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The Fifth Pillar

08/01/2008 The first ARRL EXPO in 2005 identified four pillars of our association: public service, advocacy, education, and membership. Amateur Radio has a fundamental mission of public service, so it is only natural that this be at the top of the list for its national association. To be able to continue serving the public, Amateur Radio needs a strong advocate to all levels of government as well as to the general public, both directly and through the media. So that we may better serve the public interest we must constantly educate ourselves. Training and learning do not stop with the earning of a license; on the contrary, the license signals the beginning, not the end, of the journey. Finally, there is no better example than the ARRL that its membership is the most important resource of any association.

In the January 2006 issue of QST we unveiled a new look featuring these four pillars. Your response as members was most gratifying. You recognized that the changes were not merely cosmetic, and that they signaled a desire on our part to more closely reflect the ARRL's mission in the pages of your membership journal.

When the four pillars were conceived, we recognized that they could not be fully descriptive of the scope and breadth of the ARRL as the national association for Amateur Radio. It was also obvious that some basic elements of Amateur Radio are present in more than one pillar. Pillars are not silos; they are there to support the entire structure, not to isolate activities or groups from one another.

Yet as time went on and we gained more experience and feedback it became apparent that one basic element deserved its own pillar: Technology.

Technology is certainly a part of every other pillar. An appreciation for, and curiosity about, science and technology is one of the defining characteristics of our membership community. Much of our educational focus is on gaining a better understanding of telecommunications technology. The role of Amateur Radio as a creative outlet for inquisitive young minds, equipping them to go on to bigger things, is a recurring theme of our advocacy messages. And last but not least, it is through our mastery of technology and our improvisational ability -- honed by years of practical, hands-on experience -- that we are able to be of service to the public even when nothing else is working.

But the part that technology plays in Amateur Radio is far more than just a supporting role. Technology can be an end in itself, not simply a means to an end. For many among us it is the very essence of Amateur Radio. It is the shared love of radio -- and without technology, radio would not exist -- that binds us to one another and sets us apart from the rest of the world. This is equally true whether our love of technology is oriented toward the past, the present, or the future -- or all three.

Preserving and exploring the history of radio communication, and especially of the many and varied roles played by amateurs in that history, is an essential component of Amateur Radio. Applying today's technology to today's communication problems, whether for our own purposes or to better serve the public and the agencies that rely on us, is what we do every day.

Thinking about how to extend the limits of technology, whether in antenna or electronic hardware design or (increasingly) through software, is how we deliver the "continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art" that is a fundamental purpose of the Amateur Radio Service. Besides, it is a good antidote to ossification! In 2004 the ARRL Board of Directors created the position of Chief Technology Officer to "advise the Executive Vice President and the Board on matters relating to the encouragement and use of new technologies in the amateur services."

The ARRL's support for the advancement of technology spans a wide range of activities. Much of the content of QST and virtually all of QEX, the bimonthly publication that serves as a forum for communications experimenters, are devoted to this end. We try to facilitate and encourage the cutting-edge efforts of individuals and groups working outside the ARRL as well as within; for example, for many years the ARRL has been publishing the proceedings of VHF/UHF, microwave, space and digital communications conferences. Technical forums are an important part of any ARRL convention and many hamfests. The ARRL Lab keeps abreast of both internal and external trends potentially affecting Amateur Radio, including those external trends that might pose a threat.

Want to take a fresh look at what's happening in Amateur Radio technology and how it benefits the wider world? Visit, a special Web site developed by the ARRL for that specific purpose. You can reach it via a link from the ARRL home page, Plan to come back often; we expect the content to grow and change as Amateur Radio itself continues to do the same.

David Sumner, K1ZZ



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