Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some Amateur Radio Statistics

Just how many FCC licensed amateur radio operators are there in the United States? More importantly, what percentage of the US population does this represent and how does it stack up to other activities?

According to data that Joe Speroni AH0A collects from the FCC records, there are 661,272 amateur radio licensees in the US (as of 20 Nov 2005):

Extra Advanced General Tech Novice Total
107,177 74,351 135,023 317,839 26,882 661,272

The Novice license is only a small slice of licensees these days, but the Technician license represents almost half of the radio operators. Extra Class licensees are about 16% of the ham population.

According to the US Census Bureau, the population of the US is roughly 297,728,533, plus or minus a few! A little math tells us that approximately 0.22% of the US population has an amateur radio license. The ARRL (The National Association for Amateur Radio) has approximately 152,000 members, which represents 23% of the US radio amateur population.

The CTIA says that there are 199,209,271 wireless ("cell phone") subscribers in the U.S. This means that cell phone users outnumber ham radio operators by 300 to one. It wasn't that long ago that handheld cellphones didn't exist, so the only people with portable wireless devices were ham radio ops, police officers, firefighters and the occasional construction worker. The widespread adoption of mobile phones represents a dramatic shift in the world of wireless comms.

Let's take a look at some other hobby and recreation activities. Fishing is one of the most popular sports in America. The American Sportfishing Association estimates that there are 44.2 million people in the US that participate in recreational fishing.

According to an Outdoor Industry Association report, there are 15.1 million people in the US that participated in birdwatching (2004 data). From the same report, 4.7 million people were active in snowshoeing, a small but fast-growing winter activity. Hiking had 75.3 million participants while backpacking (hiking with an overnight stay) had 13.3 million. In terms of participation, birdwatching is 22 times more popular than ham radio (and this assumes that all licensed hams are active). Even snowshoeing wins out over ham radio by a factor of 7.

By any measure, ham radio is a small niche hobby.


Blogger KE9V said...

Hello Bob, interesting stats. While there may be 661,272 amateur licenses in force, the database doesn't reflect the number of Silent Keys that is surely reflected in that total. It may not be a significant number, although given the average age of amateur radio operators these days, it might. I had two ham friends who died in the last five years and both of their calls were maintained in the FCC database for years until their calls eventually expired for lack of renewal.

And then there are unquestionably thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of licensees who haven't been active in the hobby for years - maybe decades.

There is no way to know how many living, breathing, and active radio amateurs there are in these United States, but if we were to guess that 50% of the total number of issued licenses, or about 300,000, then we might have a more accurate number.

If that were the case then the ARRL's 152,000 members would be about 50% of active, living, licensees.

It's too bad that there isn't a way to determine the number of hams in the US who are alive and on the air - because that would actually be a useful number. But if we had such a tool, I think we would all be alarmed.

Keep up the good work!

73 de Jeff

8:36 AM, November 25, 2005  
Blogger bobw k0nr said...

Jeff, thanks for the comments. I agree that the number of amateur licenses overstates the number of active hams. I had not thought about Silent Keys ...which may be significant given the aging ham population. Probably more important to the hobby is how many licensees are inactive.

My first reaction to your estimate of 50% of licensees are active was "naw, its got to be higher than that!" As I tried to form my own estimate, I struggled to find a better might not be that far off!!???!!!

The percent of licensees that are ARRL members did seem low to me (as in the ARRL should capture more than 23% of the ham population.) I think you are correct...ARRL membership as a percent of active hams is probably much higher.

73 de Bob K0NR

8:53 AM, November 25, 2005  

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