Kids are Not the Future of Ham Radio

Kids are Not the Future of Ham Radio

You’ve heard it a million times: our kids are the future. That statement gets applied to almost everything, including amateur radio. How can you argue with an obvious fact like that?

But I am starting to think it is incorrect.

We’ve had really good success on creating new hams of all ages in our Technician License Class (at the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association). We’ve been doing this for a while now and I think I am seeing a pattern emerge. We’ve been able to attract middle schoolers to the class and help them get their ham radio license. I’ve talked to many of them on the air. They’ve helped out with public service events. They seem to have fun playing with radios.

Then this thing called high school happens. The high school phase in the US is filled with tons of stuff to do: studying, homework, AP classes, science competitions, sports, dating, movies, driving and after school jobs. Way too much stuff. Ham radio starts to take a backseat to these normal high school activities. Then we don’t see the kids at the radio club meetings or chatting on the local repeater because they are busy doing other things. Have we lost them forever? Not sure.

High school is often followed by college which has its own set of challenges: a totally new environment, away from home, a new set of people, new studies, etc. There might be a ham radio club on campus but maybe not. If a kid is not off to college they are (hopefully) out doing something to establish themselves in this world. Eventually they emerge on the other side, get a job, get themselves established, sometimes with a spouse and maybe a kid or two. By this time they are 25 to 30 years old, depending on the individual.

I recently posted about the demographics of our students in the Tech License Class. The chart below shows the age distribution of our students from our most recent class. Hmmm, clearly most of our students are 30 or older. (Sorry, we have not collected age data with finer resolution.) This particular class is light on the under 18 crowd…sometimes we have a clump of kids in the mix.

chart1For whatever reason, it seems that most people find themselves in a situation as an adult that causes them to say “I want to get my ham radio license.” When asked why they want to get their ham license, the top response is always emergency/disaster communications, followed by backcountry communications, pursuing electronics as a hobby and learning about radio communications. I suspect that starting to be established in a community and having some disposable income also play a role.

My hypothesis is that the most effective way of growing a vibrant ham radio community is to target adults ages 25 to 40.

This age range is more equipped and ready to be ham radio operators and are still young enough that they will be around for a while. Of course, we still want to work with all age groups, including kids and retirees. We’ve all seen very young hams get the bug for ham radio early and carry it throughout their life. And we also see plenty of older folks get interested in the hobby as they approach or enter retirement. We don’t want to miss out on either of those groups.

So that’s my read on the situation. I’ve got some data to support my theory but I can’t really prove it. What do you think? What are you seeing in your ham radio community?

73, Bob KØNR




  1. Anonymous15:19

    I think this is a good insight into how and why people get into amateur radio. Here in Ann Arbor, the demographic might be a touch younger, but not by much. Perhaps we should talk–amongst ourselves and with the ARRL–about collecting more data

  2. Anonymous15:20

    Just because kids tend to drop the hobby during the heavy school years and shortly after doesn’t mean they won’t get back into it again at some later period in life. Especially in the 30-54 period. Don’t count them all loses just because life swamps them! Some day they will remember the fun they had and come back ��

  3. Anonymous15:26

    I started in amateur radio at age 14 and at age 25 when I finally upgraded to Advanced. I’m still on and off using my radios.

    I wonder what retention rate is among the various brackets of starting ages.
    Emergency comm was really never an attraction for me as a kid. I was more interested in the technical aspects and just talking on the radio to distant places. Just a few provinces away was quite interesting.

  4. Anonymous15:28

    Interestingly, I’ve seen the same pattern at the karate school I’m a member of. Kids start as young as 5 and train regularly right up until middle or high school. Then they get into school sports and activities and start drifting away. Many of the rest disappear once they get into college. Unlike when I was a kid, children today have a million choices for activities and some are so over-scheduled it’s surprising they get a chance to excel at anything.

    To be honest, I don’t think radio can compete. At least until they’re out of college and more in control of their own time. Maybe directly targeting 20-somethings is going to be more profitable in terms of getting new hams.

  5. It's much more important that the young people take responsibilty for their education than messing with amateur-radio. After all it's just a hobby. Everything has it's time and place and one must have ones priorities right or else...

  6. Bravo and thank you for this article and for daring to approach this subject, I also think that we have an idealized vision of what should or need to be the next generation of radio amateurs, kids!

    Seriously, how many of us have become amateur radio because we had been fortunate enought to have in our school an ham-radio demontration ?

    Not that much actually, do you ? In the last 20-30 years, the anti-chamber of amateur radio has been the citizen band, many of us come from that frequency band and having been seduced by the DX SBB and then motivated enought to take the exam to go further.

    The least we can say is that we have not really succeeded to bring the CB enthusiasts in the amateur radio community, at least in France, while it was an opportunity to recruit and train new radio operators, and to occupy bands.

    With the deployment of IT in the past 15 years, the developpment of the SDR and DMR digital radio, ham radio have a great new opportunity to recruit new OM and listeners, and I hope we will not fail this time.

    It can be from engineering schools rather than primary schools HI, FabLab, the world of open-source hardware, developers and makers, not to mention all PMR446 fans that make 446Mhz the new citizen band 2.0.

    They all together account for a significant number of persons who may be interested in our activity, if we succed, in term of communication strategy, to to talk to them, and not us...


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