700,000 Amateur Radio Operators in the US? Perhaps the real number is 157,000
700,000 Licensed Amateur Radio Operators… ??
So, at the start of 2012 there are supposedly 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the United States. Let’s ask some questions… Is this more or less than in previous years? What are the historical trends over the past decade? Over that past few decades? How do certain events affect the number of licensed operators? What about dropping the code requirement in 2007 – what measurable effect did that have? What about other countries – Australia, Germany, Japan, and so on. How large is the population of Amateur Radio operators in those countries and how do those numbers and trends compare with the United States?
If you are a stakeholder with the ARRL then you can ask even more questions… What are the trends in the ARRL sections and ARRL divisions? How well do the ARRL membership numbers track the growth or decline of licensed amateur radio operators in the US? What percent of the amateur radio operator population does the ARRL capture as members? Can you measure the success of the ARRL by comparing the number of members against the number of licensed amateur radio operators in the US?
What other questions can you ask and answer if you had a load of historical amateur radio licensing data and some good statistical analysis?
Tons of Amateur Radio license data at your fingertips
There’s an informative website that provides detailed statistical analysis of Amateur Radio licenses
Some of the ready-made reports are:
- Australian Amateur Statistics (thru 30 June 2010)
- German Amateur Radio Statistics (thru 31 December 2008)
- Japanese Amateur Statistics (thru 31 March 2009)
- Spanish Amateur Statistics (thru 31 December 2008)
- U.K. Amateur Statistics (thru 31 March 2009)
- U.S. Amateur Statistics (thru 16 January 2012)
- U.S. Amateur Radio Licensing Trends
- Average Life Table
- US Totals
For US Amateur Radio, you can drill down into ARRL Divisions and Sections
- Geographical Charts: Aug 1999 → Jun-2011
- ARRL Divisions Map
- ARRL Sections Map
- States Map
So, if you want the skinny on the statistics of Amateur Radio licensing sliced and diced in all sorts of ways plus the capability of doing you own data mining and reporting then the site URL above is for you.
Discovery, Insight, and Decision making – Turning data into information
Having the raw data on licensing along with the statistical analysis might give insight into answering some interesting questions and pose some new questions. It’s all about discovery and turning raw numbers (data) into information that can inform decisions and provide insights.
700,000 Licensed Amateur Radio Operators – What does it really signify?
As of the beginning of 2012 there were 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US. An amateur radio license is good for 10 years before expires. If the license is not renewed then your are off the list and are not counted in the 700,000.
But this number of 700,000 may be misleading depending on what you think it signifies. This number does not represent the number of active amateur radio operators – and it’s the active people that matter- not the inactive. Many people may have gotten a license for the Amateur Radio service, gave Amateur Radio a run around the block, and then lost interest after a short period of time.
This loss of interest, the fact that they have no intention to renew the license, and the 10 year longevity of the license means that this 700,000 number, if taken to represent that number of people active in Amateur Radio, would be misleading.
The 700,000 number really does not mean a lot if the majority of them have lost interest. It may be of benefit to some to quote large numbers – 700,000 in this case – to try to make a case for significance. But when it comes to “boots on the ground”, “showing up”, and “making a difference” it’s only the active people that count.
So, if the number is not 700,000 (a best case high-water mark) then what is it?
The ARRL as the only (national) game in town
One clue on how to find the number of active Amateurs in the US might be to look at the membership of the ARRL. The ARRL is the American Radio Relay League. The ARRL is the “only game in town” as a national organization incorporated as a 501 C(3) charity that is dedicated exclusively to the advancement of Amateur Radio.
According to the ARRL’s strategic plan its mission is:
To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.
And the ARRL has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal:
Amateur Radio will be recognized as a valuable, innovative, technical and public service avocation.
The ARRL, as a national organization, is the public face of Amateur Radio in the United States. This is the value proposition from the 2006 Strategic Plan:
- Develop strategic alliances, coalitions, and relationships with a varied of public, private, and not-for-profit organizations to advance Amateur Radio.
- Maintain personalized relationships with key, government decision- makers and agencies at the national, state and local level.
- Build a strong strategic position and wide recognition as the credible source of Amateur Radio information.
- Develop positions on key issues of interests and importance to members and the Amateur Radio community.
- Become branded for being a powerful advocate and voice for Amateur Radio.
You can read more about the ARRL on their web site: http://arrl.org
So, of the 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators can we get a clue as to the number of active licensee’s from additional statistics based on ARRL membership? Since the ARRL is the only (national) game in town then the hypothesis is that active hams gravitate to the ARRL – there is seemingly little other choice in the United States.
ARRL Membership Statistics
The ARRL publishes membership statistics in its Annual Reports. These Annual Reports are available on their web site back to 2002. So, based on the number of licensed operators in the US (from the first web site mentioned above) and the membership of the ARRL (as reported in their Annual Reports) perhaps we can combine the two sets of data and mine some interesting information and ask some new questions.
Here are our current questions
- How many of the 700,000 license amateur radio operators are actually active?
- Does the membership numbers of the ARRL give us an insight into the true number of active amateur radio operators?
Here is the analysis based on the data provided on the web site above and data gleaned from the ARRL Annual Reports.
The ARRL has captured 23% of the licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US
The detail statistics are in the diagram below (click to enlarge)
This number, 22%-23% has held steady for nearly a decade. Why? For the rest of this posting, lets just call this number “under 25%” or under 1/4 of the licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US.
What hypotheses can we frame based on this number:
- This number means that less than 25% of the 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators are active. The assumption is that if they were active they would join the ARRL as “the only game in town”in the US that is dedicated to Amateur Radio.
- The number of active Amateur Radio operators is larger than 25% of the 700,000 but the ARRL has not been able to capture them as members.
- Some new ideas: There would be more active amateur radio operators if “the only game in town” (ARRL) was more effective in its mission: “To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio” and in achieving its Big Audacious Goal: “Amateur Radio will be recognized as a valuable, innovative, technical and public service avocation.” (The ARRL makes a very specific set of value propositions to its members as part of the portfolio of member benefits. Perhaps this is a test of the membership value proposition.)
It’s interesting that in the ARRL Annual Reports – tested back to 2002 - none of them ever mentions the number of licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US and their percent capture as ARRL members. Wouldn’t that be a good metric to track, use as feedback, and adapt the organization?)
The Take – The Real Number of ACTIVE Amateur Radio Operators in the United States
In any case, perhaps we should stop quoting the 700,000 number and realistically use the number 157,000 – the number of members of the ARRL as those who have demonstrated they are active in the Amateur Radio Service – at least they are willing to pay a membership fee and receive a magazine to keep informed on what’s going on in Amateur Radio.
In perspective – from the book “The History of Amateur radio”
Backlogged, paralyzed, swamped, and overwhelmed. These are the words that described the FCC in January, 1977. The reason? Citizens Band Radio applications. The “CB craze” had started in 1974 with the first gas crisis. Fueled by top ten songs, TV shows, and movies, CB radio became an incredibly popular fad among the public in the days before computers, the internet, cable TV, or cellular phones.
Prior to the gas crisis, the licensed CB population had stabilized at 800,000. Now, over 500,000 applications per month poured into the FCC Gettysburg Office. The peak was reached in January, when one million applications came in. By the end of 1977, over 10 million CB licenses were issued.
Click to enlarge