I was talking with my good friend Don KA9QJG and he related a story about his grandson not wanting to become friends with a “Geek” who was interested in Amateur Radio. Don put to question why aren’t kids interested in amateur radio and what should we do to get them interested in amateur radio?
Well you have to think of our history of amateur radio. It has pioneered a large part of our technology we take for granted. TV, broadcast radio, mp3 players, and cell phones, hams at one point in its development have had a part in the internal working of these devices. But, if you look at the technology that ham radio has to offer today, its kinda lacking on the “TECH” and “WOW” factors that have gone to the way side.
I do realize that as we are getting up in age, things that interested our generation are not grabbing the interest of the current generation. Being young enough and being a kid at heart, I tend to have this over thinking problem that has gotten me into trouble from time to time (as a 3 time drivers test applicant I can’t argue) and I do like to think outside the box, which gives me this alternate way of thinking. Our current generation doesn’t get that same thrill we got when we made our first contact! Why? Well,in big part it’s the internet. It’s spoiled things to no end. Why try and make friends with your voice, radio, and a long wire, when you can jump on the computer and log into a chat room and talk to anyone across the world, or go to a site like Stickam.com and have a live webcam session with 3-5 people and be able to see them.
So what should we do to get them in the game?
Well some kids are just lazy. Yes that is blunt but it is the truth. On occasion you sometimes get the right kid that have the energetic thrill to learn. I started talking with my 7 year old nephew about amateur radio and he thought it was so neat that I could talk to people I have never met over a wireless radio. I let him play with my HT, powering it off and on and allowed him to push the PTT and toss out my callsign, unfortunatly, most of the repeaters in that area are dead and or deaf to a HT, but he still he thought it was neat. Then I got him into electronics. This is where he gets the biggest kick. Building an electronic device that does something is the coolest thing you could ever give a 7 year old.
I want to ask you a question? When you were his age what were you doing? Most likely building things, or in my case I was building forts and disassembling electronic device (Yes I found out what stretch armstrong was made out of!).
Getting them hooked and stayed hooked young before their mind wanders off too far toward the other new technology should be your first priority.
A young kid might get a kick out of talking to Santa over the radio. Each year, on 14300 khz, a regular puts on what is known as a “Santa Claus Net” bringing a volunteer Santa into his or her ham shack and sometimes lady operators will play Mrs. Claus. This a great way to introduce grandchildren to ham radio when visiting over the holidays. Explain how radio waves propagate on hf and tune to the twenty meter band to find Santa ready and waiting to hear from the kids. Here is the website for more info: http://14300.net/santainfo.htm
Now you might ask what if it’s too late? Well, if he/she doesn’t get that thrill of the first contact, I would suggest contests or awards. The ARRL has a ton of them and those are just weekend contests. Awards can be fun also (WAS, DXCC, and band only awards). Try getting your WAS or DXCC with only 10 meters! (its fun but here in Indiana its difficult if all your WAS contacts are the west coast). There is also all the digital things we do with computers: JT65, RTTY, SSTV, Dstar, etc. Other things we can do is have events with a GOTA (Get on the air) station, invite the local schools to come out the event and ask them to announce this event, talk to your school about bringing in vintage equipment and show how hams and shortwave listeners in midst of WWII would listen to the radio reports coming in from overseas and would send reports to the families of soldiers in POW camps. Storm chasers and Skywarn spotters can participate by showing and teaching kids about storms, equipment used in reporting, spotting and even chasing storms. At hamfests kids enter free if shown a school ID, donating the ARRL Handbook or licensing materials to a school or library with a note written inside the cover about where they can go to get tested when finished. And of course contacts to the ISS (International space station)! Fun for kids and adults! Who wouldn’t want to talk to an astronaut?
At 11-17 it gets harder to peak interest. Other factors come into the equation for both boys and girls. The opposite sex is a big distraction to contend with. Keeping them hooked also falls into this category. Its a hard thing to do although some people will tell you once they get a taste of the ham they never forget and that is true it follows later in life.
I don’t like saying this because some may take this the wrong way but its our fault! Society has taught our kids to not talk to strangers and this has made it harder for elmers next door or down the street to teach kids about amateur radio. Making it even more blunt, we have become dirty old men in society’s eyes, well maybe just Don KA9QJG. Think back when your elmer used to teach you about amateur radio and then look at today. How are you going to pass your knowledge on? Its kinda hard and a little of a let down. People have already started moving past this problem by moving onto the internet, with newsgroups and websites
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on tv. We as teachers have a lot of distractions to contend with including Barney the purple dinosaur and Spongebob. All I can say get them hooked young and keep them hooked.
I would like to thank all the people that helped me think of ideas for this article, you guys are the best: Dennis W9FBM, Ron K9JON, Steve KC9MQI, Lou KB9IPT, Mike WU9D, Kerry KB9ORH, Bill N9OTP, Henry KA9GKT, Paul KC9UVT, and Don KA9QJG.