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New CEO Wants ARRL to Serve All Ages and Amateur Radio Interests


Newly elected ARRL CEO Howard Michel, WB2ITX, is still on the uphill side of the learning curve as he acquaints himself with ARRL Headquarters and the nearly 90 staffers who work there. The New Jersey native arrived at HQ on October 15 and has spent much of his time since meeting with department managers and others to get his bearings, with an eye toward building consensus and aligning people, programs, and services in the same direction.

“I’m still trying to understand what is working and where the challenges are,” Michel said. “Once I understand where the challenges are, I need to understand why. Before I make any changes in what we’re doing, I need to make sure the change is a step in the right direction and for the right reasons, and not kind of a random process.”

Michel would like to see ARRL focus on the future of Amateur Radio and not become the redoubt of a particular generation of radio amateur or interest group. He said, “Ham radio shouldn’t abandon the old guardians of the hobby, but at the same time, it needs to have new things that appeal to people who have different interests and different passions.”

Ham radio appears currently entrenched with opposition often expressed to FT8 and other digital modes and protocols that bend Amateur Radio traditions and conventions, Michel observed. However, as he sees it, technology for the whole of Amateur Radio has been changing, and detractors to advances have always been present. He’d like ARRL to encourage more technological diversity without creating controversy.

“My kick is seeing the technology advance,” the former IEEE president and CEO said. “I want to see hams embrace the new technology — as long as we do that in a way that those who don’t adopt the new technology won’t feel abandoned.” In his view, the real reason behind the continued enthusiasm for CW “is not the technology; it’s the legacy.”

At the same time, resources should reflect usage and interest, with respect to the spectrum and with respect to how many pages QST devotes to a particular interest area. “Everything should reflect the growth and change, without abandoning the legacy interests.”

Acknowledging the incessant push to get more young people into Amateur Radio, Michel wants to explore ways “to morph some of the League’s processes and services and products into something that would appeal to the newer generation of hams.”

“Young people in general don’t join organizations, but they join causes,” he said. “With that kind of attitude, how do we develop the same kind of ability for people interested in Amateur Radio to self-organize around causes? And if we can design the infrastructure around that, maybe they’ll see value in ARRL and become a new type of member — not one who necessarily comes to ham club meetings once a month but finds the League can facilitate what they want to do.”

Michel said he’s always enjoyed tinkering with ham gear, building it, modifying it, and repairing it, and then making it do something new or different. He concedes that while he has not had an opportunity to do much hamming as he’s moved around with the military and for academic and business pursuits, he’d like to become more active, and he is presently exploring his options as an apartment dweller. As for FT8, he’d like to try it, if for no other reason than the novelty.

Michel said he definitely wants to encourage partnerships with other organizations with which ARRL might share some common ground, including IEEE.

“We can’t do everything ourselves. We have to find partnerships,” he said. Some IEEE operating units would be applicable to Amateur Radio, and he’s already heard from two unit heads that are both hams.

Michel also feels that radio amateurs need to extend their gaze beyond the everyday nuts and bolts of Amateur Radio operating. “What we need to do is protect the spectrum from competition, develop interest in the various facets of Amateur Radio, and not try to pick fights ‘in house,’” he said. “Spectrum is the gold of the 21st century.” 



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