The is no magic silver bullet which will engage newcomers to our hobby. There never has been. Ham radio is not a hobby which is easily advertised and marketed. How did all of us become hams? The odds are that you knew someone that was already a ham and followed it up because of your own interest. That is the key to engaging newcomers into our hobby.
Every radio club should have a policy of “welcome”. That doesn’t mean a policy of waiting for them to walk through the front door and saying “welcome” It means that if anyone in your club hears or is aware of anyone interested in ham radio, then contact should be quickly made and the pathway should be made as easy and welcoming as possible. Every club should have a designated “mentor/greeter/information person with a great personality to make the secondary contact and help the newcomer through the initial stages to sitting the exam. The newly licensed ham should continue to be mentored and helped to actually get on the air. That second part of the process is vital to the growth of a new ham. The process should be informal and fun.
There are so many ways that first contacts can be put off forever entering our hobby. Among them are: Don’t care members, boring club meetings, emphasis on the exam requirements and costs etc. Most of these prospects wouldn’t have a clue what a “National Association” is and what it does. There is plenty of time later to get into that. They don’t know what we do and whey we do it. They don’t know our traditions. they don’t know why we love our our hobby and it’s up to us to teach them.
Newcomers and prospects should experience a planned “one step at a time” entrance and every step must be a fun experience as they naturally want to become members of our exclusive club; our brotherhood and our passion.
Our area in Hawke’s Bay has a local ham population of about 175 and we have licensed about 80 new hams in the past 8 years. Most of our new hams have come from individuals that knew someone in our two clubs. Members of both clubs go out of their way to make sure that newcomers are mentored and helped and watched to make sure they don’t drop out of the process before they sit their exam. There is nothing like encouragement and success to keep someone on the right track.
Our new hams are of all ages from 17 to old fellas and have come from all walks of life. Virtually all of them came into the hobby as friends of friends. The importance of mentoring, helping and teaching cannot be under emphasized. If your club is dying or stagnating and you are not getting new members, there’s a reason. If they are not continuing membership in your club, there’s a reason. If they don’t renew their membership in your national association, there’s a reason.
Those of us in the hobby that we love so much must look to ourselves and our club structures if we want the hobby to grow and want new members in our clubs.
73, Lee ZL2AL