The WIA – does it have a future?
This is an opinion piece. It is written with considerable experience and exposure to modern business practices, the hobby, the WIA and the ACMA.
Given the recent unfortunate circumstances in which our WIA finds itself, does it have a future? For those who are not up-to-date with the scandals and issues please make a cuppa, grab a comfy seat and visit our website: www.wiarg.org and also www.vk6.net/news
Let’s start with some unsavoury observations.
The WIA’s Image
The WIA is an anachronism. It is an organisation stuck in the 20th century. Any efforts to encourage a more modern approach are ignored. Whilst this is a criticism it is also a fact. Stop and consider the following:
For a leading edge, technology based hobby, we do not have a true digital magazine, the web-site is out-dated and is not tablet or mobile friendly. We have no social media presence. There is very little about our WIA that appeals to young people or those interested in the more “progressive” facets of the hobby. Many local radio clubs and individual amateurs do a far better job at promoting the hobby.
There is nothing in any WIA marketing or promotional material that shouts “look at this progressive and exciting hobby – come and have a go!”. The running joke for promotion is “leave your old Amateur Radio Magazines in a doctor’s waiting room”. This is a joke for good reason.
The recent AGM on Norfolk Island was an opportunity to show case our hobby. In spite of what is reported, and whilst it was a good social event with some great portable operations, the WIA’s representation of itself and the hobby was pitiful..
The HF station was woefully inadequate. There was nothing to attract outsiders to the hobby. Most of the time the station sat unattended; even WIA members weren’t attracted to the station. It was a truly amateurish attempt to establish a HF station with an entirely inadequate antenna system. The international DX community were unaware of the DXCC operation by the WIA’s own callsign…. This is a direct reflection on the board .
Members offered to assist, but such efforts were refused without any professional courtesy or consideration. This same behaviour is exhibited in nearly every facet of our National Body.
The progressive elements of the hobby that might appeal to the future generation of hams are virtually non-existent from a WIA perspective. Its image, public relations and entry points simply do not appeal to young people.
There is nothing obvious or targeted to attract people to SDR, digital modes, ballooning, leading edge technology or research, SOTA, portable operation or contesting. There is no effort to integrate with compatible or complementary technical interest groups.
The image of our hobby is (sadly) that of older men building interesting but technically irrelevant equipment, using Morse code and discussing health issues, the weather and yesteryear on the medium waves. If you’re in doubt, ask almost any non-amateur what they think of the hobby….
In spite of owning an office/factory (worth about $450k) and having a turnover of about $550k per annum, the WIA makes a financial loss; and a significant one. This only happens because the Board insists on operating with an outdated and inefficient business model. The incumbent board members are literally sending the WIA broke due to their own incompetence. This is a fact.
The board refuses business and technology advice from professionals who work in industry and commerce in the 21st century. It beggars belief that the WIA makes a loss and is unable to grow the hobby with such a respectable turnover.
Look at the controversies that have surfaced in the last 12 months. Most would agree that the issues are material to the future of the WIA. The WIA has about 4,000 members. The WIA President boasts that this is world class (at about 31% of the VK radio amateur population) when compared to ARRL and RSGB.
The fact that 70% of the VK amateur population are not WIA members is hardly something to crow about…….but let’s agree, for argument’s sake, that there are currently around 4,000 members.
Putting aside factional differences, anecdotal evidence suggests that about 500 people have taken an active interest in the issues. It hasn’t been helped by the orchestrated censorship of Amateur Radio magazine by the Board, (yet another problem). However, this again illustrates member apathy. Most are simply not interested enough to get involved.
We reach out to many members each week and the inescapable truth is that most members simply don’t care.
What little information the Board releases is so sanitised it is almost useless. The Board has a propensity to report “that the weather is not sunny”, when in actual fact there is a raging storm outdoors. Technically correct but rather misleading…….
Out of 4,000 members, it took six weeks for 140 people to sign a letter calling for a general meeting to discuss the issues and vote on the removal of four directors. Even considering the Stalinist censorship imposed by the board, the fact that only 140 members have bothered to sign the letter further illustrates the problem….
Again, anecdotal evidence suggests a smaller number of people agree with the intent of this letter but were unwilling or afraid to sign it.
A delusional percentage totally support the board and can see no faults; or agree there are faults but the WIA is run by volunteers who are “just doing their best”.
That leaves about 3,500 who either didn’t care, didn’t take the time to care, weren’t made aware in order to care, or who consciously decided they wouldn’t participate.
The unsavoury truth is that the WIA does not engage with its members, and the bulk of members (say 70-80%) have no real interest in their WIA.
When the Online Membership Program (Memnet) was being implemented, there was the opportunity to also implement a member’s only Forum. When the Board became aware of this, implementation of this feature was stopped. We can only surmise that nothing could be gained by those pesky members discussing WIA issues; that’s the domain of the Board!
Consultation and collaborative working are not part of any WIA business plan. The Board refuse to engage with the members in considering the future of the hobby.
Most members pay their annual subscription, flip through AR Magazine now and again and assume the board is representing them. A few enjoy the QSL bureaux and awards offerings. The lazy, philanthropic (or foolish) pay exorbitant sums for textbooks from the bookshop – nearly every title can be obtained for considerably less elsewhere.
Even WIA Director Fred Swainston sells his book cheaper on his own website than on the WIA website to WIA members.
Alas, it appears that the majority of members simply don’t care that the Board is incompetent, that it treats the membership with open contempt and that the Institute is haemorrhaging money.
Many members swallow the spin coming from the broadcast and the drivel in AR because it reinforces their prejudice. Why? Because the WIA is infallible, and any criticism, however constructive, is heresy.
Harsh criticism? Indeed. Warranted? Entirely:
In any normal organisation, a Treasurer’s resignation letter describing the accounts as a “monumental disaster” and the board as “dysfunctional” with board members who are “incompetent, arrogant, conniving, devious and self-interested” would result in at least the President’s resignation and members baying for proverbial blood.
Not the WIA…..”all is fine, trust us…”
The culture of the Institute is unhealthy. It probably always has been, and the board’s culture has become entrenched. This is reflected in the membership’s disregard for their WIA, and based on anecdotal feedback, why so many Australian Amateurs refuse to be a member….you can’t blame them…
WIA – they represent me, they offer me benefits
Let’s not kid ourselves. The WIA fails on nearly every count. Let’s look at the WIA’s objectives, as noted in the constitution:
Promote and advance the hobby
There is no effective promotion and the board has no strategy. The website is out-dated. There is no social media presence. Next time you are observing young people (anyone under 50 years of age) note they’re on their smart phones; it is the most important marketing and awareness channel and our WIA Board refuses to take any progressive action in this regard. All we get are lame excuses.
Does the Board ever take opportunities to get exposure in the broader press? Does the President ever make attempts to communicate proactively to a broader audience?
Protect and enhance privileges
This is the WIA’s core function.
Submissions to the ACMA are made without any member consultation. The board refuse to engage with members and seek our views….
Forget anything above 2m. The HF bands, 2m and 6m are codified by international agreement, so we won’t “lose” them. The WIA has, and will have, no influence over the allocation and protection of the higher bands. The commercial pressures are too great, and our utilisation of the spectrum simply does not justify our current allocations.
The WIA can’t “protect” anything….let alone our bands. AR has a dismal reputation with the regulator and the industry. It need not be so….. Intruder Watch should be a critical component of the WIA and member’s services. It isn’t. Australian based intruders (Government Departments) go unchallenged. There are no reports for the Board or members on what should be a critical service.
Efforts to improve the entry level class of licence to include digital modes are ineffective.
This is all so very unpalatable to some, but it is the hard truth. Look at the results of the last 12 years….
Attempts to gain additional bands like 70MHz and 900MHz are irresponsible and delusional.
Why would the regulator grant us additional bands when we don’t use the ones we have, and the value of these spectrum allocations to commercial interests are in the hundreds of millions of dollars?
Do you still believe the board is doing a good job? If so, what have they delivered in the last ten years….?
Encourage an awareness of the value of Amateur Radio…
There is no public awareness. There is no strategy to define our “value”. If anything, the public awareness of Amateur Radio is either a negative one or “do people still do that? Haven’t you heard of the internet?”
Educate and encourage potential new amateurs
The WIA’s education system is out-dated and inefficient. It is slow and its processes are rooted in 1980’s delivery methods. It’s not online. It does not appeal to young people. The Radio and Electronics School is the only real organised effort at progressive education. And it operates very successfully in isolation to the WIA.
Represent Radio Amateurs locally and internationally
Refer to the notes under “Promote and enhance privileges”. The WIA spends our money to send representatives to conferences, locally and internationally. Papers are written. Most members don’t read them, and no one asks questions nor takes the time to understand the ITU processes….
Tangible benefits from representation are at best questionable….a 5 MHz band that can’t be used…..because the WIA did not consult with commercial users: they simply attended conferences in Geneva and hoped for the best.
How very amateurish.
Provide services to Radio Amateurs
Let’s keep this brief:
- Book-shop: Uncompetitive, unprofitable and a drain on WIA management resources. With the exception of the callbook and FL Manual.
- QSL Bureaux: an out-dated but useful service to a small percentage of members. A significant expense to the WIA.
- Awards: beneficial to a small percentage. Very good services developed by members for members. No cost to WIA.
- Callsign Admin: ACMA Service not funded by members’ subscriptions. Adequate service delivery but runs at a loss (loss covered by members)
- Examination Services: ACMA Service not funded by members’ subscriptions. A 1980s service that should be online – faster, more efficient and cheaper for candidates. In over 10 years, the WIA has not asked for external tenders to improve the services or query Trainsafe on the quality or costs of service offerings. It also runs at a loss which is covered by members.
- Repeater & Beacon allocation: a slow and unresponsive service.
- Amateur Radio Magazine: a dated magazine lacking in content to attract young and new, vibrant members. Well suited to a percentage of the membership who prefer comfortable mediocrity.
- Club Insurance Scheme: Questionable value, T&C are not well understood. Members subsidise non-members. Costs have increased significantly this year. Not really a reason to “be a member”.
- Education: Out-dated and limited to the Foundation Licence Manual. No effort to develop a syllabus or integrated training material for licence upgrades for use by Affiliated Clubs.
Finally, the WIA is appalling at delivering services to 21st century standards or service levels. As mentioned elsewhere, the management culture and expertise is immature and out-dated and this is reflected in poor service delivery standards.
The financial management of the WIA is reckless and negligent. Five treasurers over 17 months simply can’t be wrong!
Members have every right to question the value of their membership at renewal time. $95 is a lot of money to pay for next to no service….oh, and there is no point complaining either…
Many high profile amateurs, including a number of former very senior office holders and an amateur who is a household name have told us in confidence that the WIA has passed its use-by date, and that we are wasting our time.
The WIA has not kept up with society, technology, business management practices or marketing and promotion of the hobby to the next generation… putting aside any bias you may have, stop and consider how the WIA rates as a 21st century hobby based national association.
Let us leave you with three final questions:
Putting all politics to one side, if the AGM in 2017 managed to elect a completely new board, with no allegiances to either the current board or the Reform Group, do you honestly think that the WIA could make itself relevant to young people?
Given the massive problems this board has created, will anything less than a completely new board, comprising the right people who all share a common view be able to right the ship, or is the damage simply too great?
Do the members of the WIA care enough to get involved?
Contact us if you have any questions.