The Benefits of ARRL for Ham Radio Users - dummies

The Benefits of ARRL for Ham Radio Users

By H. Ward Silver

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is one of the oldest continuously functioning amateur radio organizations in the world and is great for ham radio users. Founded before World War I, it provides services to hams around the world and plays a key part in representing the ham radio cause to the public and governments.

That ham radio could survive for more than 100 years without a strong leadership organization is hard to imagine, and ARRL has filled that role. ARRL is such a large presence within the hobby for U.S. hams (and for those in Canada who belong to its sister organization, Radio Amateurs of Canada).

ARRL is a volunteer-based, membership-oriented organization. Rest assured that even as a new ham, you can make a meaningful contribution as a volunteer.

ARRL’s benefits to you

The most visible benefit of ARRL membership is that you receive QST magazine in print or digital format every month. The largest, oldest, and most widely read ham radio magazine, QST includes feature articles on technical and operating topics, reports on regulatory information affecting the hobby, the results of ARRL-sponsored competitions, and columns on a wide variety of topics.

QST ham radio
Courtesy American Radio Relay League
QST covers many aspects of ham radio every month plus product reviews and ads from almost every ham radio vendor.

Along with the print magazine, ARRL maintains an active and substantial website, providing current news and general-interest stories; the Technical Information Service, which allows you to search technical documents and articles online; and several free email bulletins, online newsletters, and social media services.

Why does W1AW transmit bulletins over the air in this day and age of broadband connectivity? Bulletins may sound old-fashioned but they offer an opportunity to test equipment, assess radio propagation, and practice copying Morse code.

ARRL also manages the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which helps hams organize at the local level. ARES teams support local government and public-safety functions with emergency communication services. They also perform public service by providing support and communications services for parades, sporting events, and similar events.

In addition, ARRL is the largest single sponsor of operating activities for hams, offering numerous contests, award programs, and technical and emergency exercises.

ARRL’s benefits to the hobby

By far the most visible aspect of ARRL on the ham bands is its headquarters station, W1AW. Carrying the call sign of ARRL founder Hiram Percy Maxim, the powerful station beams bulletins and Morse code practice sessions to hams around the planet every day. Visiting hams can even operate the W1AW station themselves (as long as they remember to bring a license). Most hams think that being at the controls of one of the most famous and storied ham stations in the world is the thrill of a lifetime.

W1AW ham radio
The world-famous W1AW station in Newington, Connecticut.

The ARRL is a volunteer examiner coordinator (VEC) organization. You may take your licensing test at an ARRL-VEC exam session. With the largest number of volunteer examiners (VEs), the ARRL-VEC helps thousands of new and active hams take their licensing exams, obtain vanity and special call signs, renew their licenses, and update their license information of record. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could no longer maintain the staff to administer licensing programs, ARRL and other ham organizations stepped forward to create the largely self-regulated VEC programs that are instrumental to healthy ham radio.

One of the least visible of ARRL’s functions, but arguably one of its most important, is its advocacy of amateur radio service to governments and regulatory bodies. In this telecommunications-driven age, the radio spectrum is valuable territory, and many commercial services would like to get access to amateur frequencies, regardless of the long-term effects. ARRL helps regulators and legislators understand the special nature and needs of amateur radio.

ARRL’s benefits to the public

Although it naturally focuses on its members, ARRL takes its mission to promote amateur radio seriously. To that end, its website is largely open to the public, as are all bulletins broadcast by W1AW. The organization also provides these services:

  • Facilitates emergency communications: In conjunction with the field organization, ARES teams around the country provide thousands of hours of public service every year. While individual amateurs render valuable aid in times of emergency, the organization of these efforts multiplies the usefulness of that aid. ARRL staff members also help coordinate disaster response across the country.
  • Publishes the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications: First published in 1926, “The Handbook” is used by telecommunications professionals and amateurs alike. Information about the current edition is available including a link where you can get your own copy.
  • Provides technical references: The league publishes numerous technical references and guides, including conference proceedings and standards.
  • Promotes technical awareness and education: ARRL is involved with the Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ Radio merit badge and with Jamboree-on-the-Air programs. It also sponsors the Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology to train and license primary and secondary educators.