Nevermind Pandora and other online radio stations, a decidedly low-tech alternative has continued to spread on the periphery. Amateur, or ham radio, is more popular than at any time in U.S. history, according to a recent report from the American Radio Relay League, the largest organization of ham radio operators in the U.S.
“At the end of September, I saw that the number of hams in the US was high,” said ARRL manager Maria Somma in a press release from the organization, “When I started comparing that number with other years, I found that it was an all-time high.”
Indeed, statistics of U.S. amateur radio licenses tabulated by the group over the last four decades have found an overall increase in the number of amateur radio operators, with a slight lag in growth in the 1980s and an explosion in interest in the 1990s that’s carried over into the first decade of the 21st century.
Retirees and “emergency groups,” are the main sources of the new licenses, according to the ARRL via Fox .
Indeed, for one example of the usefulness of ham radios in the advent of an emergency, turn to Birmingham, Alabama, where amateur radio operators helped connect local and nation emergency responders in the wake of tornadoes that struck the city in April, the UAB Reporter noted.
Some of the recent interest is attributable to the removal of the morse code component of the ham radio licensing test in 2007, according to eHam.net.
Other ham radio operators theorize, based on experience, that the recession and high levels of unemployment are driving people towards the relatively low-cost hobby.
Of course, despite its decidedly low-tech appeal, ham radio has also benefitted from two major technological revolutions: the satellite and the Internet. Free downloadable ham radio software has obliterated the cost of entry for new ham radio adopters, allowing users without much technical expertise or guidance to begin chatting with other ham radio operators around the globe.
Meanwhile, there are upwards of 40 amateur radio satellites orbiting the earth currently — that is, satellites that are dedicated to communicating with amateur radio operators on Earth. The first such amateur satellite, OSCAR, was launched in 1961. Now, there are several organizations around the world dedicated to getting amateur radio satellites launched, including the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) and the International Amateur Radio Union.
Ham radio operators are also keen to listen to the frequencies of other, regular commercial and governmental satellites and have published step-by-step instructions for doing so online.