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ARRL: Reaping the Whirlwind

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“Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.
The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: a social history by Richard Bartlett

It is rather interesting that a book published in 2007 ends with the above Epilogue.  The author is essentially saying that, for him, the evolution of ham radio ended in the 1950’s  and so that is where his book on Amateur Radio will cease to tell the story.  There is nothing else to report other than “repetition”.  It’s a sort of “Mission Accomplished” and the date in history is 1950.

Look in the index of the book and you will find that the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) has about the most page references of any entry.  The ARRL figures prominently in the story of Amateur Radio since its founding at the beginning of the 20th century up until where the author ends the story.

A couple of weeks ago there was a segment on 60 minutes on the newspaper industry.  The newspaper industry just like traditional book sellers, travel agents, video rental, and all the rest have been hit by a technological revolution.  This technological revolution can be seen either as death through  irrelevancy or as harbinger of opportunity – depending on your perspective.


Newspapers are in trouble because they continue to do what they do, and what they always did – print newspapers no matter what the massive changes (opportunities) that were in front of them all along.  Traditional newspapers are in  trouble because they were in a state of repetition while the whole world changed, and continues to change, around them.  Printed newspaper are falling into a state of irrelevancy for an increasing large number of people.

In the case of the The Times-Picayune which was profiled on 60 Minutes the reason the paper gave for not changing was the traditional audience for the paper.  The idea being that they would be loyal to their current audience and the preferences this particular audience chooses to consume their news.  But, in the end, the current audience and their preferences could not sustain the ongoing full operation of The Times-Picayune.

The Take

There is an interesting parallel between the decision of the author of The World of Ham Radio published in 2007 to cut short the history of Ham Radio in 1950 and the newspaper industry.  Both the ARRL as a proxy for Amateur Radio and The Times-Picayune as proxy for newspapers in general are caught in decades long cycles of repetition.  Both remain loyal to their existing audience.  The audience for both is generational.

As for the The Times-Picayune newspaper they were forced into shutting down parts of the enterprise due to financial concerns brought about by change.  They were forced into this unplanned event based on financial drivers.

As for the ARRL, it seems to be a waiting game of how they deal technological change which makes Amateur Radio an interesting hobby in the context of our taken-for-granted always-on hyper global connectivity available to anyone with a smart phone  and the issue of their membership which shows a clear generational preference.

This is from ARRL CEO David Summer K1ZZ posted on the ARRL website:

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

In 2014 the ARRL will celebrate its 100th anniversary.  One would wonder if the ARRL  Centennial celebration – its current organizational priority – is primarily a look back or a look forward.  If it’s a look forward then can the ARRL afford a delay in the Strategic Plan that sets its course for the future in the context of its membership which is in a generational bubble and modern taken-for-granted hyper-connectivity global communications technology available to anyone with a smart phone – not just those with an Amateur Radio license.

“at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it“… is that what happened to the newspaper business in general and The Times-Picayune in particular?

Read more…

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Written by frrl

January 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

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