How to recruit a young potential ham?

r_meritIn about three weeks a 13-year old Scout working on his Radio merit badge is going to be visiting my station. We’ve never met but his mother and my wife are co-workers so we do have some common ground. Several days prior to visiting me he will have spent a few hours at a club’s Field Day set-up about two hours from where we both live.

From all reports, he’s a tinkerer like most of us once were (still are!) which bodes well and suggests a possible interest in radio beyond merely satisfying the requirements of the merit badge. At least that’s my hope.

My shack is set up for CW and nothing else. In other words, completely unimpressive to a potential new ham. So my plan is to unbox my old FT-840 (since I have a mic for it), then tune the various bands as I explain the general characteristics of each. Make a few phone contacts perhaps with a DX station, maybe listen in and decode some digital signals. Show him some QSL cards…

What I don’t want to do is squander an opportunity to draw a member of the younger generation into the fold. I honestly don’t know what impresses a 2014-vintage teen in these days of texting, global email and other technology that has stolen the thunder of radio for many younger folks.

I will probably give him my WSPR receiver and offer to set it up for him but I can see that being interesting for maybe 5 milliseconds.

Other than these things, I’m open to suggestion on how to gain interest in the hobby among his age group.

Anyone who has experience – I’m all ears…



  6 comments for “How to recruit a young potential ham?

  1. Guy/n7un
    June 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    On my SOTA Activations, I often run into teenagers who are fascinated with the “small radio” and Morse code itself. I always stop my on-air activity and do a show-n-tell. I generally demo CW (maybe at 10 wpm… and with no transmit power out), teach them SOS, teach them their names in Morse, then, and most importantly, I let them “play” with my key and to hear what they are sending. The kids are amazed! “You can talk with [folks] in California! Wow!” I always emphasize that you really don’t know “who will answer your call/CQ” or where they are located geographically.

    Kids nowadays understand phone probably because of cellphones so that aspect of ham radio is not too exciting. But CW and probably PSK, because it is somewhat cryptic and anonymous (“their friends don’t know what is going on”) so it becomes “really cool”.

    I can always tell when a kid gets “hooked.” The primary, go-forward effort is a mentoring and a follow-up project. Your WSPR project would be ideal. And if they have a buddy that would give them incentive amongst their peer group. But they won’t move forward on their own…too intimidating, IMO. And parental support is key…

    Who knows, you might get to mentor the whole Scout Troop!

    Have fun, Guy

    • June 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Maybe I’m selling CW short based on positive reactions to your operations. I’ll emphasize that Morse is no longer a requirement and will then show him how his name sounds in CW. I can absolutely see how the mystique of not knowing who will answer a CQ would appeal. PSK…if I still had my SWL PSK20 I’d give it to him. As it is, I guess I could show him how simple it is to turn those tones to text simply by placing a computer’s mic near the receiver’s speaker and running the appropriate program (or app on a smart phone).

      I will check on how he’s doing some time after the meeting and will also contact his scout leader to offer whatever input on the topic they might be interested in. Yep, getting more than one interested would be ideal for each of them – and the hobby.

      Great ideas – I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. June 12, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Hi John,

    Depending on the time of the day, try to find another native english speaking DX station and have the kids says a few words, key the microphone himself. Ask the permission to the other station of course.
    What we did with scouts during the Jamboree was to have them do contacts with fellow scouts.
    You have the QSO, write down what he has to say (exchanges) and make him just repeat it.
    A few years ago I remember handling contacts with a school in China. I first made the QSO with the “master” and then several kids had a QSO with me just repeating word for word what he told them.
    It was not their native language in that case, and that added some difficulty to it.

    Talk about contests and awards like international competitions where they will meet many people coming from all over the world. Many (not all) kids like competitions. If you can make him homebrew a small Morse Code practice oscillator that could be good too (if he likes Lego he will understand that electronic parts are like bricks to build something bigger).

    Yan – XV4Y.

  3. June 13, 2014 at 8:09 am

    John, I look forward to hearing how this goes. I liked Guy’s comments. I recently took a non-ham on a SOTA activation with me and now he wants to get licensed. I really was not prepared for that and need to find how to keep his interest. He is around 30 years old so he has other interest and I was able to show him how Ham Radio would enhance those other interest like Jeeping, Camping and Hiking. He also wants his son to get into Scouts so I will talk about that next. He already wants to go on another SOTA adventure.

    Good luck and please post up you progress.

    73, Frank

    • June 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Frank, the June issue of CQ Magazine’s lead article is “4-Wheel it to the Field” and seems like it may have been written for your friend’s interests. If you don’t get CQ, let me know and I’ll get the article to you. Here is a link from it:

      The very next article in the same issue is about a woman who takes ham radio along on a kayak camping trip.

      I guess one way to get ham radio to appeal to someone is to show them how it can enhance interests they already have. It’s quite a versatile hobby, isn’t it.

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