Finding and Being a Ham Radio Mentor

By H. Ward Silver

A mentor is very useful in helping you over the rough spots that every ham radio newcomer encounters. A good place to start your search for a mentor is to search for ham radio clubs in your area. You might start on the clubs page of the QRZ.com website, for example. When you’ve narrowed down the clubs closest to you, enter mentor in the Tag window to find clubs that offer special help to new hams.

As your interests widen, you’ll need additional help. Luckily, hundreds of potential mentors, known in ham radio as Elmers, are available around the world.

Using the word Elmer to mean mentor is unique to ham radio. Rick Lindquist (WW1ME) traces the origin of the term Elmer to the March 1971 issue of QST magazine; the term appeared in a “How’s DX” column by Rod Newkirk (W9BRD). Rod’s mentor was a ham named Elmer and the message was that every new ham should have an Elmer to help them. The name stuck and since then, “Elmering” has meant “helping.” Every ham has at least one Elmer at some point. You will, too, and if someone refers to you as “my Elmer,” you can be proud.

There are websites just for the new hams, such as Ham Universe. Just entering ham radio elmer into a search engine turns up lots of candidates. Some specialize in helping you study for the exam. Some are organized in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) format. And a few are online forums where you can ask a specific question.

You may want to join one of the Elmer email lists that are set up specifically to answer questions and offer help. To find general and topical Elmer lists, enter ham radio elmer reflector in a search engine, and you’ll turn up several candidates.

When looking for answers in an online forum or email list, check the website’s archives first. It’s likely that others will have had similar questions and you can find your answer right away. This is just good “netiquette.” You might find a lot more information in the archives, too!

Can you be a mentor? Although you may not think you are ready to mentor someone, you might be the perfect person! Since you are learning about ham radio, you understand very well how other new hams might feel and what questions they might have. Don’t hesitate to take someone else along for the ham radio ride. If you are both studying for the license exam at the same time, you can even mentor each other! Studying together is a great way to learn.

After you succeed in getting your license (and you will!) you are in a great position to help someone else learn and understand the material. The things that were confusing to you might also be confusing to him or her, and you can relate how you figured things out. Practice exams are always less stressful when given by a newcomer than from a seasoned “old timer.”

As you progress with ham radio, you’ll acquire some equipment, learn about using it, and have more than a few “a-ha!” moments. You might not think you can act as a teacher, but why not give it a try? Answer a question online or at a meeting. Offer to help a new ham at an operating event or pair up when performing public service. As is often said (and demonstrated), the best way to learn something is to teach it! You were once brand new, too, so don’t hesitate to reach out.