Using Community Events to Promote Amateur Radio
There have been a couple of rather large gatherings recently that have attracted many of people who enjoy building and tinkering. They construct projects from scratch, follow instructions on Web sites and in magazines, as well as design things on their own. Their projects involve electronics and materials and are built by individuals, clubs and teams. But these people aren't hams -- they're "makers," the name for a new group of enthusiasts who like hands-on projects that "open the hood." Do these people sound like they would make good hams? You bet they would!
Two of the largest events that attract makers are called Maker Faires. Sponsored by the publisher of Make Magazine, the Maker Faires are held twice a year, in San Mateo, California during April and in Austin, Texas during October. How large? Over the past two years, four Maker Faires drew more than 150,000 makers that paid to see a huge assortment of exciting demonstrations and information displays. The San Mateo event drew more than 65,000 attendees!
Ham radio was represented in Austin by the Austin Radio Club (ARC)), led by Jeff Schmidt N5MNW. The Austin club's enthusiastic presentation of electronics, antennas, test instruments and hands-on ham knowhow was rewarded with an Editor's Choice award by the sponsors. The display attracted constant traffic, especially kids who enjoyed the microphone hooked up to an oscilloscope to see the electrical waveforms of their voices. Handouts, flyers and catalogs were provided by the ARC, ARRL, Wiley Publishers and Ham Radio Outlet. Every scrap of information about ham radio was snapped up by the attendees. Good job, ARC!
This success was repeated at the April San Mateo Maker Faire. Louise Johnson, KG6IMA, and Phil Stripling, KG6ILU, led a team of seven operators to display "Amateur Radio: Getting On the Move." Seven hams -- Samuel McCollum, KG6ZVP; Christie McCollum, KG6ZVO; Anne McCollum, KI6HJO; Mark Marriott, WE6N; Howard Zolty, KG6JRG; Stan Morest, KG6USR, and Ethan Frantz, KI6NVN -- operated Special Event Station K6M over the course of the two-day fair.
K6M's Kenwood TS-480SAT and Tarheel Model 100 mobile "screwdriver" antenna were powered by batteries. The operators also used their own handheld transceivers for local coordination of their activities. Since this Maker Faire was held in the San Francisco Bay area, the visitors were very much aware of the potential for earthquakes, wildfires and mudslides that often necessitate emergency communications without commercial power.
Kudos to the teams that represented us at these two major events, but you don't have to wait until a Maker Faire comes to your town. Field Day is coming up and you can pick up bonus points for providing public information, setting up in a public place, inviting elected officials and more. Every city, town and school sponsors a number of career days, community fairs, technology events and other gatherings for the public to attend. These events are often starved for teams willing to set up a demonstration or provide information on their activity. Whatever your club's interest -- public service, general operating, contesting -- you will be welcome.
Brochures and other general Amateur Radio promotional materials are available from the ARRL. You'll need to make up a flyer about your club and Amateur Radio activities in your town. If there are electronic stores or businesses nearby, they would probably be happy to provide catalogs or other promotional information to hand out. Be sure to have information on license classes and the licensing process, too.
There is no need to set up a majestic station (although it certainly won't hurt) -- a simple and effective station capable of making local repeater contacts, regional HF contacts or even sending e-mail via ham radio will be appealing and new to your audience. Then be sure to have enough staff to answer questions and take the time to have plenty of conversation. Your visitors will appreciate the effort and you'll have raised their awareness of ham radio to a whole new level. You probably got into ham radio because you saw a ham doing something captivating and fun -- it's easy to do the same for other potential hams and you'll feel proud to have promoted your favorite activity!
H. Ward Silver, N0AX