am sorry, for most of the CW operators in today's world, CW is not an art form that flows like music. It's noting more than a digital mode.


    1. Don,

      Last night, looking for CW fix fow a while on 40m, I was calling CQ several times without any result. I suddenly heard someone calling CQ CWT there. Yes, it was Wednesday. It is the day when there are much less activity in conversational CW. This is a proof contesting is suppressing the ordinary CW activity.

      I believe exchanging symbols, meaningless, won't give us real pleasure in CW. As I have repeated, real pleasure in CW communication would be from conversational CW which requires us to read the content, not just copying symbols. Exchanging symbols on CW could be replaced to the other modes or to even some computer game.

      I am not very optimisstic for the future of this mode now. Just have fun with it ourselves. Let's live bravely the last chapter of this art of communication.

      Whole hearted amen to you.


    2. Hi Don.

      Don't want to hijack Shin's blog :-)

      While there's truth in what you say I think you're misjudging the SKCC. Their emphasis is on learning the code, using hand keys (straight keys, bugs, and cooties instead of keyboards and computers), and learning how to have a QSO. Their monthly on-air "events" hardly qualify as contests: a full RST, QTH, Name, and member number exchange is the minimum (and more is encouraged), and because most of the participants are beginners or rusty-old-timers, these exchanges tend to be s-l-o-w by my standards. So, I see the SKCC as a training ground for people moving from the Novice up through the General skill levels - 5-13 WPM - on a purely voluntary basis.

      Now, what people DO after learning the code is another thing. But you got me to thinking: of all the guys who learned code the old way, in the old days, how many went on to become 25+ WPM conversational CW ops? Not many - we are a definite minority.

      73, Chris NW6V

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