Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Getting a Niche in Amateur Radio
ARRL Youth Editor
Many have asked and pondered the answers to the question: “What is the best way to draw in new young hams?” Gordon West, WB6NOA, asked this very question to my friend Jacob Keogh, KD0NVX, on Ham Nation, hosted by Bob Heil, K9EID. Last month, I mentioned running into the two at the St Louis Winterfest, but I never would have thought Jacob would have got a spot on the show! He answered that every young ham must first find their niche in the hobby.
With the numerous ways to get involved in Amateur Radio, it can be overwhelming to delve into every niche the hobby offers. Therefore, most young hams find a specific calling. For example, Jacob really takes a liking to listening to the shortwave bands for numbers stations and military sounders, as well as CW. In 2007, I took an immediate liking to Field Day and I have always had a knack for contesting. The two of us also share an interest in garnering Amateur Radio interests in other people, young and old. He is already well on his way to licensing his entire family, and soon his school!
How do you find your niche? There are so many things to do once you have your ticket, so what is the best way to sift through the facets of the hobby? To do this, answer a few questions:
- Do you like space, satellites, astronauts and all about the “final frontier?”
- Do electronics and circuits intrigue you?
- Do you have a competitive spirit?
- Is the notion of helping others important to you?
- Do you love to experiment and tinker?
- Do you wonder how far you can send a signal?
- Do you like to listen to radio stations direct from other countries?
If you said yes to all of these, then you are exactly like me and we might face a problem! Even so, my competitive edge is what kept me involved in times of waning interest. Even if you want to have a complete Amateur Radio experience – from designing antennas to decoding numbers stations while keeping in touch with your friends in the United Kingdom -- it isn’t too difficult to accomplish. It may be a slow journey, but rewarding nonetheless. But I hope that with these few questions, we can make the dive into the hobby a bit more bearable.
With that said, the name of the game is niche. I’ve received a few e-mails from other young hams who have discovered theirs. In the following paragraphs, Brad Smith, WW2D, describes how a friend of his -- Vince Waelti, K9TSU -- got his license at a young age and found his niche with the birds -- Amateur Radio sattelites.
This is what Brad had to say:
For those of you who think the interest in ham radio communications has “gone down the tubes” with the younger generation and has become a past time for the older generation, think again. Having been licensed since the ripe age of 17 years, I can relate to a young gentleman I recently encountered and had the privilege of getting to know more about. His name is Vince Waelti, K9TSU. This young radio enthusiast became licensed at the age of only 14 (he’s now 15). His newly founded enthusiasm and passion for Amateur Radio, including satellites, was inspired by having attended a SKYWARN training class, and having been mentored by several area hams along the way.
Vince started out on the local 2 meter and 70 cm repeaters, moving onto amateur satellites and working stations throughout the country from his own backyard. He says that he became interested in satellites because he wanted a “different” way of operating, one that, in his words, was more challenging. Although Vince has worked VHF DX up to 360 miles away during strong tropospheric ducting conditions, he was inspired to do more with the hobby. That’s when he decided to explore outer space by trying to reach out to amateur satellites in orbit. His satellite station is surprisingly quite basic and relatively inexpensive. He uses a typical dual-band handheld transceiver connected to a 3-element Yagi wire antenna.
“I've been very successful at making contacts,” Vince explained. “I’ve even worked Cuba on the FM satellites. I’m only active on FM satellites, always out in the weather with my radio and homebrew Yagi, so my range ring is about 3500 miles. I've confirmed many grids; states too, and have just begun sending out QSL cards, which have slowly been pouring in. I’ve worked small, rare states such as Rhode Island, and even the far Southwest states, such as Arizona and California.” So far, Vince has worked several amateur satellites, including SAUDISAT-1C (SO-50) and EYESAT-1 (AO-27). He was even lucky enough to work AO-51, before it died due to depleted batteries.
Vince has been a total inspiration and true asset to hams through Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. In fact, he’s helped skyrocket the amount of check-ins on the Friday Night Fun Net in Rockford, Illinois hosted by Jim Dorsey, KC9GCR, of Freeport. There, and on many other nets, he shares his knowledge with others about his satellite work on the bands. In fact, he’s even started his own Fun Net held on Saturday evenings on the Monroe repeater.
Who would’ve thought that such a young person like Vince would walk into a weather spotter class and walk out a licensed radio amateur lickety-split! Vince says he has plans on upgrading to Amateur Extra shortly and getting his first HF station on the air. It’s young licensees like Vince that will keep our hobby flourishing for generations to come! So, if one day you should hear the call K9TSU, be sure to come back and collect one of his neat QSL cards. For now, Vince’s radio adventures will take him well above the blanket of the Earth’s atmosphere into the cosmos that are literally, well, out of this world.
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Interested in wireless communications from a young age, he welcomes e-mail from readers.