[CQ-Contest] [ham-univ] Aging Ranks

Kenneth E. Harker kharker at cs.utexas.edu
Thu Jun 3 11:17:20 EDT 1999

     I am the current president of the University of Texas ARC, and as a 
graduate student with an indefinite graduation date, I'm what you would 
consider "stable membership."  I've been involved with the club for four 
years.  I thought I would make some additional comments on our university ARC.

On Thu, Jun 03, 1999 at 02:13:31AM -0500, eraub at umr.edu wrote:
> The story here is a bit long, but hopefully can provide some insight on 
> the younger crowd
> Having just ended 6 years with the Radio Club at the Univ of MO-Rolla, 
> I've worked hard to get students involved with contesting over the 
> years.  My first experiences in amateur radio were with HF, not VHF.  As 
> such when I arrived at UMR in 1993, I was shocked by the attitude that 
> prevailed at that time.  The club simply meet each week, talked about 
> computers, and argued over the control codes for the repeater.  I 
> remember the club president at the time saying, "if you have a project or 
> activity for the club, then it's up to you to see it through".  Looking 
> back I'm a bit surprised that I continued to show up and to work on my 
> license in such an apathetic environment.  At the time the club had a  
> Mosley CL-33 beam at 100 feet, SB-220 amp, and an Icom 735.  In short, 
> the club was far from being a contest super station, but was a good start 
> for a beginning contester.  
> I believe it was in 1994 that I remembered seeing an announcement for the 
> first annual Collegiate Championship.  We were able to scrape together 2 
> HF licensed control ops and to work about 12 hours for only 125 Q's or so 
> in Nov SS SSB.  NONE of us had ever tried contesting before but it 
> sounded interesting. (my previous experience was a washout during a FD 
> ravaged by Tornadoes, and Severe storms)  More importantly there was a 
> bit more excitement in the club among the younger ops.  The club 
> president dropped by ,made 1 or 2 Q's and left a package of cookies 
> (Wow).  The sad thing was we didn't submit a score, and as such never 
> showed up as a participant in CC.  
> In 1995, the club again wanted to participate in  Nov Sweepstakes. We 
> made more Q's, but still didn't have enough control ops to run more than 
> 12 hours.  A couple of us had our Tech + license by then but 10 meters 
> was basically useless.  For me personally, that was the final straw . I 
> got my Advanced by Jan '96, and a good friend of mine, KB0QQF, got his 
> Extra on the same day.

My personal story with the UTARC is similar.  When I joined late in the fall
semester of 1995, I was a Tech Plus.  I had been somewhat inactive for 
a year or two before this.  My only equipment at the time was a dual-bander HT
and a TNC.  I might have remained more or less inactive had it not been for 
two things. That spring semester, one of our alumni, Robert KA5WSS, who was 
very active in the club, organized a few M/S contesting events at the club 
station on campus (I can't remember exactly, but I think the NA QSO Party 
was one of them) and several of us without substantive HF priveleges showed 
up, and I thought it was a lot of fun.  Later in the spring/summer, I 
discovered six meters; the club station has a six meter radio and a three
element beam, and I worked a few sporadic E openings and was hooked.  I 
discovered that the kind of operating I like is contesting/DXing.  In November,
1996, I upgraded to Advanced, and I have been very active in the club since.
I use the club station as my primary home station, and I do as many contests
as my schedule allows and as much DXing on HF and VHF that I can find the 
time for.
> Then the bombshell came
> Just about the time interest had really started to rise, people were 
> upgrading, and the upper classmen who had allowed the club to "stagnate" 
> were graduating, the University tossed the club out of it home of 39 
> years. The station moved to a location in the Downtown area of Rolla 
> surrounded by powerlines on three sides of the building, and where the 
> roof was level with  ground on campus.truly a miserable location.   The 
> building was surrounded by other commercial buildings which meant we were 
> confined to approx 95 feet on a diagonal.  We "thought" the station would 
> only be there for 1.5 years, so the club purchased a G5RV for HF.  We 
> could endure 1.5 years with the promise that the club would get a new 
> station in the Electrical Engineering building, and that our 68 foot tall 
> tower would be moved.  Needless to say that as of 1999, we have the 
> tower, we have a beautiful new station with heavy electrical service, but 
> still don't have antennas up because of bureaucratic &*#%#* !!! The temp 
> station had such poor electrical service, we would have melted the wiring 
> in the walls if the SB-220 were to be used.
> But  
> The amazing thing is in '97, '98, and '99 the club continued to improve 
> even with an extremely poor station.  This last year the club came within 
> 1 section of getting a clean sweep.  The students that had started out in 
> 1994-95 that had so many problems really did well with only a 16 foot 
> tall vertical and 100 watts.  Someday you WILL hear those contesters that 
> started out from modest beginnings when they sit behind a LOUD station!!  

Our situation seems to be just the opposite, unfortunately.  Our club 
station is in the same location that it has been for the past thirty years.
We had the tower collapse in freakishly high straight-line winds in 1995, and 
since that low point, the station has improved dramatically.  We replaced 
the tower without attracting any unwanted attention.  We went from a 
TS-830S, SB-220, 10-15-10 vertical, 40 wire dipole, 80 wire dipole, and 
160 longwire on HF, to a TS-830, TS-930, SB-220, Force-12 C-4, 40 wire dipole,
80 wire dipole, and 160 longwire.  On VHF, we've gone from no antennas at all
to four radios plus some transverters covering 50, 144, 222, 432, and (soon) 
1296 with mono-band yagis on each band, plus a six meter vertical, and a 
3CX800A7 amplifier on 50MHz.  We went from a single 8088 PC to two Pentiums 
running DOS98 and a server running Linux all connected to the Internet on an 
ethernet LAN.  We even have some exotic accessories like a W9XT contest card, 
wiring for high-speed CW meteor scatter work on 144MHz, and PSK31 on HF.  
We've had a _lot_ of support from our alumni in making this happen.  We get 
no money from the university, so all of these improvements were done with 

Unfortunately, our member participation has decreased just as our station
quality increased.  Around 1997, our membership participation peaked, and
we even got seven people to operate the September VHF QSO Party.  Since then,
most of those people have graduated, and we've been unsuccessful in attracting
freshmen into the club.  At this point, I'd even be happy with Technicians
interested in a weekly 2M repeater net (although experience shows me that 
those tend to disappear after a year or so when the interest wanes.)  
Fortunately, we have a few stable members who will be around for years, and 
some very active alumni in the area, but there is little active student 
> The lessons that I've learned in those 6 years are:
> 1. Contesting is one of the few ways that students will get into HF.  
> Young people aren't interested in ragchewing because they aren't 
> interested in hearing about someone's medical problems.  DX is fun to 
> work on an individual basis, but contesting provides a great opportunity 
> to get hams together as a team, compete with others, and enjoy some good 
> pizza.  

     I agree completely that contesting is good for university ARCs.  
The socialization aspects of a M/S contest operation are also great.
I got into HF because of contesting and DXing, but much of my DXing is 
done during contests.  UTARC is lucky to have some very prominent contesters
amongst its alumni, and people like George K5TR especially have helped in 
this.  I have heard some negative feedback from people that all we seem to
talk about is contesting, though.  It's very easy to publicize contests
in the club newsletter, and unfortunately, it also seems to dominate 
calendars of events and such to the point that those (who think they are) 
uninterested (probably because they've never tried it) in contesting get 
turned off.  I think the contestinf we do at UTARC has been for the best,
but there's always been a little bit of doubt in the back of my mind about
pushing it too hard on people.

      What I am a little bit surprised about is the lack of VHF contesting
amongst university (and other) ARCs.  UTARC has a growing VHF contesting
and weak signal DXing station, and we do almost all of the major VHF 
contests.  This is something that Technicians can participate in _without_
control operators, it's very similar to HF in operating technique, and there 
are so many different ways that signals can be propagated beyond line of sight
that it's every bit as interesting as learning about HF propagation.  Plus,
with the literal explosion of activity on six meters in just the past three 
years, there's a lot of opportunity for every-day chasing of new grid squares.
> 2. In order to get young people to upgrade, you NEED to show them HF. 
> I've had many students say, "I only knew about VHF and repeaters.  I 
> didn't ever see anyone operate HF"  Unfortunately with the rise of 
> No-code techs this IS a serious problem. 

     I agree with this, too.  I'd also suggest that six meters SSB/CW is a 
great "gateway" band into non-FM-repeater activity.
> 3. There are not enough Collegiate ARC's.  Many have simply died of 
> inactivity caused by No-Code Tech Disease.    Sometimes the University 
> bureaucracy ties up the clubs to the point the club officers  just cave 
> in under the pressure.  We have found in this case that ALUMNI need to 
> backup the club and make sure that the University doesn't just dictate 
> how the club will operate.  ARC's unlike other University club's are a 
> higher liability ie. Towers (climbing, roof modifications, guying,  etc). 
> .A simple letter to the correct individual on a University campus CAN 
> work wonders.  Universities LOVE money and get cautious when Alumni are 
> unhappy.  The lack of Collegiate ARC's means that on many campuses, 
> Engineers / Scientists / Comp Sci's (people pushing the technological 
> edges of contesting) aren't finding their way into the hobby.

    This has been an occasional topic of discussion on the ham-univ reflector 
for years.  There are a few university ARCs that seem to be really dynamic 
and exciting (W6YX, W0EEE, K3CR, W6UE, W5TC, and W2SZ come to mind) but many 
are finding that five or six members is below the critical mass for much

    I've begun to see that for a lot of non-university, non-contesting clubs, 
a MAJOR event in the club's lifespan is Field Day.  Unfortunately for 
university clubs, very few students remain on campus over the summers.
Hopefully, the Collegiate Championships being a part of Sweepstakes can
start generating that same sort of excitement in university clubs.  Now
that it's officially a part of Sweepstakes and will show up in QST, I hope
to see more college clubs getting their members on HF.

> 4. The final advice I gave to the existing President of W0EEE is Push HF, 
> Push HF, and Push HF even more.  The people in the club will probably get 
> their Tech license and will VERY EASILY get stuck in a rut.   It's sad 

     I've been trying this, and pushing interest in VHF weak signal operations.
The rut people get stuck in is FM repeaters.  You just buy an HT and maybe 
a separate antenna or a small brick amp.  There's almost no technical challenge
to it, and essentially no operational challenge.  Contesting and DXing,
be they on HF, VHF, UHF, or microwaves, are entirely different, much more 
rewarding, and present new challenges all the time.

> that the current license structure is setup such that you don't get into 
> any USEFUL amateur theory until the Advanced Class License.    Tech's 
> don't really know ANYTHING about how radios work.  If you want to try 
> doing an electronics project so they'll learn, a small QRP rig is 
> PERFECT, but they can't operate it until they have upgraded.  As such, 
> its easy for a ham to get a license, never learn anything beyond building 
> a 2 meter beam, and be HT holders the rest of their lives.  Personally, 
> I've always followed the rule that you should try to make hams 
> well-rounded.  You NEED good VHF operators in the event of an emergency, 
> but much of that  SKILL comes from contesting.  
> 73 de KI0MI
> Eric Raub

Kenneth E. Harker      "Vox Clamantis in Deserto"      kharker at cs.utexas.edu
University of Texas at Austin                  Amateur Radio Callsign: KM5FA
Department of the Computer Sciences         President, UT Amateur Radio Club
Taylor Hall TAY 2.124               Maintainer of the Linux Laptop Home Page
Austin, TX 78712-1188 USA            http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kharker/

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