Is Your Ham Radio Club a General Purpose or Specialty Club?

Ham radio clubs are often thought of as the bedrock of amateur radio. As one who has both criticized ham radio clubs as well as made suggestions for helping improve them, I want to take some time to talk through what makes a great ham radio club.

The very first decision that needs making when forming a club is this one: do you want your club to be a general purpose club or a specialty club?

Some definitions

General purpose radio clubs are those clubs that want ham radio operators from the many different subsections of the overall hobby. You want to attract DX’ers, contesters, VHF enthusiasts, rag chewers, digital enthusiasts, builders, CW operators, SSTV types and people who love to work satellites and bounce signals off the Moon. QRP and QRO. Public service and emergency communications.

Specialty clubs, on the other hand, want to focus on one specific area of the hobby. The DX club. The contesting club. The repeater club. The digital club.

The very first thing you need to do is decide what type of club you want to be. These different types of clubs are managed differently, promote themselves differently and approach club membership differently.

Now, if you are not in a large enough area to support specialty clubs, you may by default need to be a general purpose radio club so that ten people can get together as a club. That’s just fine, but you need to then manage the club as a general purpose club and not a specialty club that happens to have three other people in it.

And for established clubs, you need to periodically take a hard look at what type of club you actually are and not what your mission statement says you are. Is your entire club now consisting of DX’ers and Contesting? Maybe you should split in two – or focus on getting other hams with more diverse interests involved in your club.

Your club can be a general purpose club or a specialty club, but not both.

Ham radio clubs are managed differently based on type

If you are a specialty club, you can focus on that one specialty. DX clubs don’t care much about SSTV. And contesting clubs don’t care much about rag chewing or how to do keyboard to keyboard packet. It’s not what they are about.

General purpose clubs, on the other hand, have to work a relatively delicate balance that promotes all the different aspects of the hobby without concentrating on one specific part of the hobby. That diversity is reflected in how you run the meetings, what programs you bring in and the events that you hold. As soon as a general purpose club starts to focus too much on one particular area of ham radio, you start to lose those not in that particular part of ham radio.

Each type of ham radio club has a strength that matches their weakness

The strength of a specialty club is that the club can focus exclusively on that specialty. But that strength is matched by the fact that a specialty club focuses on that one area of ham radio.

Take DXing, for instance. At a sunspot high, DX is fabulous. Ten watts on ten meters and the world is your oyster and new countries are pearls for the taking. But at a sunspot low, not so much. The high bands never open, the power, space and antennas needed to work DX on the low bands put most everyone at a disadvantage not to mention that low band DXing is best done at night. Easy membership now wanes, the club becomes smaller and the enthusiasm changes. That needs management.

A general purpose club, on the other hand, promotes all parts of ham radio. It doesn’t matter what is hot at the moment, the general purpose club is agile enough to move to whatever is hot at the moment. It can promote different parts of the hobby and others in the club can learn about new areas of ham radio. But the diversity of the topics mean not every topic will be interesting to everyone all of the time. That balance between helping hams learn about different parts of the hobby while not focusing on one area is the disadvantage general purpose clubs provide.

Decide what type of ham radio club you want to be

If you are forming a club, figure out what type of club you want to be. And if you are an existing club, take a hard look at least once a year to determine if you are really still a specialty club or if you are really still a general purpose club. Once you start being something you are not, a slippery slope–attracting and retaining members, budgets, dues, and conflict in the club–is not far behind.

​Read More

Lose your ham radio club members in one easy step

For the first time in a long time, I went to a ham radio club meeting. It was not a pleasant experience. In fact, I left after the half hour business meeting; I didn’t even wait to see the program for the night. It’s not that I was angry or frustrated or whatever; no, it came across that this club wasn’t serious about being a ham radio club.

Here’s three mini-events that came up during the business meeting:

No participation? Not a good club to be in.

After holding a fox hunt once a month for several months, there hasn’t been much participation. So in the business meeting, the person who is usually the fox stood up and noted the lack of participation and said that if there wasn’t going to be any participation, then the event should be cancelled. There was further discussion about publicizing the event–which showed there was lots of publicity in the club for the event–but no one came despite the publicity.

To me sitting in the audience, it screamed that the club members were not interested in the club activities. To top that off, no decision was made either on whether or not the event would continue. Hey, at least make a decision and move on; it shows leadership in the club. Nope.

Paid dues for NEXT year? Comment that the ham radio club will at least survive.

During the treasurer’s report, it was noted that some members paid dues for the following year as well as this one. The club president, perhaps with gallows humor, noted that the club will at least survive into next year. Now, no one laughed, so maybe he was being serious. I took the whole thing as survival was in question. Who would want to be a member of a dying club?

Bonus item: an e-mail to the last two years members who had not paid dues for this year brought in five or six additional dues payments. No participation, just money.

Need help for Field Day? No organization.

Field Day, for most ham radio clubs, is 70% in the bag. Location done, band captains named, equipment is getting organized and who is doing the cooking is all getting settled. Most won’t feel confident in the outcome just yet, but the organization of ham radio’s premier operating event is moving right along.

Not here. Nothing is done. Nothing looks like, from the discussion, that anything will get done anytime soon. You wonder if anyone learned anything from last year’s event.

One easy step to lose ham radio club members

You want a fast way to lose your ham radio club members? Start disrespecting the club and its activities. Dis the events. Don’t manage towards the event outcomes. Make misplaced remarks about the survival of the club.

It was my first visit back to a ham radio club since I moved. And in the audience, was someone who came to discover ham radio and found the meeting through the incredibly poor club web site.

You think he will be back?

​Read More

Ham radio web sites need improved marketing

When I moved to Seattle from Illinois, I wanted to join a ham radio club. Great — I hit the Internet and started looking. Once I found a club that I thought I would like, I tried to get directions to where the club meeting was located. Google maps was tough — the address information on the web site was incomplete. I found it — after arriving in the general area and looking for 20-minutes.

Fast forward. I move to a new state this last December, new city — look for a ham radio club where I can hang out. You’d think I’d have an easier time in this city. After all, I used to be the President of this club. Alas, they have moved their meeting location — not unexpected after all this time.

Armed with my GPS device and the address, sans zip code, I get to the strip mall where the club meeting is held. It’s dark. I drive up and down the strip mall: nothing. I get out of my car and walk the strip mall: nothing. Nada. Can’t find it.

It turns out it is a simple door where you go in and that, apparently, opens up into some space where meetings are held. I don’t know; after 15-minutes of looking, I give up.


Now, I’m picking on these two clubs. But you know what? Most ham radio web sites suck when it comes to marketing the club to hams in the city or people visiting the site.

And don’t even get me going on those Saturday morning breakfast meetings — all located at the XYZ Restaurant. Great. Except now I have to go look up the restaurant on Google, get an address, hope that when I get to the restaurant I’ll be able to find this little group that meets here on Saturdays. Is it too much to ask to put the directions in one place so you don’t make your potential new club members go through hoops to find you?

Do you want to use your ham radio web site to actually ATTRACT hams to your club?

Here are some suggestions.

Adequate directions

What are adequate directions? Well, if you can’t embed a Google map with directions to your site, you at least need the complete address. Complete, as in address, city, state and zip code. Almost no one puts in the zip code — but the zip code is what really differentiates the address for maps from Google and Yahoo! and others.

123 Main Street, Kansas City doesn’t cut it. Seriously. 123 Main Street, Suite 120, Kansas City, MO 66101 is the right address.

But you know what? Ham radio clubs meet in mysterious places inside buildings. Places like basements, or conference rooms — or houses. You need to tell inquisitive hams who might want to join your club exactly how to find the meeting place. If it is a simple doorway with small lettering on top in the middle of a construction zone, you should put that on web site.

If you are a ham in a new town looking to find your meeting place, how hard are you making it to find you? You know what? Most instances…hard.

Contact Information

Please contact any of our Board Members….but there is no contact information provided. No e-mail addresses, no contact form on the web site…nothing.

Even if you wanted to contact someone in the club, it is hard. It shouldn’t be hard if you really want members to join.

There are a tremendous number of non-spam contact forms that you can use to have people send you inquiries about the club. But saying to contact any Board Member about the club with no contact information isn’t it.

Focus of the club

If you deal with government for your antennas, government officials — if they are not familiar with the multitude of services ham radio provides — will go search for ham radio and the city they are serving. Or, if you are a neighbor of a ham and want to find out about that strange thing you do for a hobby and hit Google to find out about ham radio, the search result will be…? Your club will be one of the first things you find.

And what does this public official or your neighbor see hitting the home page? Blech.

A generic mission statement. Or worse. From my targeted club’s first paragraph on the home page:

The Club is based in southern (state). Our members enjoy all aspects of amateur radio including: DX, CW, VHF, UHF, Packet, other digital modes and many other forms of amateur radio.

Unless noted otherwise below, the club meets at 7:30pm on the Third Tuesday of each month at (place), 2300 S Park Street in the Villager Mall.

(This club) sponsors HF events, DX, contests, monthly meetings with programs and weekly nets.

Inspiring, isn’t it? Makes you want to vote to have an exception to rules on the planning commission for your tower, doesn’t it?

It IS the world wide web. Let’s get what the ham radio benefits are to the community right up front so that people searching the site get the benefits of ham radio. Not a bunch of acronyms and generic mission statements.

The rule is this: a city council member would read it and it would help them decide in favor of a tower. Or the public would read it and decide that…”oh, these people are not nuts; they do good things for the community.”

Pictures of a fun, approachable group

You know what? We look like a bunch of…well, you know what we look like. Most of the “pictures of Field Day” depict a group of people we would never intend on becoming friends with, much less attend a meeting. Boring looking, we are.

Let’s get some pictures up of a group of people engaged, enjoying what they do and who are approachable for hams and others in the community.

Of course, if you are not a fun, approachable group, you have other issues; but that is for another article another day…

Your club programs

You know what? If you have a responsible Board of Directors, the first board meeting should have a list of programs and tentative dates. If you don’t, you don’t have a good Board of Directors.

On the web site? You can’t list the program as “Fred, W9ABC, will talk about PSK31.” Nobody gets that except ham radio operators.

You need to describe what PSK — you know…phased shift keying — is, what Fred will present and what a cool program it will be for the group. Who thinks PSK31 is fun? Well, it is — but no one puts why that is on the web site about the program.

A members area

You want to put all that cool newsletter, Field Day pictures and club meeting minutes on the web site? You should — in a members only area.

The objective of the club web site is twofold: attract new members and serve current members. Above is the marketing to attract new members and show the benefits of ham radio to people who can influence or control our ability to practice our hobby.

The members area — user name and password controlled — is for member services in the club. Here is where you should have your meeting minutes. Here is where you have the dull and boring to anyone but a member pictures of Field Day. Here is where you have the newsletters that support your members and the club.

And a forum area. Yes, you can set up an e-mail reflector for the club, but you can also set up a forum area just for members. A little exclusivity, easy access — but don’t pay your dues and the access goes away.

It is about marketing ham radio

Look, a web site is about marketing ham radio to people who are either not hams or are hams and are looking for a place to provide support through a club.

We turn it into this place where nothing is focused, nothing is clear and the only people who could possibly understand what is going on in the web site are half the current members of the club.

Get a marketing face for the club as what is shown to everyone to attract members and support the hobby.

Get a private area for members to support the members of the club so that they stay and contribute to the club’s well-being.

Let’s get the club web sites to help the ham radio cause and serve our members. Not a mish-mash of who-knows-what begging to get dismissed.

​Read More

Ham Radio Clubs Need After Action Reviews

Ham radio is a hobby, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others in making ham radio better. In this particular case, ham radio clubs have a series of activities they do with their members. Whether this activity is Field Day, providing public service communications to the community or providing storm spotting support, these activities show the ham radio hobby to others.

After the events, we talk about them, of course. Most clubs will spend a good deal of time talking about Field Day at their next club meeting, for example. Often, however, the information is anecdotal and not recorded. And our opportunity for improvement is lost. Why is it important to do an after action review?

Ham radio needs effective support to government agencies

Many clubs support Emergency Operations of their local governments. By providing an alternative communications channel, especially for health and welfare communications, ham radio provides a significant service. Yet, poorly run activities that never yield improvements hurt our perception and rightly so.

Ham radio needs effective public relations

When we go out in the community and provide communications support for parades, runs, walks and other public activities, we are placing the reputation of the hobby on the line. The people in these events are our neighbors — the very people we need supporting us for antenna placement, tower approvals and other support for our hobby. Doing a poor job in these activities hurts our reputation with the very people we need to help us.

Ham radio needs effective After Action Reviews

Let’s borrow an effective technique from the Army called the After Action Review. A formal process used after every patrol and mission, the After Action Review is used to improve what is done in the field and is a major reason for the effectiveness of the Army today. There are four questions to ask after the event. The answers are recorded and then the improvement suggestions are integrated into the next event. The questions are:

  1. What was expected to happen? We had goals for the event; a review of the goals.
  2. What actually occurred? We planned it one way and had certain goals; did the event go according to plan?
  3. What went well and why? We need to maximize what went well for the next time.
  4. What needs improvement and how? One can’t criticize alone; we need to explain how something can improve the next time and figure out how to build that into the plan for next time. Also note this is not “went wrong.” Wrong implies blame. But stuff always goes “wrong” in an event so the issue is focusing on improvement.

Using this more formal review technique after ham radio club events will go a long way to focusing the members on improvements without going the blame route. And building in the review and the improvements for next time help our cause with the people we need to support our hobby.

How has your club improved its activities through a review process?

​Read More

Using Seminars for Ham Radio

Early in October, I received an e-mail from our ARRL Section that announced an antenna seminar at a convenient location. The subjects of the antenna seminar were:

  • Antennas 101 — all about the basics of antennas
  • Portable Antennas for EmComm — antennas that you can carry easily and work in a variety of circumstances
  • Round Table Discussion on Antennas — answer questions from the audience

The reason this was interesting to me was because the seminar was not held in conjunction with a swapfest or any other radio event; it was just held in a convenient meeting location and hams (others?) were invited.

This is an interesting approach to reaching out to hams and others.

Why don’t we do more of these? Or do more seminars at swapfests?

​Read More

Club Management — The meeting after the meeting

Time for a beer One of the key aspects of ham radio club membership meetings is that they are social events, not meeting events. If we take this social event approach to the meeting, one tries to maximize the social time around the business and program portions of the meeting.

One of the reasons to be hard-nosed about the end time of the program (say 9:00 PM) is that it offers time for your members to have a “meeting after the meeting.”

​Read More

Club Management — running a meeting

Burlington Friends Meeting meeting room Meetings in the corporate world suck. They take too long, they don’t have an agenda. Too many people with no interest in the meeting attend because they were invited. If the thought of a ham radio meeting was like corporate meetings, no one would join your club. Which is commentary, of course, on corporate meetings…

But, membership meetings for ham radio shouldn’t be like corporate meetings. In fact, they can be stellar.

​Read More

Club Management — the role of Boards and Members

Ohio: Southeast Ohio Political Strategy Meeting, June 16 Amateur Radio clubs are social creatures. There is always a governing body and membership. There is more than one way to approach governing radio clubs. The one I like best is the Board sets policy and budget while the members participate in the activities and programs.

Members have a say, of course, in how the club is run — they do that by working with the Board of Directors. Hams are vocal, as they should be, about how the club is run.

But there is a world of difference between having a Board concentrate on the financial, membership, and program welfare of the club and having every nuance of running the club discussed and voted on at membership meetings.

​Read More

Club Program Ideas — 26 Killer Programs

DSC_0138Over the last month or so, I’ve provided a “club program idea” a day for use by clubs and their members. As I was doing these, I continually thought of even more! Brainstorming these ideas really generate more, so I suggest you try it.

Each of these program ideas has a link to the short article and a suggested format for the program. In many cases, there are bonus ideas included as well.

Clubs are the backbone of the social networking of ham radio. An efficient business meeting combined with a killer program will draw people to your meetings. And your members will learn from other members about aspects of the ham radio hobby and service.

Here’s the summary and links to each of the ideas:

​Read More