30,000+ New Ham Licensees and 7,000 Amateur Radio Exam Sessions in 2017

For the fourth year in a row, more than 30,000 new licensees joined the Amateur Radio ranks, and the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) conducted more than 7,000 Amateur Radio exam sessions, serving some 35,350 candidates for a new or upgraded license. At the end of December 2017, the US Amateur Radio population stood at 748,136.

At nearly 378,000, Technician licensees represented the largest segment, with General (174,206), Amateur Extra (145,034), Advanced (41,938), and Novice (9,056) trailing.

Licensee numbers showed continued growth across all classes except Advanced and Novice, which the FCC no longer issues; those numbers continue to drop.

“I’m hopeful that the number of new licensees will be more than 30,000 at the end of this year,” ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, said. “I would love to see this trend continue!” Somma said topping the 7,000 mark in ARRL VEC-sponsored exam sessions since 2014 was “an important milestone for us.” In 2017, the ARRL VEC administered 7,075 sessions.

Despite the optimistic influx of 32,196 newcomers last year, the net growth of 5,349 — about 0.72% over December 2016 — reflects some 27,000 expired or cancelled licenses in the FCC database over the past year. In making the case for changes to the entry-level license, the ARRL Board’s Entry-Level License Committee referred to “the large number of Baby Boomers (roughly born 1945 – 65) [who] will soon be aging off the licensee rolls.” The committee predicted the likelihood of “a significant decline in the number of hams, unless we take steps to reverse it.”

Somma said that, in addition to exam session administration, ARRL VEC also processed and electronically transmitted 8,765 address changes and license renewals to the FCC for ARRL members in 2017. “This free service to members continues to be a strong draw,” she said. She further pointed out that, as one of three FCC-authorized Club Station Call Sign Administrators (CSCSA), ARRL VEC processed and transmitted 1,761 club license applications for the FCC in 2017, of which 338 were for new club licenses.

The number of Amateur Radio license upgrades was 9,576 in 2017, continuing a slight downward trend over the past 10 years.

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