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):
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.