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An EchoLink contact inspires some thoughts about radio clubs and your own expectations.
I had an interesting conversation last night on Echolink. While chatting with one of my friends, we got onto the topic of radio club projects. I'm going to paraphrase this, but I think we concluded that both of us had been in a number of different radio clubs and that whenever a club took on a project, the results were often less than satisfactory and the process of getting the project underway and completed was complicated by difficult to reconcile opinions on how things should be done and what the club goals should be.
Of course this is a common problem in any organization, but perhaps more so in a radio club where members have joined voluntarily and are not compensated or even required to stay focused on any particular aspect of club business. We all know that radio clubs have different purposes. Most of the clubs I have belonged to have been "social clubs" that have been formed simply to bring together amateur radio operators who share a broad common interest in ham radio. In that kind of club, you can expect several members to be interested in technology and building equipment, a few to be dedicated to particular modes of operation like Morse code or PSK-31, and a more or less general commitment to being helpful to one's community as volunteer or emergency communicators.
In the social club, projects still need to be completed. The problem is that the club members have different ideas about what club goals should be, and this may make it difficult to get enough people on board as project volunteers. If, for example, the club has several members who are interested in Echolink communication, these club members may suggest that it would be a good idea to have a club program explaining Echolink, and perhaps even Echolink-enabling the club's repeater system.
Like all good ideas, the devil is in the details. Who will put on the club program, and will there be Internet access available for the presentation? Even if there is Internet access at the club's meeting location, will Echolink work through the firewall? Then there is the audience. Some of the members of the social club will not be computer users. It is simply a fact of demographics that many amateur radio operators are older and did not use personal computers in their work lives before retiring. Some will have learned computing and gotten online, while others have not. Almost anyone in the club who is in their "working years" will be familiar with personal computers in the workplace and generally have one or more of them at home, including in the ham shack. Teens and college kids will have grown up with personal computers and portable communications devices and will use them effortlessly.
All of this means that your audience at the club meeting will be pretty diverse, computing-wise. When you think about it, the Echolink presenter has the challenge of talking with at least three audiences: non-computer users, computer users at some intermediate level of understanding, and expert computer users. You can see that right off the bat starting a club project that will ultimately get the club repeater Echolink-enabled is going to be quite a challenge even at the first step of explaining what Echolink is all about. And this, mind you, is just the beginning. No one has even talked about building the Echolink infrastructure to make this happen on the club's repeater! You can see that there will be quite a challenge for the few Echolink aficionados in the club to bring the entire club "on board" with their project.
It's like herding cats!
No matter what the project, a small group of organizers within the club will face similar problems. Organizing a ham fest, planning a field day event, preparing for and publicizing Technician classes, you name it -- the list is endless. In a given club, there may be a core of a half dozen really dedicated participants who are willing to put in extra time and effort -- and sometimes even their own money -- into getting projects like these off the ground. I guess where I am going with this is that we really have to have reasonable expectations of amateur radio clubs that exist primarily for social purposes rather than a single dedicated goal. If a club is dedicated to DX, that club is going to attract like-minded members who will be focused on that particular goal of keeping up with DX news, working DX and verifying contacts through Logbook of the World and QSL cards, organizing and promoting DX-related on the air activities, and so on. All of the club members are interested in the same thing.
Since this is not the case in the social club, our expectations should not be that the club can necessarily do justice to every single interest group's project goals. Now, I am not saying that simply because you might be in a minority interest group within your social amateur radio club that you should not pursue your agenda and attempt to bring the rest of the club along with you on a club project. What I am saying is that you should expect that you will meet some resistance along the way and should not be disappointed or discouraged when a project seems to run into roadblocks, delays, and misunderstandings. Remember, the various interests within a broad-based social club will sometimes be quite different, and some members may see your project as not really good or bad, but not really benefiting them personally and therefore not worth supporting. Others may become interested in your project through your efforts at educating them through a club program or programs. Some may not be interested even after you have given your program presentation your best shot, but they may still see some benefit in not standing in the way of your project, simply because they know that there are benefits to a club that supports a variety of different interests.
Moving on without feeling guilty.
Okay, you have been a member of your radio club for a year or more, and you still feel that the club isn't really going anywhere, at least as far as your interests are concerned. You have tried volunteering and putting on presentations, but there simply isn't a lot of interest in your project area. Furthermore, there seems to be little interest from the other members in forwarding other projects. Perhaps the time has come for you to say goodbye to a club that has simply not met your needs. There is no shame -- and should be none -- in leaving a club that doesn't provide a satisfying experience for you. On the other hand, before you make a decision to leave, you really have to ask yourself whether you have been open-minded toward other club members' ideas and whether you have made a genuine effort to educate other club members about your area of interest and your project. No one should have the expectation that club projects, especially ones requiring investment of club funds, will gain quick acceptance and universal approval.
Yes, it is all about finding the right club for you and having reasonable expectations. Doing some research on the ARRL Big Club List can be a good place to start if you are looking for an amateur radio club, whether it be a general interest social organization or one that has a specific interest area. Since the ARRL list can be sorted geographically, you can find a club close to you. If a local radio club sponsors a repeater system, listening on the club repeater can give you some insight into that club's interests and sense of purpose.
Club websites are a good place to research more in-depth about each club's specific mission. I don't know about you, but I am always wary of club websites that have not been updated and whose recent newsletter information is several years old. Websites with mission statements and up-to-date resources about club nets and meetings are an indication that you are looking at a club that "gets things done", so you might want to put that club down on your list for a visit during a regular membership meeting.
Should you belong to more than one radio club?
Well, perhaps. You may decide to belong to a special-purpose club that shares your amateur radio interests. You may also enjoy belonging to a social club where expectations are entirely different. Matching your interests and goals to the radio club as you do your research can make your experience in the club a pleasant one. After all, amateur radio is a hobby activity as well as a communications service. You are not in it for frustration and aggravation -- you are in it for fun, and finding the right club and having reasonable expectations will go a long way to making sure that you and everyone else in the club will have a great ham radio experience.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, firstname.lastname@example.org