Picking a Radio Club - dummies

By H. Ward Silver

The easiest way to get in touch with other hams is through the local radio club. Radio clubs have been around as long as radio. The first clubs were just groups of like-minded experimenters who collaborated to build radios when the technology was raw and success by no means assured. Over time, the club grew in size and importance. Today, clubs range from small, focused groups to large clubs, with wide-ranging interests.

The following points hold true for most hams:

  • Most hams belong to at least one club, sometimes several: Belonging to a general interest club as well as one or two specialty groups is popular.
  • Most local or regional clubs have in-person meetings: Membership is drawn largely from a single area.
  • Specialty clubs are focused on activities: Activities such as contesting, low-power operating, or amateur television, may have a much wider (even international) membership.
  • Individual chapters may have no in-person meetings: They may conduct meetings only over the air.

Clubs are great resources for assistance and mentorship. As you get started in ham radio, you’ll find that you need a lot of basic questions answered. You might start by joining a general interest club (see the upcoming section). If you can find one that emphasizes assistance to the new ham, so much the better. You’ll find the road to enjoying ham radio a lot smoother in the company of others.

Finding and choosing a club

To find ham radio clubs in your area, visit this Web site and select your state to find a list of the state’s radio club Web sites. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) also has a directory of affiliated clubs on its Web site. Enter your state, city, or zip code to locate nearby clubs.

Focus on the general interest clubs and look for the clubs that offer help to new hams. For example, this listing is for one of the largest Seattle, Washington, clubs through the ARRL Web site:
Specialties: General Interest
Call sign: K7LED
Services: Help for newcomers, entry-level classes, higher-level classes, other

This club is well suited for a new ham. You find yourself in the company of others recently licensed, so you won’t feel self-conscious when asking questions. You have programs and activities to learn from and opportunities for you to contribute.

If you have more than one club available in your area, how do you make a choice? Consider these points when making a decision:

  • Which club has meetings that are more convenient for you?
    Check out the meeting times and places for each club.
  • Which club includes activities or programs that include your interests?
    If a club has a Web site or newsletter, review the past few month’s activities and programs to see if they sound interesting.
  • Which club feels more comfortable to you?
    Don’t be afraid to attend a meeting or two to find out what the club is like.

You’ll quickly find out that the problem is not finding clubs, but in choosing among the hundreds of them! Unless the club has a strong personal participation aspect, such as a public service club, you can join as many as you want just to find out about that part of ham radio. Most clubs have a newsletter and a Web site that give you a valuable window into one of ham radio’s many specialties.

Participating in a club

After you pick a general interest club, show up for meetings, and make a few friends right away, how do you really start participating? Do ham radio clubs have a secret protocol? What if you goof up?

Obviously, you won’t start your ham club career by running for president at your second meeting, but ham clubs are pretty much like every other hobby group. As such, you can become an insider with easy first steps. You’re the new guy or gal, which means you have to show you want to belong. Here are some tips to help you assimilate:

  • Show up early and help set up, make the coffee, hang the club banner, help figure out the projector, and so forth. Stay late and help clean up, too.
  • Be sure to sign in, sign on, or sign up if you have an opportunity to do so, especially if it’s your first meeting.
  • Wear a name tag or other identification that announces your name and call sign in easy-to-read letters.
  • Introduce yourself to whomever you sit next to.
  • Introduce yourself to a club officer as a visitor or new member. If a “stand up and identify yourself” routine occurs at the beginning of the meeting, be sure to identify yourself as a new member or visitor. If other people also identify themselves as new, go introduce yourself to them later.
  • After you’ve been to two or three meetings, you will probably recognize some of the club’s committees or activities. If one of them sounds interesting, introduce yourself to whoever spoke about it and offer to help.
  • Show up at club activities or work parties!
  • Comb your hair. Brush your teeth. Sit up straight. Wear matching socks. Yes, Mom.

These magic tips are not just for ham radio clubs, but also for just about any club. And just like those other clubs, ham clubs have their own personality. They vary from wildly welcoming to tightly knit, seemingly impenetrable groups. Though after you break the ice, hams seem to bond for life. And when you’re a club elder, remember to extend a hand to new members the way you appreciated when you were a new face yourself!

Getting involved

Okay, you’re a regular! How can you get involved? In just about every ham club, you’ll find the following jobs need doing. Find out who is currently in that position and offer your help. You’ll discover a new aspect of ham radio, gain a friend, and make a contribution.

  • Field days: Planners and organizers can always use a hand in getting ready for this June operating event. Offer to help with generators, tents, and food, and find out about the rest of it as you go. Helping out with field days is a great way to meet the most active members of the club.
  • Conventions or hamfests: If the club hosts a regular event, almost any kind of help is always needed. If you have any kind of organizational or management expertise, so much the better.
  • Awards and club insignia: Managing sales of club insignia is a great job for new members — keeping records, taking orders, and making sales at club meetings. If you have an artistic or crafts bent, don’t be afraid to make suggestions.
  • Libraries and equipment: Many clubs maintain a library of reference books or have equipment that is loaned to members. All you have to do is keep track of it and make it available to other members.
  • Club stations: If your club is fortunate enough to have its own radio shack or repeater station, some maintenance work — such as working on antennas, changing batteries, tuning and testing radios, or just cleaning — always needs to be done. Buddy up with the station manager; you can become familiar with the equipment very quickly. You need not be technical, just willing.

If you can write or design Web sites, don’t hesitate to volunteer your services to the club newsletter editor or Webmaster. Chances are that they have several projects backlogged and would be delighted to have your help.

Along with the ongoing club committees and business, you usually can find a number of club-sponsored activities. Some clubs are organized around one major activity while others seem to have one or two going on every month. Here are a few common club activities:

  • Public service: This activity usually entails providing local communication during a sporting or civic event, such as a parade or festival. These events are great ways for you to hone your exchanging messages and operating skills.
  • Contests and challenges: Operating events are great fun and many clubs enter on-the-air contests as a team or club. Sometimes, clubs challenge each other to see which can generate the most points. You can either get on the air yourself or join a multi-operator station.
  • Work parties: What’s a club for if not to help out its own members? Raising a tower or doing antenna work with other members is a great way to meet active hams and discover this important aspect of station building.
  • Construction projects: Building your own equipment and antennas is a lot of fun, so clubs may occasionally sponsor group construction projects. Building your own equipment saves money and lets everyone work together to solve problems. If you like building things or have technical skills, here’s a great way to help out.

Supporting your club by participating in activities and committees is important. For one thing, you can acknowledge the help you get from the other members. You also start to become a mentor (or Elmer) yourself to other new members. By being active within the club, you strengthen the organization, your friendships with others, and the hobby in general.