Two of my neighbors had talked of getting back in to Ham radio as they had done as kids, but their wives made them check out conditions first before they buy...and it looks like they are looking for a new hobby.
But are things really that bad? They are certainly worse than they were at the peak of the solar cycle, but I submit that there is still a lot to do on the radio. Better than just using my gut feeling, I took a look at my log starting about 18 months ago, in July 2007. I wanted to pick a starting point that was clearly close to the bottom of the the trough of Solar Cycle 23.
What I did was to configure my log as if I'd just gotten on the radio on the first of July, 2007, and pulled some reports for things like DXCC, WAZ, and WAS to see what I'd have if I'd only had these last 18 months on the air. I think that what I found may surprise you.
First, keep in mind that all my contacts have been made from my home station: An Icom 756 Pro II running 100 watts into a G5RV antenna up at about 35 feet (10.7 meters). No amps, no beams. Most of my operating is casually "chasing DX" or operating contests for fun. Because when I was working these stations, I wasn't explicitly trying to earn an award only from that point forward, so there are probably some "easy" countries that I haven't bothered to work during that period, since I'd already worked them prior to that time. Given all that, let's see what I've got.
First, we'll look at DXCC: Over the last 18 months, I've worked 168 DXCC entities as "mixed" (combined phone, CW, and digital), with 118 on phone, 131 CW, and 83 on digital (primarily RTTY, with a little PSK thrown in there and there.) Although the numbers on the higher bands (10m through 17m) aren't great, I worked 134 on 20m, 122 on 40m, and 59 on 75/80m. Here's something to think about: At this point in the solar cycle, working the lower bands, like 80m (and even 160m, though I don't work 160m much myself) is better than when the solar activity is better. Overall, I worked close to 500 "band/countries". (Each time you work a county on a different band, it counts as a "band/country", so, for instance, I've worked Laos on 3 different bands during this period, so that counts as 3 band/countries).
Perhaps what's even more interesting than just working the 168 entities is that there's a good number of what could be considered rare or semi-rare entities in there. I went through the list and wanted to mention some that I thought were interesting from my location on the east coast of the US.
|1A0||Sov. Military Order of Malta|
|3B7||Agalega & St. Brandon|
|9Q||Dem. Rep. of the Congo|
|FW||Wallis & Futuna Island|
|HK0||San Andres & Providencia|
|ZC4||UK Sovereign Bases on Cyrprus|
The point here is that there has been plenty of not-just-routine DX to work over the last 18 months, despite the conditions.
Let's look at another award, the Worked All Zone (WAZ) award that depends on good conditions for DX. Over the same period of time, I worked 35 out of the available 40 zones, which are located all over the world.
Closer to home, over that same 18 month period, I worked all 50 US states, with 50 on phone, 49 on CW, and 50 on digital (again, mostly RTTY). Again, the lower bands have been best, with 42 states on 20m, 48 on 40m, and 43 on 75/80m. (I even worked 11 states on 160m!) Again, the point is that there is plenty plenty to do.
My conclusion is that those two guys who didn't think that it was worth getting back into radio were wrong. There are still plenty of stations to work, and plenty to do on the radio. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg here. There are folks who try to work US counties, Islands, Lighthouses, museum ships, and much more. They are all on the air, making contacts every day. There's plenty to do on the air, but it does require that you turn on the radio. Stop complaining on the Internet. Use your radio. Trust me, you'll be a lot happier.