Where on earth are all the Amateur-Radio operators?

jy1_king_hussein

World famous Amateur-Radio operator
King Hussein of Jordan (JY1)

Last September, I installed a “Revolver Map” widget on this website to gather information about people visiting. After a while, I realized the information gathered was not only giving me visitor’s location, but a map of where all the amateur radio operators are!

You see, people with no interests in HF radios or the hobby itself are very unlikely to do search about that topic and have much less of a chance on landing on this website, therefor, people who do, must have either have an interest in the hobby or simply are avid users. Therefor, the dots on the “Revolver Map” are approximate location of Amateur radio operators, and they are virtually everywhere !

The only continents I haven’t received “internet based” visitors from is Antarctica, probably explained by the fact that you will not find internet service provider companies in those areas, but none the less, you will find amateur radio operators in Antarctica since radio communications are a life line to the outside world.

Here’s is my Revolver Map’s 2D map with red dots which represent the IP geo-location of the internet service provider. The spinning globe on the right of this page is the “realtime” representation of this map :

VE2XIP VISITS

Here are some interesting facts:

There are 3 million licensed amateur radio operators worldwide, which is less than 0.04% of the global population.  In sharp contrast, 6 billion people (88%) have access to a mobile (cellular) phones and soon, there will be more cell phones in operations than there will be people on earth to use them. Compared to these figures, amateur radio operators are indeed a very small, almost insignificant minority and telecommunications companies racking in billions in profits every years want to keep it that way.

Joe Walsh wb6acu

Joe Walsh (WB6ACU) – From the rock group “The Eagles”.

The average age of Amateur radio operators is 67 years old and that number keeps increasing every year. About 15% of operators are women and 85% are men. In some countries, you won’t find an amateur radio operator younger than 80 years old. People who obtained their operator license in the 1960′s and 1970′s constitute the majority of operators today and would explain the mature age of operators. No wonder this hobby was very popular in the 60-70′s, as it was the Internet of its era!

With cost of communications being very high at that time, point-to-point audio communication came very cheap for licensed operators, but at a somewhat high entry point cost. You see, to get your license, specially before amateur radio licensing reforms that happened around the year 2000, you needed to learn a whole lot of electronics and technical theories and concepts to be able to pass an amateur radio exam. Probably the biggest hurdle was to master the art of Morse code communication (CW). But today, with the dwindling user base, most countries have reformed the licensing process, making it more accessible to the general population.

Amateur radio population
Source: Wikipedia

Worldwide, out of those 3 millions licensed amateur radio operators, Japan sits at the top of the list with almost 1.3 million operators, followed closely by the United-States, Canada being in 7th place on the chart.

The more under developed a country is, the most likely you will have a hard time finding amateur radio operators and this is due to several factors: high cost of imports on radio communication equipment, tight regulations by local governments, lack of organized licensing and frequencies management. I once heard a amateur operator out of Africa describing the complete chaos in regards to call sign distribution and management. You see, when a local government is pushed out by the “next” government, either democratically or by force , files and databases pertaining to that country’s licensed amateur radio operators tend to vanish along with many other files, making it very difficult for that new government to re-establish organized administration of anything.

Also, with the advent and evolution of the internet, local government are spending most of their time and effort attempting to control this new digital era and are De facto allowing more amateur operators. Then again, who would want to put up an large HF antenna and operate radios in countries where you could get in big trouble for doing so?

Yes, there are still countries today that have absolute ban on privately owned and operated amateur radio stations (i.e.: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), which is nonsense because they allow the usage of cellular phones. Then again, cell phones are useless without cell towers and distribution networks, which is controlled by the state. Event today, political instability, dictatorship and complete disarray of government telecommunication infrastructure in some developing countries make it close to impossible to own and operate amateur radio equipments.

Looking back at Japan, I can’t stop to ask myself why are there so many savvy amateur radio operators in that country? Five times more per capita than anywhere else in the world! Would it have to do with the fact that most major amateur radio equipment manufacturers (Yeasu , Kenwood and ICOM) have head quarters in that country? Could it be because 130 millions souls live on a earthquake & tsunami prone big island and that radio communications could come in very handy when disasters strike? Knowing how Japanese people are so organized and methodical in their thinking, being prepared for the worst would explain this trend.

Needless to say, having a self-contained communication device in your pocket brings reassurance when everything else fail. I for one, wouldn’t go to a remote area anymore without at least a two-way radio communication device, and by this, I don’t mean a cellular phone.

chris hadfield va3oog

Most famous Canadian Amateur Operator – Astronaut and ISS commander, Chris Hadfield (VA3OOG)

Being part of the modern technology generation and having spent most of my adult life working as an internet infrastructure builder, I have a very good understanding of what can go wrong with modern digital infrastructure (eg: The Internet) and that’s the reason why I took upon myself to familiarize myself with self-contained, self-propelled communication technology. It’s not only fascinating, and like the Japanese way of thinking would suggest, could come in very handy on a bad day.

In Canada, less than 1 out of every 20,000 people is a licensed amateur radio operator. And for every 100 licensed radio operator, there are less than 10 active ones. And out of 100 active operators, there are only 10 HF bands operators. These are small, very very small numbers compared to 97% of the Canadian general population having some form of access to the internet. If they only knew how the internet transport and content is built and controlled, they might change their mind and become amateur radio operators.

If you don’t care about becoming a licensed amateur radio operator, you should at the very least get your hands on (licensed free) general purpose FRS/GMRS portable radios and learn how to use them. You will discover that they are much more practical and efficient than what ever internet dependent technology you are using now. If you want a useful portable radio for your “Go-Bag”,  I would recommend a Baofeng UV5R, which sells on Ebay form $30 to $40 USD and is fully operational on most FRS/GMRS & Amateur VHF/UHF frequencies.

In conclusion, with the overwhelming propagation of digital wireless communication services, I estimate with some degree of certainty that the licensed amateur radio operator world population will disappear completely within 2 generations (50 years). It’s sad to think that 3 generations from now, everyone will be oblivious to any  forms of telecommunication other than wireless digital services owned and controlled by large corporations. Pretty grim isn’t it? That’s a shame because Amateur radio is the only failsafe communication system left in the world.

On a more upbeat note, I would like convey your attention to this well made amateur radio promotion video hosted and narrated by the legendary news pioneer, Mr. Walter Cronkite (SK).

73′s.

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