Every so often a blog posting takes on the topic of “the ARRL needs to change.” A recent one came from Dan KB6NU, referencing some worthwhile ideas he has encountered via Rotary International. (I like Dan’s blog and read it fairly consistently.) Whenever I see this kind of article, my brain immediately thinks:
The ARRL is the worst US national amateur radio organization, except when compared to all others.
Yeah, its easy to criticize the ARRL, but it is the only game in town in terms of a national organization. And they do a lot of good for amateur radio and probably don’t get sufficient credit for that. (I should point out that Dan is very clear that he just wants to see the ARRL improve, especially in attracting new hams. I believe him and I share that motivation.)
Amateur radio is not really one hobby, it is a collection of hobbies and activities. We’ve got CW-enthusiasts, QRP folks, Emcomm volunteers, HF contesters, VHF contesters, tinkerers, 75m AM operators, repeater operators and on and on and on. Because the ARRL is a member-driven organization, it tries to balance these competing interests. Just listen to the random-vector criticism that spews forth: the ARRL is too focused on QRP, doesn’t do enough for QRP, only cares about HF, doesn’t do enough for HF, is against new digital modes, is always promoting new digital modes, thinks CW is the only way to go, gave us the No Code license, hung on to the Morse Code requirement too long. This list goes on and on. It really is impossible to keep everyone happy.
It is hard being the ARRL.
Like every large organization that I belong to, the ARRL is not perfect. But the good it does clearly outweighs the stuff I don’t like, so I enthusiastically support it. Said another way, I get enough benefit out of the membership to justify the dues. The key benefits for me are: QST magazine, Logbook of the World, contests, awards and representation with the FCC. QST is clearly the biggest benefit of membership and many people just view the membership fee as a magazine subscription.
A huge threat to an organization with such a print franchise is the shift from print to new media (video, web, blogs, podcasts, social). The ARRL web site has a lot of good information and most of the bugs have been worked out of the major redesign of a few years ago. They have a basic presence on twitter and podcasts. The ARRL has a youtube channel but the content is weak. At the same time, other people are putting out some good video content. Look at what HamNation, HamRadioNow, HamRadioSchool.com are doing. The ARRL is trailing in new media, which is an existential threat.
The ARRL is a long-lived institution and like most long-lived institutions they tend to be grounded in the past and are a bit old school in nature. Attracting newly licensed radio amateurs, especially Techs, is the big challenge for the ARRL. I don’t know what market research the ARRL does but I suggest they establish on on-going program that gets inside the heads of newer licensees and potential hams to understand how they view the ARRL. This requires an ongoing investment that is coupled to strategy. I’ve seen marketing pros do “voice of the customer” focus groups, interviews, surveys, etc. that bring customer needs to the surface so an organization can respond to changes that attract new
If you are an ARRL member, what can you do to change things? Your avenue to make your views known is via your Division Director, so I suggest you reach out to him or her. (Contact information is listed in the front of every QST.) Don’t be surprised if your voice is mixed in with a whole bunch of other people’s views…kind of like Congress
If you are not a member and spend a substantial amount of time having fun messing around with radios, I encourage you to join the ARRL. You might like it.
That’s my view, what’s yours?
73, Bob K0NR