Youth CW Academy Pilot Program

by Rob Brownstein, K6RB

The Youth CW Academy program has been brewing for about two years, now, and it is finally ready to be launched. CWops is sponsoring a CW Academy program aimed squarely at young people. The pilot program will begin in January 2018.

For the last 50 years, ham radio has been ageing. The average age of a licensed operator is now above 60 years old. In contrast, back in 1960, the average age was just below 30. The ARRL points to the increased number of licensees, these days, but the real question is how many remain committed to radio? The HF bands are notable for the decline in daytime activity with the exception of DXpedition pileups and contests.

True, young people have many distractions in their daily lives – school, social media, smartphones, games – so for years the appeal of ham radio among the youth has been waning. Teenagers, today, are not wowed by wireless communications the way we baby boomers were wowed. Nearly all of them have a wireless transceiver in a pocket. So, 2 meter handi-talkies, repeaters and the like have little long-lasting appeal. And, frankly, neither does HF phone or RTTY.

We have found that a reasonable number of teens and sub-teens, however, are attracted to CW. It shares many of the qualities of texting, which is something a lot of them do, routinely. So, the time appears ripe to entice young folks to ham radio by virtue of its Morse Code heritage rather than the now jaded magic of wireless technology. Does it really matter why they may flock to HF CW? The truth is if we can get a sizable number of kids on the air, on HF, using CW, we have a shot at rejuvenating a hobby that would otherwise be unlikely to exist in 25 years.

So, here’s our chance to embellish CWops’ already noteworthy CW mentoring efforts by launching a program expressly for young people between the ages of 11 and 19.

The Plan

In the short term, Youth CW Academy will borrow from our very successful CW Academy Level 1 program and offer a Level 1 for kids. The syllabus will be essentially the same but the makeup of the groups will be different. Here, in addition to grouping by time zone the students will also be grouped by age zones. There will be three such zones: 11-13, 14-16, 17-19. Ideally, no student will be in a group with someone more than two years younger or older. From the beginning, they will be encouraged to work in teams. The goal will be to impart CW skills and build groups of young ham friends. The pilot programs will be exclusive to already-licensed applicants – especially no-code technician licensees. Later manifestations will be also include unlicensed applicants who will learn CW skills and license-test knowledge, simultaneously.

For the first pilot program – Jan-Feb 2018 – we will try to establish up to five groups of five students, 25 students in total. There will be enough advisors, for now, to handle that many groups. We will repeat the pilot program, again, in April and May 2018. Then, over the summer, we will roll out (hopefully) a full-blown program that includes both licensed and unlicensed applicants. In addition, the full-blown program will include an equipment loaner program so that graduates will be able to get on the air right after graduating. For students who already have equipment, we will just mentor them to get them up to speed. For those who cannot afford equipment, we will offer a loaner program that includes donated HF radios and club-provided portable HF antennas.

Moving Forward

We will begin accepting applicants from 15 November through 15 December. The application should be emailed during that period. Applications should be emailed to: k6rb58@gmail.com and the header Youth CWA should be used for easy spotting. The information should include the following:

First and last name
Call sign and license type (e.g. tech, general, extra)
Age
Time zone (EST, CST, MST or PST)
Email address
Telephone number

For now, applicants will be restricted to North America (US/Canada). When we begin adding license-test preparation, non-licensed applicants will be restricted to US applicants while we expand the test-preparation program.

How You Can Help

If you know some young licensees between the ages of 11 and 19, let them know about the Youth CWA program, and encourage them to apply. If you are interested in advising a YCWA group, let me know (k6rb58@gmail.com). If you are interested in mentoring graduates to help them get up to speed on the air (helping to set up stations and antennas), let me know that, too.

We hope to begin a loaner program by Sep-Oct 2018. Toward that end, anyone who has a working HF rig capable of CW operation, preferably 100 watts power, please let me know that, too. I am planning to establish a non-profit entity for rig donations that will allow for a modest tax write-off for your donated gear.

Please email me with any questions you may have about the pilot program.

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