Training Your Replacement

 - Jeff Ryan, KØRM


One of the things we learn in business is that we can’t be promoted until there’s someone to take our place.  As a manager in a profit making organization, you start looking for your replacement the day you take on a new job.  Training your replacement not only allows for your individual advancement, it also ensures continuity of the organization. The first reason is a bit selfish, the second not so much.  This second aspect also applies to our wonderful hobby— the Amateur Radio service.


As Colorado’s ARRL Section Manager I’ve had the privilege to travel, meet, and talk with hams about many different subjects for many years.  No matter where I go, “Youth” is always near the top of the list.  After all, what is our legacy if there’s nobody around to carry it out?  While I hear many a ham’s concern over the lack of young faces at our club meetings, Field Days, public service events and on the air, I don’t hear what they plan on doing about it.  I have often heard the question “what is the League going to do about it?” or the statement “the Internet is too much competition”.  On the League’s part, there are national educational programs aimed at young people:  youth columns on ARRLWeb;  The Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program which provides grants, radio equipment and publications for teachers to use in the classroom; the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, which arranges QSOs between orbiting astronauts and students in a classroom; the Volunteer Instructor support program; the School Teacher support program; youth scholarships; the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Award; and on air activities such as JOTA and Kid’s Day.  Could the League be doing more?  I believe the answer is “yes”, and a few years ago I submitted a proposal to ARRL HQ suggesting the creation of a Section Cabinet appointment: ‘Youth Activities Coordinator’, and a local field appointment: ‘Youth Programs Liaison’  to formalize the League’s support for youth and scouting activities within the existing Field Services organization.  The reply at the time suggested I appoint an Asst Section Manager to perform the cabinet level function (and I recently did just that).  I still have hope.


There are many wonderful moments surrounding my involvement with Amateur Radio.  One of those moments that I will never forget is the look on the face of a youngster in my shack during a demonstration of Ham Radio.  My Kenwood TS-830S was on and tuned to 20 meters.  The young man and his father were visiting as part of the youngster’s pursuit of the Radio merit badge for scouting.  While I was talking about the different things in the shack, and how I use Amateur Radio, an LU station was working a small pile-up. There wasn’t a contest going on, he was just on the air handing out contacts.  He was a solid S-9 to me.  The young scout asked about the nature of the short conversations (exchange of “5-9 and thanks” was about it).  A brief discussion of contesting ensued after which he asked: “can you actually talk to him?”  I explained how I would key up the transmitter at the same time as about a dozen other people, and hope that my call would be heard in Argentina.  If the LU station answers with “KØRM”, he’s talking to me. The lad nodded his head.   I picked up the D-104 and waited for a “QRZ”; keyed up with 100 watts, threw out my call and unkeyed.  What happened next was memorable:


             “K Ø R M, Five Nine”   “Roger, and you are Five Nine in Colorado, Thanks.”


A smile on my face, and the youngster’s eyes were wide with amazement, mouth agape.  Then he managed a “wow”.  Just like that. The wonder of Amateur Radio had captured the imagination of this young man.  The feeling I had— knowing that I was able to introduce this young mind to the possibilities of Amateur Radio was simply one of the best moments I’ve experienced in the past few years.  It encouraged me to pursue becoming a merit badge counselor, which I did, and renewed my commitment to finding ways of attracting young people into the hobby.


Each of us needs to examine our own commitment to training our replacements—the next generation of hams that will carry on the legacy of those with key and spark-gap.  The Internet is only a diversion if we allow it to be, only if we surrender to it; only if we fail to provide a place within Amateur Radio that can still excite the minds and imaginations of our youth.


The last time you heard a new callsign (you know, those “KDn…XXX” calls) on your local repeater, what did you do?  Did you answer the call and welcome the newcomer to the repeater?  To the hobby?  Did you congratulate the new ham who possibly still has made less than 10 contacts in his/her Amateur Radio ‘career’?   If the call went unanswered, then we may very well have let another ‘replacement’ slip away.  After all, do you stay where you’re not wanted?  Or made to feel welcome?


I know for a fact that many young people are still interested in Amateur Radio.  I’ve seen it in my own shack.  I’ve seen it year after year at Jamboree On The Air (JOTA), and on a larger scale with youth groups such as the Boulder Amateur Radio Club, Jrs.   If the right ‘older’ ham steps forward to be the champion of youth, success will follow.


Every club needs at least one person to act as the watchdog for youth activities.  Is your club ‘tuned’ to be able to embrace young people and ensure its activities are relevant to them?   What things have you tried that have been successful?   Here in Colorado, George Weber, KAØBSA is the section’s Youth & Scouting Activities coordinator.  Let George know ( and at the section level, we’ll do our best to communicate and exchange ideas via a quarterly email newsletter about what’s working to attract and retain young folks.


There are many things we are passionate about within our hobby:  DXing, Contesting, CW,  Emergency Services, homebrewing, traffic handling, and others.

 Let’s be just as passionate about training our replacements.