Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Details are yet to emerge about the nature of the misconduct that led to the dismissal of the RSGB's General Manager Peter Kirby. However in one or two blogs and forums it is already being suggested that this should be an opportunity for root and branch change at the RSGB, a chance to get rid of the "old school tie brigade." I don't agree.

I may be an old fart now, but when I first joined the RSGB back in 1973 I was 20 years old and it was an even more traditional organization than than it is today. Most of the officers held two-letter calls that indicated they had been licensed since before the war. Radio Communication (it was years until it became the more trendy RadCom) had more of the air of a professional electronics journal. But did I feel that the RSGB was an old boys' club that should be run by more know-nothing-but-think-they-know-it-all youngsters like me? Did I write letters asking for Radio Communication to be dumbed down to make it more understandable to newcomers? No I didn't. The RSGB did have a bit of an air of being an elite group, but I was proud that it now included me. And instead of grumbling that the contents of Radio Communication were over my head I aspired to understand what was then a mystery. Unlike other radio services ham radio is a hobby with a long tradition and that is one of the things that is reflected by the RSGB.

I never attended an RSGB annual general meeting. But when these were held they were usually followed by a "black tie" dinner. I've seen Big Issue sellers more smartly attired than the average radio rally attendee and I have often wondered if these formal dinners were part of the same hobby. But the fact that I had no desire to attend such functions did not mean I felt they should not occur, or that the people who attended them could not possibly represent the interests of people like me.

I think the RSGB has done quite a good job so far, especially considering the differing and often conflicting demands of its members. Britain was one of the first countries to drop the Morse proficiency requirement and to introduce a licensing scheme that made it easy for the very young and those with limited technical knowledge to enter the hobby. These are hardly the actions of an RSGB dedicated to maintaining the status quo, to resisting change, to keeping ham radio an elite club of people who know code and understand circuit diagrams.

I don't think the misdemeanours of one salaried officer should be allowed to overshadow that achievement. One bad apple doesn't mean you must cut down the entire tree. We live in an egalitarian age where everyone's opinion counts and it seems that many want an RSGB run by people like them. I just wonder where that would lead. If you look at history, the times when Britain was great was when it was run by leaders who were in their 60s and 70s. Now the country is run by political careerists in their 40s and 50s and look at the mess we're in. We need an RSGB that can shape the future of the hobby but still respect the the past.


Anonymous said...

Hi Julian, I am a regular reader of your always interesting blog and in general I have agreed with your sentiments. However I disagree with you concerning the RSGB. It has gone too far down the road of "dumbing down" of entry to the hobby. I was also a member for many years but have recently declined to renew my membership in protest. the implementation of the Foundation Licence has led to an influx of a marge minority people who have imported their "freebanding" and CB habits with them. Amateur radio is a technical pursuit; most of the recent licencees have no interest in this side of the hobby;it is seen as glorified CB. And for this I place the blame solely with the RSGB.

Unknown said...

Hi Jon.

I respect your opinion, but in this case I must disagree. I know many people who have come in via the Foundation route who are excellent amateurs in all respects. To deny them this due to the activities of a minority doesn't seem fair.

In any case, I think that those seeking to take this opportunity to reform the RSGB are modernizers who would take it even further down the road that you profess to be unhappy with. My argument was that we shouldn't change things too much. I don't think turning back the clock is really an option. But I am thankful that the RSGB has not gone down the route taken by the ARRL in the US of turning ham radio into an emergency communications service and actively encouraging people to get ham radio licenses expressly to participate in "emcomm" activities.

MrJoshua said...

I think the "problem" with the foundation/intermediate/advanced licence classes are that once one attains the foundation licence, which let's be fair is not a huge undertaking for someone with an interest in technology and electronics, there is no reason to progress if one doesn't care for the letter of the licence or does not want to gain further knowledge.

A foundation-class amateur could run a linear on any band and is highly unlikely to ever get into trouble for it.

I believe the foundation licence should give access to VHF/UHF and /some/ portions of HF, but certainly not the whole lot.

Likewise, the intermediate licence should give further access, but again, not everything.

Only when one achieves the full "advanced" licence should the entire allocated spectrum be opened up for use.

Well, that's my thoughts anyway... Surely doing something like that would give new licensees incentive to progress?

Despite this, I like the three step program; I for one would not have had the time to study the RAE the "old" way, so going through the three courses/licences enabled me to get my M0 callsign over a period of a few years while improving my operating skills at the same time.

I wish the new General Manager the best of luck!

Nick said...

First, I’d like to say how much I enjoy your site & blog, Julian. I’ve lurked up until now, but felt I’d like to chip in on this one.

I entirely agree with you that this is not the time to be radically restructuring or redirecting the RSGB. Now is the time to learn whatever lessons are necessary from whatever ills have occurred and move on. Most important is to appoint a new GM who can lead the Society in the years to come. Possible alternative directions for RSGB affairs are entirely unrelated to the conduct of one officer and should be considered separately on their merits, not leapt into as an opportunist reaction to unfortunate events. In any case, if the new appointee is of any worth, he or she will surely conduct a review of the RSGB’s operations at an early juncture and advise the Board accordingly.

On the subject of the licensing structure, I am a firm supporter of the new regime. I was first licensed as a GW6 in 1982, and, to be brutally frank, the old RAE was entirely unfit for purpose in terms of equipping me to operate on the air. We were examined mainly on technical matters, many of which I’ve rarely used or needed to know, and there was no need whatsoever to have even seen a radio transmitter in order to pass the examination. Let alone to have actually connected up a rig or conducted a QSO! Neither was there any instruction in the practical arts, even those as lowly but essential as soldering up a PL259.
And yet I was let loose with 400W from Day 1, to create whatever havoc I could on every band & mode over 30MHz. On Earth and off it. Including, bizarrely, being allowed to use Morse, for which I hadn’t even been examined, let alone demonstrated any ability!

Whatever else it was, that regime was not a good way to educate and incentivise new entrants or to control band access. At least Foundation licensees have some practical and operating experience before they “go solo”.

Slow Morse, scratchy vinyls and cassette tapes utterly failed to drive Morse into my non-musical brain. I even wrote my own Morse tutor program for the Dragon 32 to no avail… So HF was another country.It wasn’t until the writing was firmly on the wall for the Morse requirement that first I acquired an MW3 call and then discovered John Samin’s excellent MRX Morse tutor program, which finally enabled me to struggle through. Motivated in no small part by the suspicion that I would forever after be tarred as a Class B who hadn’t really come up to the mark if I didn’t Pass The Code! But it didn’t make me a Better Amateur: I have never used Morse on air, and I doubt I ever will.

Like you, I’ve encountered some excellent Foundation and Intermediate amateurs who are enthusiastic about the hobby and can put anyone to shame, operationally or technically. One of the most active & competent amateurs I know is an Intermediate licensee whom I’m proud to have tutored through his Foundation. And you only need to tune round the bands to find examples of truly atrocious practice from licensees of many decades’ standing.

It’s never fair to tar everyone with the same brush. Neither is it fair to penalise the majority who follow the rules, simply because others might abuse them. Society’s already lurched too far in that direction in many other fields. (You’ve probably touched on that in One Foot in the Grave, I imagine ;-) )

Besides, where would it all end? Shutting down amateur radio entirely, of course. After all, what is to stop a Full licensee turning the wick up too far on that kilowatt linear and operating in contravention of their licence? They’d almost certainly not be caught…

Nick, MW0JGE