By Chip Coker KD4C
Recently I was asked by a Klub Member “My ARRL Membership is expiring and I’m wondering if I should renew it. I just don’t see what it’s doing for me.” I’m sure that many members may have similar thoughts.
Here is a summary of my response:
The cost of the annual ARRL Membership has risen over the years to the (current) $49, which could be considered significant for some hams. Is it worth it? Well there are two ways to look at that.
First, as a transactional amount. What do you physically receive for your $49? Mainly, an annual magazine subscription to QST (or alternately, On The Air, the League’s new-ish magazine for new hams). QST is, for US hams, the best general publication for Ham Radio. It does a pretty good job of presenting a well-rounded selection of articles as well as monthly features that are ham-related. There’s also the ads. If you want to see the latest and greatest in Ham Gear, it’s probably going to be front and center in a QST ad. Is $49 too much for a magazine subscription? CQ, the only other general interest competitor to QST, is $42.95 for 12 issues, and that’s just for the magazine only. A subscription to a monthly news magazine such as The Atlantic is $75 for a year. So, as far as transactional value, $49 isn’t a bad value for a decent Ham Radio magazine. Of course, it’s not just one magazine – you can access the other magazine digitally, as well as the full archive of all magazines, and there are multiple weekly newsletters and journals (QEX, Contest Journal). So, lots of content for that $49.
There’s also Logbook of the World (LoTW). I know that it’s a “free” service to all hams, but someone has to pay for it. Having it be free to all hams makes it a valuable resource, as opposed to paid services. “But why do I have to help pay for it?” Because it’s the right thing to do if you have the means.
Now, for the non-transactional value of the ARRL membership.
The League promotes itself as “the National Association of Amateur Radio.” Do hams need a National Association? Well, there is strength in numbers for any activity, and having an organized group that represents you has been effective for many a collective. If done properly, that association would represent the group on matters where others have competing interests.
“But who could possibly be opposed to ham radio?”
Let me relate something that I recently heard from John Stratton N5AUS, the ARRL West Gulf Division Director. After the success of the FCC’s PRB-1 ruling (PRB-1 prohibits local governments from restricting ham antennas – itself a success of group representation), there has been a desire to extend that antenna protection to also cover Neighborhood Restrictions (HOAs). Legislation has been introduced in every recent Congress to cover this issue, and there’s been a push to get that through congress. But the HOA lobby has been very against it, and they have lots of money. The HOA lobby had gotten changes made to the bill that would have (in John’s words) “eliminated the ability of hams to put up antennas”. So the league got the prospective bill killed until it could be reworked and re-introduced. Without the lobbyists paid by the ARRL, hams might have been in far worse shape. And lobbying isn’t cheap.
“But I don’t have a HOA so I don’t need to worry about that.” Well, lots of hams DO have an HOA and need to worry about those restrictions, and having onerous restrictions would be bad for ham radio popularity in general. And fewer hams = fewer radios and fewer other opportunities for radio. So, to be a member of the larger ham radio community, maybe you should be interested in – and support – things that help out all hams.
Who’s looking out for us? So far, it seems that’s the job of the ARRL.
The ARRL has not always been a shining example of a National organization. For years, it was a very closed, good-ole boy environment. Lots of staff, appearing very busy, with not a lot to show for it (with the exception of their publishing empire). After many leadership changes, board of directors fights, and a few missteps, it appears that change is finally coming to Newington.
The ARRL has a new CEO (David Minster NA2AA) and he is trying very hard to improve the operations of the League. I’ve posted a YouTube video (below) of an appearance he made recently. It’s worth a watch to see his impressions of the existing problems and his ideas for improving the ARRL. Hopefully the “new” ARRL won’t be stuck in the mud like the “old” ARRL. I for one am willing to give him (and forward-thinking directors like John Stratton) a chance to turn things around.
It that worth your $49? Only you can decide that, but hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about.
– 73 de KD4C