Chapter Five: The Club Connection
Clubs are groups of people with some common interest, who meet periodically. Active radio clubs typically consider the common interest to be programs which promote the technical aspects of Amateur Radio and help their members. The successful club has found that technical awareness and interest must begin with an amateur's earliest experience in the hobby, particularly in licensing classes and at club meetings. Radio club events are among the most popular of all Amateur Radio activities.
New amateurs or to-be amateurs should be encouraged to learn more about how their rigs work and a few of the fundamentals for diagnosing and remedying problems. Information on how to set up a station for efficient operation and how to determine that it is operating properly, should also be provided. An introduction to the specialized modes of communications (packet radio, ATV, moonbounce, and satellites) and some of the technical specialties within Amateur Radio is an important part of this program. The emphasis at this point should not be on detailed technical information, but to make the new amateur aware of the variety of interesting technical activities within Amateur Radio and the opportunity to gain a good practical background in many phases of modern electronics and communications. Publicity and recognition that clubs can give should be employed to reward the efforts of achievers and neophytes alike. What in particular can TCs do to stimulate club interest in technical activities? For starters they can show films, slides, and video tapes, available from the ARRL, to see exciting new facets of ham radio. Next they could design, build, and test tutorial technical projects to be adopted into club programs of continuing education. Keep in mind that one of Amateur Radio's reasons for being is technical competence. Club meetings nourished with technical tidbits give members starving for technical knowledge something to chew on, then once they gain strength it's up to you to help vary the menu.
5.2 ARRL Affiliated Club
Any club with more than half of its voting members as licensed amateurs and more than half of the voting members as ARRL members, is eligible for ARRL affiliation. For school and youth clubs, only a single member need be licensed and a League member. Each ARRL affiliated club should be encouraged to appoint a Club Technical Leader, Technical Committee or Chairman to organize and conduct activities and plan programs. By working with the Technical Coordinator, the club can reap the benefits of state-of-the-art technological advancements. Complete details of the affiliation program are contained in the "Club Kit", available free from the League. The kit contains a wealth of information for anyone thinking of starting a new club, for newly formed clubs and the new club officer. Every aspect of club activities, from where to hold meetings to the value of club incorporation, is included.
5.3 Special Service Club (SSC)
Special Service Clubs (SSCs) are clubs that make a yearly commitment to become more effective in representing Amateur Radio and the ARRL in their local communities. Following very flexible guidelines, SSCs establish a number of ongoing programs in various areas, including training and technical advancement. The TC and TS will find that SSCs are a likely spot to find technical activities. Members of these clubs want to become more familiar and knowledgeable in the technical aspects of Amateur Radio in their community and aim to organize a cooperative effort to study together to upgrade their licenses. SSC members have three main technical activity objectives:
- Sponsor local working groups for specific technical activities, depending on the members' interest, such as packet radio, ATV, moonbounce, computers, OSCAR, and such, with the stipulation that news of group activities be shared with the club at large and with the Technical Coordinator.
- Maintain an up-to-date library of Amateur Radio and technical publications for the members' use, or provide financial support for such a section in the local library.
- Introduce club members to new club activities such as circuit designing, building and testing. For more information about Special Service Clubs, contact your section's Affiliated Club Coordinator or Section Manager.
5.4 Technical Interest Clubs
Some clubs, which might be called Technical Interest Clubs, thrive and flourish on their members enthusiasm over technical matters. One TC goal is to foster cooperative programs with technical clubs or groups with activities involving repeaters, packet radio, interference committees or satellites. The Technical Interest Club, therefore, is ideal starting point.
The amateur satellite program is a proven example of where support of a selected technical area can yield big dividends. It has given thousands of amateurs the opportunity to experience the thrill of space communications and provided new educational applications for Amateur Radio. But the impact of the satellite program is much greater than is suggested by the percentage of amateurs who have actually used the satellites. The returns in terms of publicity for Amateur Radio and recognition by the technical community around the world have been significant.
5.5 Club Training Aids
ARRL has a number of video programs, and some contain technical selections. The list is on the Web. When you get the list take it to your club, then make selections, and finally email your request form to ARRL Headquarters. The ARRL Training Aids are a great source of educational material for a Technical Coordinator to use in helping a club. Many progressive clubs with creative members have gone one step farther and now produce their own training aids with great success.
5.6 Club Library
Although the days when most equipment in an amateur's station was the product of home construction will probably never return, the technical side of Amateur Radio is a vital one which must be preserved and encouraged, such as through a club library.
Your club might establish a club technical information or publications library or an exchange system for computer programs related to Amateur Radio. The principal role of the club in this area should be to facilitate the exchange of technical information, as well as to provide introductory or tutorial material for those with a developing interest in technical activities. This information includes providing programs and seminars at club meetings and conventions on advanced technical topics and encouraging members who are working in one of these areas to publish the results of their activities. The ARRL offers a Library Set, typically containing 24 publications for a special postpaid sale price. Many clubs donate sets of ARRL publications to local public libraries in order to help stir interest in Amateur Radio within their community. Check here for information on the Library Set.
5.7 Club Equipment
The majority of equipment programs can most effectively be undertaken by local radio clubs, with guidance and assistance from the Technical Coordinator and Technical Specialist. Programs should encourage every amateur to undertake a simple technical project, preferably early in his or her amateur career. Ideally this would be a part of initial Amateur Radio class activities leading to an FCC license. Here are a few club equipment ideas:
- Test Equipment. Assemble and maintain a set of test equipment and technical manuals for use by club members. Locate them for easy access at either a central location or at an individual's station.
- Tune-up Clinics. How can you encourage members to maintain their own equipment? Local clubs and willing electronics technicians can play a role in this area with coordination from the TC. The clubs can sponsor seminars on equipment maintenance, adjustment and repair (including when not to attempt repairs). Local electronics technicians can assist by providing information to the clubs on how to conduct a maintenance seminar or tune-up clinic, including a check list for popular types of equipment. Local tune-up clinics are already a popular activity to assist club members in maintaining their VHF/UHF gear.
5.8 Club Projects
Sponsor group projects to build and then test a piece of equipment. Guidance and help from the more technically proficient club members should help motivate the newer amateurs to begin and follow through on such projects. Group purchases of components, mass production of PC boards, or assembling kits of parts are other ways that a club can encourage club project activities. Here are a few more:
- Develop project designs suitable to building interest and experience, especially for use as club projects.
- Provide an information exchange about successful projects which have been designed and undertaken by club members.
- Items 1 and 2 could be expanded to become a technical projects bank, with a selection of projects available including PC board designs. This could become a significant benefit of club membership.
- Establish a PC board bank with PC board masks available for a number of projects or a central facility for fabricating PC boards.
- For selected projects, the selling of circuit boards or even complete parts kits can be undertaken in the absence of satisfactory commercial sources. Radio amateurs learn Morse code, it's a common denominator for all of us. Why not make use of the code at your next club meeting? Imagine this, you arrive early, put out some pencils and paper, then set up a home-made code- practice oscillator, and finally begin sending code. It's guaranteed to attract attention. Whether you're a beginning amateur or have held your license for a time, you probably need a reliable and inexpensive code-practice oscillator to help yourself or someone else to get a license or to upgrade. Next time you're at a swapfest and see something with a small cabinet for 50 cents, snap it up. Remove the parts and put in a simple audio-oscillator circuit. With 9 volts applied it should have sufficient volume to be used for club code classes. If your code is rusty, get someone else to send and you pick up a pencil and piece of paper to practice receiving. Complete instructions for a simple code-practice oscillator can be found in the ARRL Handbook. ARRL technical publications contain schematics, photographs, circuit diagrams, graphs, and instructions for easy-to-build projects which you can build in a weekend or even in one evening; short-term projects for your station or your club that satisfy the desire to build, yet have reasonable cost and use available parts. They include articles on receiving, transmitting, test equipment, accessories, pal Jr supplies, and other topics of interest. Build the code-practice oscillator, then take it, the booklet, pencils and paper to hour next club meeting-but be ready for some fun.
5.9 Club Station
Set up and maintain a club station to provide hands-on experience and proper station operation under the guidance of the club's more experienced members. If that's too basic, then try to encourage a higher level of microwave experimentation and activity. Certain advanced communication techniques require an FCC Special Temporary authorization (STA). The club, with a club station, can foster technical experimentation by providing its members with information on how to obtain an STA.
5.10 Clubs On-the-Air
What popular annual event gets plenty of clubs on-the- air, yet takes some special technical skills? Most amateurs agree that Field Day (FD) is the answer, it's the one event that takes a variety of technical know-how and some pretty special skills. When spring arrives, the weather hints that the excitement of Field Day activity is just months away, yet some preparations for many Amateur Radio clubs and groups begin long before spring, while others even plan right after last year's Field Day ends. The primary purpose of Field Day, you'll recall, is to encourage emergency preparedness on the part of amateur clubs and other groups. There's plenty of opportunities for the Technical Coordinator to assist club members in learning about new Amateur Radio technology, before, during, and even after Field Day.
But, you may say, Field Day is going to be the same as last year. That's superb if you've got full participation and the same loyal club members. But what if interest dwindles or there are some beginners? And then some clubs, competing within your section striving for higher scores each year, reach a limit where the effort necessary to improve, even a small amount, overwhelms and frustrates the marginal FD participants. That's when variety and ingenuity can be dispatched to the rescue. Fresh thinking by the TC may be a key step to help club members in the next Field Day, not only to truly prepare for emergencies, but also to gain insight into modern Amateur Radio and kindle new enthusiasm. Try some of these technical challenges:
- Natural Power. Many Field Day groups take ad- vantage of the 100 bonus points for making at least five contacts using some form of natural power to run their station. This alternate source of power can be from solar cells, wind or moving water, or alternate fuels such as methane or grain alcohol. If these power sources can be used to make a few Field Day contacts, why not use them to power our stations every day? What an advantage this could be when you are called on to provide emergency communications. If you already use an alternate energy source, consider sharing some of your expertise with QST readers, prepare a short summary or outline of your proposed article and submit it to ARRL Headquarters.
- Nontraditional Modes. An additional 100 bonus points may be earned for setting up a demonstration of a nontraditional mode of Amateur Radio communications, such as APRS, ATV and SSTV.
- QRP. The QRP and battery-powered transmitter might add new excitement, since it is more like spur-of-the- moment, get together what you can, real emergency equipment. A high Field Day score is of secondary importance and not necessarily an indicator of preparedness. Club members can develop winning station setups with proper TC guidance, by using skilled operators, thorough planning or good strategy, and still keep the Field Day purpose in mind.
- Satellites. Earn another 100 bonus points by completing at least one QSO via satellite during the FD period.
- Location. In order to get everyone trained and involved, especially the beginners, try changing the Field Day location or entry class every few years. For example, your next site could be on a hill at a completely different area than last year, operating in the QRP battery-powered one- transmitter class. The higher elevation of a hill could boost signal strength, while a simple vertical antenna might develop more US and Canadian QSOs per hour than a highly directional beam-Field Day is not a DX contest. Field Day has passed by. Club committees analyze log pages for duplicate contacts, coil the coax into rolls, sweep grass off the tent and fold it up until next year. It's over- but wait. What about the opportunity for the Technical Coordinator to assist club members in learning about Amateur Radio technology after the event? Assess the triumphs and evaluate the shortcomings. Was there thought about emergency preparedness? Did the public see what Amateur Radio technology can do? Was someone struggling to make solar- or wind-powered devices operate? Write brief reminders that tell what worked for you and even what didn't work. Share and exchange these ideas and thoughts and maybe learn a new trick or two. Now if Field Day doesn't interest your group, then at least try another ARRL operating activity; submit logs as appropriate.
5.11 Interference Committees
The Technical Specialist can provide considerable guidance with interference programs for the club.