The strength of an organization can be measured by how well it grows and maintains its membership. At its peak in 1994 AMSAT had about 8,000 members. Ten years later in 2004 that number was down to less than 3,900 and has remained in the 3,700 to 3,900 range to the present day. AMSAT is not alone in the amateur radio community with this problem. A recent article in QST by ARRL CEO Howard Michel, WB2ITX, pointed out that there are 30,000 new licensees each year. Only 17 to 18% of these join ARRL. After one year only 61% of those members re-join. Mr. Michel’s conclusion is that “there is something wrong with the value proposition of membership”. Ham radio operators are not a monolith. These 30,000 new hams (75% of which are Technician class) say they want more training and support, they want to participate in public service and emergency communications, they are interested in the technical aspects of radio.
I feel AMSAT is in the same situation. 75% of new hams with Technician class licenses are 22,500 potential new members. If we captured just 1% it would be an additional 225 members a year. The problem with AMSAT’s value proposition is that all it has to offer is another way to accumulate grid squares. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not belittling the level of proficiency required to make these contacts. My point is not everyone is into contesting and that is pretty much what working the current LEO satellites is all about. How were things different in 1994 when we had 8,000 members ? We had HEO satellites AO-10 and AO-13, we had FM satellites UO-14 and AO-27, we had digital store-and-forward satellites AO-16,LO-19, IO-26, we had linear satellites FO-12,FO-20, RS-14. we had HF satellites RS-12, we had satellites with cameras, UO-11, KO-25. We had a digitalker, DO-17. There was something for everybody. We had a viable emergency communications function with the HEO’s and store-and-forward PACSATs.
There is no excuse for not having more of a variety of satellites. We may not be able to build and launch a HEO just yet but there is no reason we couldn’t build another PACSAT satellite and encourage other international AMSAT groups to build some in order to once again have a viable emergency communications capability. Why has AMSAT NEVER launched an APRS satellite ? Used in conjunction with terrestrial gateways these provide real time communications for more than just position info.
Why are the only awards given by AMSAT are for operating accomplishments. If you make a certain number of QSO’s via satellite or collect a certain number of grid squares you are recognized in the AMSAT Journal. Why are there no awards for technical accomplishments outside an AMSAT project? Why are there no awards for public service using satellite? Why are there no awards for mentoring hams new to satellites?
The incumbent leaders of AMSAT are so afraid of alienating any of the current base they keep the entire organization stagnant. This has not been AMSAT’s history and it should not be AMSAT’s future. We can’t have growth without innovation.