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700,000 Amateur Radio Operators in the US? Perhaps the real number is 157,000

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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:

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

  1. How many of the 700,000 license amateur radio operators are actually active?
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Written by frrl

January 21, 2012 at 5:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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25 Responses

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  1. I am a current long time ARRL member and grateful to be able to leverage the information offered by them and feel the yearly fee is peanuts. Ham radio would seriously fade without ARRL’s voice in government and the volumes of expert data new and old radio operators can access.

    Tom Tryon

    September 30, 2016 at 10:59 pm

  2. I would consider joining if they didn’t tie a PRINT magazine subscription I don’t want to the membership. Let me join without a print magazine, or with access to a digital version, and I’ll consider it.

    Radio CIA

    April 15, 2016 at 2:52 am

  3. ARRL is a paid for advocacy group for a hobby and service we all enjoy, and participate in. Unless you have someone fighting for your corner for the issues that make our hobby possible, it will be taken away and the frequency bands reduced and sold to cable/phone/data/digital for profit businesses…its worth the few bucks a year to get access to great info, as well as events that help us enjoy Amateur radio. 73


    September 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm

  4. I have a friend who at one time held an amateur license, but let it expire years ago. He wants to get back into the hobby but needs to know what his call was at the time. He’s in Gahanna, Ohio and name is Jack Steinhausser. He wants to become an American Legion Amateur operater also, so can you please help me with his old call sign?

    Harvey Jones

    September 26, 2015 at 2:08 pm

  5. AARL board is anti 2nd amendment – look up the comments from their legal representative on this….


    August 15, 2015 at 11:39 pm

  6. ARRL membership is expensive and a lot of time meaningless. ARRL is known for not listening to ham operators and look what happens with loss of frequencies and privileges. Also, ham operators have experimented and developed new bands only to have them taken away for commercial interests. (ex: cell phones)

    Yes, ARRL membership does not indicate the number of hams (active or not). If this were so, what the author is saying is that the licensee would allow the license to lapse and not renew and you would see a steady decline toward the ARRL membership number, not a steady or increase around 700,000 licensees as we have. Facts refute the claims of the author.


    October 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm

  7. To find ARRL membership figures for years earlier than 2002, log in as a member at ARRLWeb, go to the online periodicals search page, and search for

    year in review

    You’ll be rewarded with a listing that includes each year’s Year in Review article (by tradition, in the May issue of _QST_). The May 1995 “Year in Review” article for 1994, for instance, says that in 1994 membership reached a (then) all-time high of 172,462..

    David Newkirk

    July 18, 2014 at 1:24 am

  8. I disagree that saying only those who are members of “The League” are active Ham Radio Operators. I was first licensed in 1976 and have been active for all these years, more so at some times than others, but still active. I became a league member for a couple of years at that time, just starting out, and it was a good source of information. Then I dropped it for a LONG TIME and rejoined again within that last 8 years or so but have become a non-member again for the last year and a half. That has nothing to do with me being active or not. At times due to other obligations I can’t afford the nearly $40 a year membership, such as now being unemployed for 2 years I don’t find a membership in the ARRL, even with QST a NECESSITY to live, so that $40 can be better spent elsewhere.

    QST Magazine is geared more towards the affluent Hams, than the average Ham. Their articles often feature high end Transceivers, high priced beam antennas and DXpeditions that cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars. I WILL never own any of that equipment, nor afford going to some remote island for a dxpeditions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Ham Radio.

    You don’t need a lot of money to enjoy the Hobby and you certainly don’t need to be a league member to be successful in making contacts whether Stateside or DX. WHICH would bring you the most satisfaction? Sitting here in the midwest with a $10,000 rig running the best coax to an array of multi-element beams and running full legal power and contacting a station in Italy? OR…completing a contact with the same station running your older transceiver, running 5 watts using JT65a through a 50 foot hunk of RG 58 you bought at Radio Shack on closeout 8 years ago for $12, into a 30 foot piece of wire hanging in your neighbor’s tree because YOU don’t have a tree in your yard? I’ve done that and do it on a regular basis. I was a long time participant in ARES even as a AEC, as well as SKYWARN. I do contesting, DXing, digital modes, Voice Modes, CW from 160 meters to the 430 MHz band. Nothing I do requires I be a league member, and IF and WHEN I have a few free dollars, I do ship a few their way, primarily to help support their Political Lobbying to support Ham Radio. Other than that, there really is very little the ARRL offers me as a member that I take advantage of.


    May 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

  9. I am very active in amateur radio, RACES, and ARES and have never been an ARRL member. Out of our group I only know of one that is an ARRL member. My dad was about 20 years ago for a year or two, but for the most part it is a pretty rare thing at least where I am. It may be more popular in big cities though.


    March 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    • So what you are saying is that you and your club members are not concerned about pressure to take away sone of the frequency spectrum. You do not use qsl service. You do not read on new equipment and amateur news. Or you just rather have someone else pay for it. It is like benefiting from the work and contribution of others. You save 15 cents a day and one day you get up in the morning and someone else was allocated your frequency.

      niko gershon

      April 2, 2013 at 11:18 am

      • What a jerk. In some threads you say its OK to not be a member…yet you attack this guy for not being a member. TROLL


        May 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm

  10. Out of twenty active members in my local club, maybe three are Leauge members. A LOT of active hams don’t feel they get much for the dues and get their hobby news from CQ magazine. The correlation may still hold on some level, but I don’t think it is as tight as you make it.


    February 7, 2013 at 7:46 am

  11. I used to be a member of the ARRL for many years but it became too expensive. I have been an advanced ham for 20 or so years and a licensed ham since 1960. I am active. There are a lot of us who aren’t members of ARRL but enjoy talking with other hams. It seems like the ARRL is only interested in DX contests where an exchange of you are 59 in Uganda is what is looked for.


    February 7, 2013 at 3:56 am

  12. I have not been a member of ARRL for many years but have been a ham since 1960 and I am active and an advanced class.


    February 7, 2013 at 3:52 am

  13. I am not a member of the ARRL because I do not like them. They are not especially helpful to the radio community, and they charge far too much for both the membership and for any materials ordered from them…they seem to be very elitist and I do not agree with that. To me, they are polarizing the amateur community rather than bringing people together. I have a lot more interaction on than I EVER did on ARRL.


    January 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    • No problem. Not everyone has to be a member. I think that you were not exposed to the positive sides of the arrl.

      niko gershon

      January 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      • I am a member. I am new to amateur radio and have little understanding of math and electronics. I am 70 years old and work 6 days a week. I recently joined a local club. I have a general license. I wanted to be an operator for family protection in case of a disaster as well as to join ARES to see what I could offer. It may not be a lot due to my workload. That was my goal. After 2-3 months of being licensed, my goals have changed. Ares is way down the road. Surviving disasters using ham doesn’t seem as promising as it once did. All I want now is to make a contact before stowing my “station” in a box. I have yet to make a qso. It has been suggested in an article to make a call to a member of my club. Really? I spend $500 to call a club member?
        Is there a statistic to show how many licensees don’t ever become active or drop out before one year?

        Am I whining. Probably. But if I am expressing a legitimate concern of other new licensees, what is ARRL doing for people like me?

        If you want to understand your membership, perhaps you ought to be asking a different set of questions.

        I will continue to read, watch videos, etc until I feel I have given it a good college try.

        Thanks for listing,

        Bob Stickney

        October 11, 2016 at 5:54 am

  14. It is up to us, the active members, to work with the ARRL in our respective areas, divisions and sections to increase membership in the ARRL. A stronger ARRL will benefit all of us. Come up with suggestions and forward them to your section manager and division director.

    Let’s see if we can increase the number and percentages. One percent increase means 1,600 more active members.

    Niko Gershon

    January 17, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    • Good morning. i am trying to contact John Paolino who I believe to be an active member. Is there a list of call letters and members associated with them? He is a very old friend of mine. Bob Trivero

      Bob Trivero

      January 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      • Current FCC database shows no record…..are you sure the spelling is correct?


        January 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      • Cant find his name on the active list

        niko gershon

        January 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      • try “” I think this article is a load of horse hockey. I am very active and have been so since 1960. you will NOT find my name on any subscription service and I do subscribe to all the literature and am a life member of ARRL. like a great number of amateur radio operators I wish not to have my name all over the universe, on lists the government and dolts like this can shove me into a box for his article on “wiki” which is by no means accurate in any way. If you have your friends call sign that might be the only way to find him.
        if you go to: www. you can get all his info.


        May 13, 2015 at 9:16 am

  15. I +have+ belonged to ARRL mostly because I was interested in their magazine and their publications; I also believe that they serve some worthy purposes. I +have+ belonged to a local radio club– nice people, mostly well-intentioned and fairly bright. And I am active as the spirit moves me on the bands, I’m not just very clubby. Like yourselves I believe the actual numbers to be specious.

    Ronald Hobbs, KC6VHU

    December 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  16. […] there is some controversy over the actual number of active hams in the US and some pendents have put the number at 157,000 which is the number of […]

  17. […] ? Moins ? Le site essaie de répondre à ces questions en argumentant. C’est à lire ici. Ces articles peuvent vous intéresser:ROSAT: Encore un satellite fou! Après le satellite […]

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