Volunteering with the local club at the county fair can be an interesting experience. This has been the case for me over the last few years while helping at the Puyallup fair. Anyone that knows me knows well that I am not too fond of the Puyallup fair these days. Why? I simply feel that it has become way too commercialized. Think of it as being like the Dayton Hamfest, with a roller coaster, but not a radio in sight. I cringe at that thought.
As myself and another ham operator sat in the booth for the local club, I noticed something that seemed rather odd to me. I have long held that amateur radio is for anyone, and everyone. However, it is always very interesting to see who is willing to come up and ask about it.
I have noticed that the greatest amount of interest in amateur radio comes from males. Of that group, married males of retirement age are more likely to look into amateur radio than married males who are still raising children. Likewise, single males are more likely than married males to ask about amateur radio. Of the women, older women are more likely than young women to ask about radio. Women who grew up around amateur radio, regardless of age, are more likely to ask than those who have never been exposed to it. Teenagers tend to be the less likely than pre-teens to ask about radio.
I can’t really say why this trend, which is what I call it after years of observation, exists. I do have a thought about why teens are less likely than pre-teens to ask about radio. It is quite simple. Today’s teens are spoiled. They have mobile devices that tend to be reliable, are capable of nearly instant access to all forms of media, and there is no test to take, just pay your money and run.
However, don’t tell them that their devices aren’t reliable in a disaster. Depending upon where you live, you might encounter any manner of hostility. I happen to live along the Cascadian Subduction Zone. If you have read the September edition of QST magazine, you know full well that FEMA recently conducted an earthquake drill in the Pacific Northwest based upon the likely event of a rupture of this particular fault line, a rupture that is already better than 50 years overdue.
I find that very few people can acknowledge that mobile devices will fail during a disaster, and fewer still that are willing to discuss it and how to maintain communications during such disasters. Part of the problem is that, at least where I live, too many people have a mindset of “it will never happen here”, and have been lulled into a false sense of security. The sad fact is that for many in my region, disasters are something that happens somewhere else, all we get is that occasion snowstorm (which can also be a disaster, but denial is full effect there too).
Unfortunately, even discussing the potential for disasters can be a turn off for those who might otherwise be interested in ham radio. I suppose that when it comes down to it, knowing whom you are discussing amateur radio with helps, but it is not a reliable factor in determining interest. In fact, better than half the people we spoke with, regardless of age or gender, only wanted to know where the restrooms were, or where the giant pumpkins were. No interest at all.
I don’t know that there is any real way to spur more interest in amateur radio. The advent of mobile media devices, with their near instant connection to everything, has spoiled many. Even knowing the vulnerabilities of these devices, or how amateur radio played a part in their development doesn’t seem to help. Perhaps all we can do is wait, wait until an earthquake or volcanic eruption hits before people will be interested, and by then, it will already be too late.