News that the ARRL has begun the search for a replacement for CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ began washing over hamdom this week. The bulletin from HQ said:
Additional details are forthcoming, but the Board will begin its search for a successor to CEO Sumner, who has set a target retirement date of May 1, 2016. Sumner will be 67 and will have been on the Headquarters full-time staff for 44 years. He was named Secretary and General Manager in 1982, with a change in title to Executive Vice President in 1985, and the additional title of Chief Executive Officer in 2001 (the title of Executive Vice President was phased out in 2011).
Sumner will be near to impossible to replace. Despite the CEO title he’s not just a “suit” — he’s an active radio operator. I’ve bumped into him frequently during contests, always on CW. His intimate, inside knowledge of the amateur service coupled with his passion for radio make him unique.
What will his replacement be facing?
Over the next twenty years we will see the complete deregulation of amateur radio. First, the FCC will become less involved and enforcement activity will eventually be removed. Problems like 14.313 will have to be solved by us – and technology, if they are to be solved. Eventually, the government will discontinue licensing altogether, casting us into the cauldron with that other service.
Before that comes to pass, we will begin to endure an extended period of solar minimum that will doom the efforts of those without the ability to erect the large antennas required for low-bands over their heads. The age of easy DX, QRP, and 10-10 International is rapidly coming to a close. Not to mention the general malaise brought on by those who see our kind of communication as old-fashioned and inferior to “smart” phone technology.
And because no one is willing to imagine that scenario, let alone talk about it, we are poorly prepared to deal with its impending impact.
Yes, whoever replaces K1ZZ will face a mountain of problems. But to point that out would be cliched, especially in the context of our history — it’s been true for every new ARRL leader. Amateur radio is constantly under some threat or another. From the complete shutdown of the service in the aftermath of (not one!) two World Wars to the constant risk of losing spectrum to commercial and government interests.
Ours is a shared playground, perpetually at risk and whoever replaces Dave Sumner better arrive with their Chuck Taylor’s laced, ready to play — and with a firm grip on 21st century technology. The meek might inherit the earth but they make lousy leaders, especially for the “Mad Max” future where we will soon find ourselves.