US Ham Radio License Counts Over Time

A recent blog post linked to from Mastodon expressed surprise at a downturn in total US amateur radio licenses over the last few years. There were amazingly few resources for long-term data about license counts–most of it seems to be derived from daily or weekly data dumps from the FCC, which give you snapshots, not trends.

Luckily, a few resources exist. I’ve started compiling these into a database (for now, a single CSV file) to look at license counts over time by class and by state. I keep finding incidental data along the way, so maybe there are additional tables that could be created.

The code repo for this project is here: https://amiok.net/gitea/W1CDN/ham-radio-licenses. You will also find some rough plots that reflect the state of the database when it was last updated.

A main source of modern data is from the ARRL’s FCC License Counts page. Although this only represents a daily snapshot of existing licenses, the Internet Wayback Machine from archive.org has captures several times a year back to 2010. I have set up a cron job to make a new capture every day from this URL, so hopefully we can keep any eye on current trends.

Data from the late 1990s to the late 2010s is available from AH0A’s website (data, main page). W3HF collected a bunch of data reported in issues of the Radio Amateur Callbook that goes further back in time. If a person were interested in looking at older issues of the RAC and counting licenses by hand, they could do that…

I am in the middle of digitizing tables from the W5YI Report, a newsletter that ran from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Many issues are available in DLARC on archive.org (it was the DLARC Mastodon account who pointed me this way).

So what now? I’m obviously not “done.” This is a data question that caught my eye and has been interesting, but I’m not sure how long I can work on it before I get sucked into something else. I think such a dataset should exist, even one as half-baked as this one, because having some form of data lets us question it. Is it right? What adjustments can be made? Why do different sources disagree? Once we agree on data (or some of it), what is driving increases or decreases in licenses? How about by state? Does it follow population, or something else?

These are all interesting questions…but I’m not really the one to play the historian around them. I’d love for a good data set (if this ends up as a good dataset) to be used and shared. It seems too hard to find this information, and it shouldn’t be.

Calls to action:

  • If you have license count data or other tabular data about US amateur radio operators over time, send it my way. Use the code repo/issues (I think new accounts are possible now) or see my about page. I can merge data as I get it.
  • If you want to use the data, go ahead. Analyze and share around. All I ask is that you let me know, because it’s nice for things to get used.

Finally, I’m not doing anything “new” here. These are not my data, I’m just putting numbers together in a file. A lot of previous work has been done.

6 thoughts on “US Ham Radio License Counts Over Time

  1. @blog this is good stuff. I attempted to do something similar with data from the reverse beacon network. We know that CW in undergoing a renaissance, but learning CW and staying consistently active with it are two different things.I wanted to see if net CW activity was increasing, decreasing, or staying the same. Fabian Kurz was gracious enough to send me a mountain of raw data. Unfortunately, I got sucked into something else, but I plan to get back to it.

        1. @KY4ID @blog I imagine there must be a huge amount of duplicate data, since one CQ call can/does return multiple spots. Even using total spots per day as a barometer of CW popularity is probably problematic over multiple years, since propagation has been improving you'd naturally expect more spots per CQ, and the number of spotting stations probably fluctuates too.

  2. @blog How did you come up with this? I blame the downturn on the bullsh the AARL does. I just got licensed on DEC 19th. For us who are blind hams I'm very disappointed in that crass group. They don't give a damn about making their materials accessible to the blind and low vision ham or ham to be. Thank God I was told about http://www.hamstudy.org/ My call sign BTW is KQ4NGH and you can follow me at mastodon.radio with my call sign if you wish.

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