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Joining a Club

Strength in Numbers: Why a New Ham Should Join an Amateur Radio Club

You have your license and your first radio. If you’re not sure what to do next, the best thing is to join an amateur radio club where you will connect with experienced hams who can help you get more involved and on the air.

“Joining a club is great for two things,” said ARRL Field Services Manager Mike Walters, W8ZY.

“You can meet an Elmer. And you can meet like-minded people.”

“Elmer” is ham radio slang for a mentor. So, if you hear a lot of talk about “Elmering” at a club you are checking out, you are in the right place.

ARRL’s website lists more than 2,000 ham radio clubs across the country. Walters said the best thing for a new Technician to do is to seek out a local club that participates in a variety of activities. Some clubs, he said, focus on a specific ham radio activity, like contesting, and that may not be the best place for someone new to ham radio.

“Start out by looking for a general-purpose club. That way, you can get a flavor for everything in ham radio,” Walters said.

You have plenty of choices, and it’s important to shop around to find a club that focuses on recruiting new members and mentoring newcomers. If the first club you check out doesn’t suit you, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere.

The ideal club is one that is local to you, and has enough members to be active in as many different parts of ham radio as possible. That makes it easier to meet experienced hams and get a taste for everything amateur radio has to offer, Walters said.

Look for a club that offers classes and other kinds of help. Some clubs hold licensing exam classes, and even regular “bootcamps” that help hams at all levels build their skills. Some post educational material on their websites, to promote ongoing learning.

If a club focuses on teaching basic skills, like programming a radio, that’s a sign that they’re welcoming to newcomers. Helping a new ham make their first contact is a great way of encouraging them, said Nick Wagner, AC8QG, president of the Portage County Amateur Radio Service (PCARS) in Ohio.

“Getting set up is a challenge for a new Technician. Their new radio sits in the box for months while they ask, ‘What do I do?’” Wagner said.

Wagner added that his club offers license exam classes that include hands-on practice using radios before participants take the test. PCARS has about 200 members, and between 10 and 20 new hams join each year.

One of the best things about being part of a club is learning from other hams, and some of the best clubs create opportunities where that can take place. Wagner said that PCARS pairs a Technician with a General- or Extra-class licensee so the Technician can fully participate in on-air contests that might be outside of their current operating privileges.

“Show them how this can be fun and exciting,” Wagner said.

It may sound obvious, but a key thing to look for is a welcoming attitude. Wagner said when he first attended PCARS meetings, there was no pressure to join. Instead, members were just happy that he showed up and was interested in amateur radio. That easygoing approach paid off for Wagner and the club. He has been a member for 16 years, and is getting his young children, who may be future members, involved in ham radio.

Visit arrl.org/clubs today, and start looking for a club that will welcome you with open arms.

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