There is much being said and written these days about the importance of bringing new people, especially young people, into our Hobby. There are many obvious reasons for this. As we all get older or get busy with other aspects of our lives, some will leave the hobby. Also, we have the use of many commercially valuable portions of the RF spectrum and there is always pressure to reallocate bands or segments of bands which are not fully utilized. In my mind, the most important reason to bring new HAMs into our hobby has to do with the energy and new ideas that these folks bring to Amateur Radio. Amateur Radio has always been a learning hobby and new folks help us to keep this important part of what makes our hobby so much fun vibrant.
Anita (AB1QB) and I try to put a lot of time and energy into getting folks started in Amateur Radio and helping them to build their skills and progress. Our Amateur Radio License Classes and the youth outreach work that we’ve been doing are two good examples of this. To make these efforts as successful as they can be, it’s also very important to provide good opportunities for folks who are new to various aspects of Amateur Radio to learn and gain experience. This means becoming an “Elmer” or a HAM Radio mentor to people who are less experienced in some part of the hobby than you are.
Perhaps the most challenging part of Amateur Radio for many new HAMs is making the transition from getting their initial license or a license upgrade, to getting on the air with their new privileges. I think that this is equally true for newly licensed folks and for folks who have upgraded to a higher license class and are looking to get onto the HF bands. It’s impossible to teach everything that one needs to get the most from their Amateur License in classes alone.
So what does effective Elmer’ing look like? I think that the answer is different for every HAM. For a new Tech, it may be as simple as helping the person to pick their first radio and antenna along with some help getting it programmed for the local repeaters. For a person upgrading their license to gain HF privileges, it is often about helping to get a first HF antenna up along with helping them to select equipment for and assemble a first HF station. All of these folks will also benefit from help getting on the air and learning to operate. Most of all, a great Elmer is someone who is willing to give their time to help a person who is new to an aspect of Amateur Radio learn and get started doing what they want to do.
I have personally found that being an Elmer to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of Amateur Radio. Every time that I help someone get on the air for the first time or help someone to build their first HF antenna or station, I get the same enjoyment as when I did these things for the first time in my Amateur Radio experience.
Elmer’ing is also a great opportunity for the “Elmer” to learn new things. Newer or less experienced folks will have different things that they want to try or learn about than those things that we “Elmers” consider our “tried and true” Amateur Radio activities. A great Elmer will help the less experienced HAM take on these projects and learn along with them. This gives the less experienced person the confidence and support that they need to try more difficult projects with confidence. The learning experience associated with being an Elmer has often been the best part of the experience for me.
So how does one get started with Elmer’ing? You could open your station to newer HAMs and offer them a chance to get on the air and learn to operate. There is always someone looking to put up a new antenna or to repair an existing one. These are all great opportunities for Elmer’ing. Also, you could consider creating a presentation that you can deliver at your local radio club meetings as a way to share specialized knowledge or experience that you may have. If you are new licensed, perhaps you could help someone who is studying for their license exam with some of the areas that they are finding difficult. Also, new folks tend to have experience with computers and the Internet that many of the folks who have been in the hobby for a while can benefit from. This can be a 2-way Elmer’ing opportunity.
I hope that all of our readers will consider becoming an Elmer in some way. Your efforts to help someone new or less experienced can provide you with the satisfaction that you helped to make Amateur Radio a better hobby for everyone.
– Fred (AB1OC)