Attracting newcomers to Ham Radio

Dom M0BLF of Camb-Hams and the Cambridge University Wireless Society (CUWS) suggests a few ways to attract newcomers to Amateur Radio.

The only major recruiting event we have is the Cambridge University Wireless Society's [CUWS] presence at the annual Fresher's Fair in the University each September.

Typically, this gives us around 40-50 students signing-up, of which maybe 2 or 3 three will actually go on to be interested enough to take the Foundation and Intermediate exams. (We normally encourage students to do both exams at the same time, as the Foundation is almost insultingly easy for a Cambridge University physics undergrad!)

Most years there's also one student who joins the university already holding an advanced licence they obtained at school, but typically they haven't been QRV recently due to time and financial limitations.

Despite these low numbers, it's not unusual for us to put 20 people through Foundation + Intermediate exams per year, plus maybe 6 advanced candidates. The majority of these come to us via word-of-mouth or ad-hoc contact from people who've heard about Amateur radio elsewhere and a handful may be referred via the RSGB DRM. Not all of them are students, as the CUWS act as the local exam centre regardless of the candidate's background. This is principally a matter of practicality: unlike other local clubs, as a registered University society, we can rent University rooms for free, and our shack is available for the Practical’s 24 hours a day, so other local clubs will refer interested people to CUWS.

We don't typically run courses. Of course, we run the Foundation + Intermediate practical sessions as-and-when they are required but for the theory exam we have a stock of the RSGB course books that we lend to candidates, supplemented by a set of PowerPoint slides we have developed. We find that motivated candidates (even if they aren't University students) manage perfectly well with this self-study. We're happy to share the PowerPoint’s if they would interest you / other tutors.  For the Intermediate practical, we find that Maplin oscillator kits normally fulfil the role adequately.

When the candidate is ready for the exam (normally as soon as they have nearly completed the practical elements), we arrange the written paper for two weeks' time, even if there is only one candidate. We'd prefer to keep them while they are motivated than to have them waiting a few weeks, during which they might get other interests, or an increased workload from the University.

Reaching out further into the community, one recent initiative is to lend the Cambridgeshire Repeater Group's van Flossie to the local not-for-profit community broadcast station, Cambridge 105. This is used as an outside broadcast unit when the radio station gets involved in charitable events. For example, for Children In Need last week, Flossie toured four different parts of the city with live music acts outside the van 'busking' for the charity live on-air.

The OB engineers for these events consist of myself, M0VFC and M0LCM. As we're using the van with all its amateur rigs in it as well as the broadcast equipment, we get a lot of opportunity to talk about amateur radio. So far, through this link, one of the station's DJs has got an intermediate licence, with another promising to do a course, and the licensed DJ's primary-school-aged children are also very enthusiastic. <br /> <br /> We also find that the Cambridge 105 brand gets us into schools easier, and for example, last month we had a number of children building crystal sets. We didn't push amateur radio with them, but they've had some exposure, so hopefully it has planted a seed. Time will tell. (As an aside, there are interesting technical challenges for us working with broadcast radio, too... it turns out that amateur 6m collinear work very well on a 52MHz Band I backhaul frequency!) Most cities now have volunteer-run community radio stations, so I'd have thought that other groups could emulate this.

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Cambridge University Wireless Society (CUWS) -

Cambridge University Wireless Society (CUWS) Facebook Page -