On the eve of a New Year it’s become customary to peer into the crystal ball and expend every ounce of mystic energy to divine what the future may hold for amateur radio in the days to come…
One of the hottest trends in the hobby over the last four or five years has been portable operation and that will continue to grow in the coming year. It’s not just that hams like to operate from the great outdoors (we do!) but highly efficient portable gear continues to emerge and evolve and for hams living in apartments or other antenna restricted areas, taking the shack to the field has become a natural method of operation. “Shacks” are out in 2018 while the “outdoors” is in.
Bouvet Island is going to happen next year, as will a few others, but the gilded age for Big Team DXpeditions began to close a few years ago and that will accelerate in 2018. Make no mistake, DX enthusiasts will continue to go places and operate, but on a much smaller scale. Not only has fund raising become more of a challenge, but in case you haven’t noticed, it’s almost always the same core group of guys who are doing the going - and many of them will become great-grandfathers in the New Year.
Growth in amateur licensing will slow considerably in the New Year. Here in the US we’ve enjoyed a growth spurt for the last several years, but as we approach the magic year, the number of those exiting will exceed the number of those entering. The magic year is 2020 - that mythical calendar target when what remains of that bumper crop of hams licensed in the 1950’s will all be well into their 80’s. We will have to add 35,000 new hams a year for a decade to cover those losses and that’s a tall order. Besides, you’d think the preppers will eventually realize that no one needs a license to transmit when the shit hits the fan.
I predict that CQ Magazine will sign off for good in 2018. The magazine launched in 1945, an optimistic venture at the conclusion of WWII while the amateur radio service was still in limbo. The publication has had a great run but has struggled in recent years, not from a lack of good writing, but the result of the collapse in niche publishing. Unless it can be absorbed by someone with deep pockets, the end is at hand.
AMSAT is poised to have a very good year. More satellites means more possibilities and that ain’t a bad place to be during the dead zone of a pitiful solar cycle. HF operators may eventually realize that they have an FM handheld transceiver around the shack somewhere and they might as well see what all the fuss is about. This presents a golden opportunity for fundraising and growth if AMSAT leadership makes all the right moves, and they will in 2018.
I see several bright spots in the world of amateur radio in 2018, but I get the feeling there will also be trouble. I hate to seem pessimistic, no one wants to be the Debbie Downer at the party. But there is a growing angst among members of our fraternity, a simmering cauldron just below the surface of civility. Changes are happening too quickly for some to process and the rate of change is only going to accelerate.
For instance, the advent of FT8 delighted some while annoying others. That this new thing could so quickly cause the CW portions of the band to suddenly go silent is upsetting for some. Others say it makes working DX “too easy”. And then there are those who can’t fathom why digital voice and Internet connected systems fascinate the newcomers.
The collision between the dying remnant from the past with those determined to push amateur radio into the future will be the final internecine war among radio enthusiasts.
Until the next one.