VA3DB – Ideas for RAC

Diane, VA3DB sent this email to me and I’m posting her comments.

Have a read. What do you think? Are you, as Diane asks, ready for change?

It would be easy for unpaid volunteers to completely revamp the RAC website. It simply needs a bit of modernisation and making sure links actually work.

The key is to keep it simple; no fancy graphics cluttering it up, no complex navigation. Something a competent web designer and team of volunteers can do. While we are at it add a wiki and blog to make this truly a centre of RAC’s presence on the Internet. TCA, like the website, should be run entirely by unpaid volunteers.

Other organisations of comparable size operate this way, and this is certainly possible for RAC to do so as well using modern free software. Moving timely information from TCA to a modern website would reduce the size and weight of TCA thereby reducing the effort needed to produce the magazine and reduce its bulk mailing rate.

The basic membership in RAC should only include access to the electronic version of TCA, with a paper copy of TCA being an additional fee. This has been done very successfully in other organizations. If desired access to the electronic version of TCA can be password controlled.

Even if it was totally free, the advertisers would be getting advertising. EMRG is only one part of what amateur radio operators do. We are a diverse group of experimenters, builders, DXers, QRPers as well. RAC should reflect this diversity.

The interest in ham radio is there with the geeks young and old. Bring HTs to computer club meetings, advertise on our website the fun of building your own, communicating using modern DSP equipment, the fun of talking via satellites (including ISS). They will come. Those are just some ideas of what it would take to make RAC more relevant to new hams in Canada. RAC needs the vision, the leadership and the openness to be a world leader.

Are we ready?

- 73 Diane Bruce VA3DB

5 Responses to “VA3DB – Ideas for RAC”

  • While I may be a new ham, I think that Diane’s comments are particularly astute.

    I have not yet joined the RAC, since… well, other than the email forwarder and callsign lookup, there isn’t a lot that I found useful there. I’m far more likely to check out eHam for new information than that RAC website. It’s cumbersome to navigate and looks like something that belongs back in the late 1990s. On the internet, that’s ‘forever’. Not that eHam looks much better, but at least they have more community involvement and current information. The RAC website seems to be painfully static.

    There are always going to be people with good technical skills who want to get involved, but don’t have the inclination to sit through meetings or whatever it is that happens in the RAC at the political level. Harness them to modernize the website and handle the other technical details, along with moderation of the blog, etc.

    Update the website with some kind of CMS (Content Management System). Get more individuals and clubs from across Canada involved. With quality writing on the website – and a small crew of volunteer copyeditors – you can then use that to fill the magazine for those people who still want to read a dead-tree publication. For everyone else, provide an electronic version of the magazine so that it can be read on whatever medium folks prefer. I doubt you will lose many members by switching to an online-only magazine while offering the option of a printed magazine for an extra $X per year, if people are so inclined.

    Diane’s suggestion of a wiki is also a fantastic idea, an area where the membership at large would be able to participate with crowd-sourced information. And of course a blog is a good method for soliciting comments and feedback from the membership, as you have undoubtedly witnessed already.

    All these ideas would serve to revitalize the RAC’s online presence, which may entice more people to join the organization.

    That said, there is still the question of why the RAC is running out of money. Other than the magazine – which apparently has been said (by Peter?) that it does not run at a net loss – where does the RAC spend its membership dues? The website should not be cash intensive. I have yet to hear the reasons for RAC to be running out of money in 12-18 months. All that this ham hears is “we need more members.”

    I would suggest that fiscal transparency would also be a valuable aspect of a modern RAC that could thrive in the 21st century.

  • I find Diane’s comments very well expressed. While I agree with most of the thrust of her thoughts, I do disagree with some of them.


    It would be nice if we did not have to pay for any editorial staff. However, if any of you have done a proper club newsletter, you will know how much time & effort goes into its production. Now multiply that several times with respect to the makeup of a magazine the size & quality of TCA. We would be hard-pressed to find consistent and capable volunteers to do that job, day in/day out, week in/week out, month in/month out, year in/year out. However, it would not be impossible, but we would need a much larger pool of potential, reliable volunteers to draw from than we have at present.

    PDF option?

    This may sound like a great idea at first glance. Indeed, many local clubs are now doing their newsletters this way. However, with respect to a national representative organization, that organization has to cater to all members. I would venture that many of our members are not computer literate and some do not have internet access. Among those that do, I would also state that many of them prefer a paper magazine to one that has to be read on a computer screen. Nothing is handier than a paper magazine to read in the comfort of one’s lazyboy chair.

    However, Diane was talking about the option of having TCA in PDF, as well as paper. The reason that I think it would not work at present has more to do with minimum required copies to be printed than anything else. TCA must be close to the line in that regard.

    Notwithstanding, if RAC membership were to skyrocket such that we had twice or three times the number of members than at present, I suspect that the cost per paper copy would be substantially reduced. Some costs are static, such as editorial and layout, being roughly the same whether you print 5,000 or 500,000 copies. Others are dynamic with their total increasing with volume. Printery prices are based on volume, taking into consideration the spread of the static costs over whatever the number of copies is. It’s the “economies of scale”.

    Therefore, if TCA were offered in two formats, costs would increase for the paper version, that is if a printer could be found to do the smaller amount. In fact, it might make it impossible to produce.

    Notwithstanding, it might be an excellent idea to produce a PDF version of each issue to include on a CD or DVD annual library disk. Having such a history file of disks, without the bulk, would make an excellent home archive.

    Actually, I know of no national representative organizations that have gone paperless. RSGB, WIA, NZART, etc., all have a flagship paper publication. RAC should, and does, have too.

    Just some random thoughts on paper vs. paperless.

    Dave Hayes VE3JX.

  • Andrew said: “I would suggest that fiscal transparency would also be a valuable aspect of a modern RAC that could thrive in the 21st century.”

    I couldn’t agree more with Andreww on the need for financial transparency. However, I must admit that RAC is more financially transparent than some organizations to which I belong. At least RAC does publish a one-page financial report in a fall issue of TCA which is fairly comprehensive. Some organizations publish nothing, or next to nothing.

    Notwithstanding, RAC can improve in this regard. Peter, in detailing his dream for RAC, highlighted full financial statements available on the website. That would be excellent! The ARRL sets an example to follow in this regard.

    Dave Hayes VE3JX

  • I will be addressing VE3JX point by point here.

    As to editing, the AMSAT journal is roughly half the size but
    manages fairly well with volunteers. This says to me that if TCA
    was a more manageable size for our organisation, we could find
    the willing volunteers.

    There are technologies available for smaller print runs that
    bring down the costs of printing. Our real concern should be the
    onerous postage rates. I looked at the latest copy of TCA I have
    here. I counted two pages of coming events, five pages section
    news, five pages contest news/results, ten full page ads
    (including two of RAC), four half-page ads (total of two full
    page ads) and one page national executive. Out of 72 pages
    including covers this is 34%. One quarter is information that
    could be made available electronically on our website or at least
    shortened, 16% is ads. Work out the weight of paper needed and
    look at the postage costs. In today’s reality, perhaps those who
    still need a paper copy of the magazine should be willing to bear
    the costs.

    Yes, I happen to like paper still, but I am perfectly happy to
    use a PDF instead if this helps save costs, especially on
    postage. We are at a transition period between the paper world of
    the old and the electronic world of the new; look at Kindle for
    example. Yes, it is true that some other organisations are not yet
    exploring moving into the modern age. Our job is to navigate this
    transition period, moving from the old to the new.

    - 73 Diane VA3DB

  • It occurs to me that we should expect hams to be ready and willing to embrace new technologies. At the very least, organizations that seek to serve the interest of hams should not refrain from the use of newer technologies out of fear that their members might be unwilling to use them.

    It’s fairly clear to anyone who has been paying any attention at all that nearly all the technological advance in ham radio today is being made in conjunction with computer technology. The idea of a ham without a computer is becoming increasingly foreign to the hobby, and I do not think it is reasonable to eschew a change that would be, overall, beneficial to the organization because it would inconvenience a handful of people who cannot be bothered to learn to use a computer.

    Of course, I’m perhaps biased; I’ve been using computers a lot longer that I’ve been a ham. :)

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