Revitalizing Your College Ham Club

Matthew Beiz recently asked the members of the Collegiate Ham Radio Operators Facebook page for ideas on how to build interest in our essential avocation among a young audience dealing with lots of technological distractions. Here are a few thoughts from our work to rebuild the Michigan State University Amateur Radio Club:

Go where the action is – Build a robust Facebook presence, Twitter identity and a dynamic club website. Make sure they are regularly updated with relevant content. Engage in social media conversations with other hams.

Update your shack
– Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, the venerable ARRL CEO emeritus, came to MSU because we had a Collins S-Line setup. Your shack should reflect the state of the art. Buy the best gear you can afford, including contesting headphones and logging computers. Install a flat screen TV outside and create a continually updated slide show depicting waterfalls, satellite passes, real time propagation forecasts and other eye candy. Keep your shack spotless. Adorn your walls with awards, QSL cards and pictures of club activities. ARRL’s Ward Silver adds, “When the computer is not being used, leave a web browser on or run Viewprop to show contacts being continually made around the world. The busier the map, the better. Add a ‘viewer’s guide’ next to the screen. People understand maps and lines on the maps.”

Build cool club projects – Consider building an HF ALE node. Enable your repeater with Allstar / Echolink. Deploy a D-Star hotspot in your shack. Install a satellite station. Overlay the campus WiFi with a solar powered HSMM network. Our club station is in the midst of installing  an APRS gateway with a 24/7 display showing APRS activity in our area.

Be aggressive in seeking out potential members – Paper the dorms with fliers announcing club events and inviting people to visit your shack. Work with an advertising class to create a membership marketing campaign. It should have tactics for fall move-in, radio sport, one to one recruiting, email and social media activities. Have current members bring one or two new people to a meeting. Devise radio activities for non-licensed people. Try geocache/foxhunts (“geofoxing”). Partner a non-licensed person with a ham to share an event. Make it easy for them to participate and see ham radio in action.

Hold weekly open shack nights – Invite alumni to man the shack on a specific night every week and publicize that you’re there. Have demos of digital modes displayed on your shack computers and snag passers by to take a spin on a GOTA (get on the air station).

Brand, brand, brand – Create an approved club logo and put it on t-shirts, banners and club promotions. Design a club name badge (make it big and easy to read) for your members. If your school allows “chalking”, writing club info on sidewalks with chalk, create a stencil of the club logo and website address and liberally chalk it around campus.

Get people licensed – Meet with the professors who teach robotics and RF courses that might use ham frequencies for command and control. Get them make a ham license part of the class requirements. Sponsor a ham-in-a-day class to get students on the air.

Make Connections – N1YR holds a weekly, All-Star / Echolink connected collegiate ham radio net. Encourage those without rigs to download the Echolink app and participate on their smart device. When you get a critical mass of participants from your institution, consider holding your own weekly net. Check in to the nets that other schools run to support their activities. Listen and learn. Keep your HT on the club repeater and respond when you hear someone throw out their call.

Create an endowment to provide ARRL memberships to student hams – If an endowment is beyond your club’s current capacity, reach out to a group of alumni and invite them to sponsor a student ham’s membership. Sponsorship might also include taking that student to lunch or dinner and inviting them with you to local swaps or radiosport activities.

Have a visible presence at campus events – Create a ham radio service corps with custom shirts and or reflective vests with your club website address on it. Offer your services to student government, athletics and student life. Be in evidence at important events as an information resource. Deploy someone at the central communications point to be the disseminator and to answer questions.

Put an APRS beacon on your mascot – Keep an eye out on for Sparty on game days. We hitch our famous mascot to the W8MSU-2 APRS beacon and you can follow him as he makes his way through the tailgate maze, visits pep rallies and does his thing on the field during games. Beaconing a float in the homecoming parade or any other activity where the center of attention moves around can add value and be fun.

Great clubs have great programming – Before the year starts, line up at least 6 really great programs for club meetings. Our engineering dean does an annual antenna lecture that always draws a crowd. Talk about cutting edge technologies like DMR and the digital modes. Partner with the Astronomy department for a combination satellite pass demonstration and star gazing evening. Hold a meeting in your maker space and build satellite antennas. Arrange a balloon launch with an APRS package on board. Demo cool things you can do with a Raspberry Pi. Put an APRS tracker on your school mascot on game day. Ask every club what their most popular programs are and clone them.

Repurpose recent ham magazines as give aways – This chestnut has been used for years. Create labels to cover the address area on the magazine cover that has your club contact information on it with, “Learn more about amateur radio here:” at the top. We paste a full page info sheet inside the front cover and disseminate the magazines in areas where other publications are. Be sure to include a QR code that can be scanned into mobile devices to take the user to the club website. Speaking of QR codes, put yours code on a sandwich sign on campus where people are present so they can scan it on the spot and jump right to your FB or web page.

Setup a Remote Rig that students can check out – We have a Kenwood TS-480 with RemoteRig gear connected to a radio in the MSUARC shack. Students can sign out control heads and operate from anywhere on campus via WiFi. The unit also makes it super easy to deploy a demo station during university events, football tailgates, etc.

Create Special Events Stations – MSUARC had great success with our 2015 virtual tailgate special events stations. We had alumni in the shack two hours prior to each MSU home football game and awarded limited edition QSL cards to those who made contacts. At the end of the season we provided a poster, on which contesters could affix their cards.

Stream your meetings – With Facebook Live, Periscope and Livestream, broadcasting your meetings is becoming easier. It’s a great way to get alumni and friends connected from afar.

Create a digital resource library – Scan your key documents into PDFs, share important hotlinks, archive audio and video. If you have the resources, consider putting these things behind a firewall for “members only”.

Reach out to the ARRL – The League has a ton of great resources for clubs and can connect you with other members who can share their wisdom.

Experiment! You never know what might or might not work until you try it out. Don’t be afraid to fail along the way. That’s how you learn. And reach out to other clubs to see how they are approaching the challenge. You can always learn from others who have walked the path.