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Thoughts on the Saturation of Ham Radio YouTube

I…uh…haven’t blogged in a long time. How have you all been? I have been very busy. I’m on a plane so I found time to write a thing I’ve been thinking about. I was watching YouTube (I watch a lot of YouTube) and I scrolled past a video with hardly any views, a creator with … Continue reading “Thoughts on the Saturation of Ham Radio YouTube”

I…uh…haven’t blogged in a long time.

How have you all been?

I have been very busy. I’m on a plane so I found time to write a thing I’ve been thinking about.

I was watching YouTube (I watch a lot of YouTube) and I scrolled past a video with hardly any views, a creator with not many subs, and a title and thumbnail that wasn’t very attention-getting. However, something in my head just said give it a chance.

First of all, poseurs isn’t a misspelling; I thought it was, but turns out it’s just another way to spell posers. In my middle and high school, posers were people who posed as people who they weren’t. Everyone was one at some point, unless you were popular. I was a goth poser, an emo poser, a nerd poser…point was that I didn’t really fit in for a while. I struggled to find my friends until I hit a wall, got depressed, and…joined band lol.

Randon, KN4YRM, actually had a good point in the video. There is a new kind of poser in the ham radio YouTube space, and it’s causing problems for seekers of amateur radio knowledge on the platform and, in my opinion, ham radio in general.

As we may or may not be aware, ham radio, in general, has a significant demographic cliff ahead of itself. And if nothing is done to address that cliff, the hobby (and service) will die. One of the best “boots on the ground” are the growing body of Ham Radio YouTube Creators (a.k.a. HamTubers). They are bringing amateur radio to a whole brand new audience and generation of hams right into their phones and devices.

More generally, YouTube posers (I like to call them douchetubers) are very common on the platform. These aren’t the kind of poser I remember in middle school. Instead of being a wayward teen looking for their place in the world, the YouTube posers he’s referring to are a sort of morally bankrupt opportunistic fame chaser, and in this case, they’ve coalesced upon ham radio. Maybe they really are wayward souls, and deep down are desperate to find a hobby or an ingroup to call home, but I’m not so sure after knowing and talking with some over the last few years.

Douchetubers are sort of an indicator species. They are proof that the OG YouTubers are doing something right insofar that they have made their topic become so mainstream that it is now profitable for the douchetubers to swoop in, make effortless superficial unboxing videos, paid reviews of cool gear and services they didn’t buy or even use, without ever actually participating in the vocation that supports the wares they are peddling, while utilizing skills and techniques that are optimized for The Algorithm – high-energy thumbnails, click-bait titles, precise ad placement, belaboring the point (or never even getting to it) to increase watch time, consistent scheduling, optimized viewer retention and engagement, and the oh so beloved “LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE” call outs.

And if that wasn’t enough, they will even start pointless drama and consternation (sometimes conspiratorially coordinated) with other douchetubers and OGs just to pump up activity and engagement so that the YouTube algorithm catches on – and that is a tried and true tool used by douchetubers the world around. KSI, Logan Paul, Pewdiepie, GradeAunderA are a few that come to mind that all bickered about each other while they all enjoyed the gains due to polarization.

In ham radio world, these are the youtubers who make videos just for the clout, influence, or revenue – without ever hitting a PTT button, melting a single blob of solder, or sharing a conversation with experienced hams and elmers – essentially doing nothing to show or share their true passion for the hobby, because they really have none, or, what passion they did have became usurped by the chase for clout (views, likes, and influencing power) and perhaps advertising revenue (but as someone who receives advertising revenue and knows people in the ham radio YouTube space that do, it isn’t very much).

This is especially becoming apparent in the preparedness realm. PrepTube is chock full of douchetubers who have capitalized on right-wing FUD, civil distress, and the deluge of climate change induced disasters by performing paid gear reviews of things like cheap Chinese ham radios to use when SHTF, and making ill-informed recommendations to their audience that we hams scoff at. Buy a Baofeng and put it in an ammo box? Do you even know how to program those things?

But, good for ham radio! Right? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because douchetubers have an incredible talent at putting information in front of lots and lots of eyeballs. Because ham radio is on a demographic cliff, the exposure they are helping create by making YouTube videos that are highly optimized to attract larger audiences and make revenue is a net good thing for ham radio since YouTube is a perpetual audience of billions and billions of people, especially youth.

On the other hand, it’s bad for a few reasons:

  1. They are really bad at sharing their passion for amateur radio, such that they encourage their audience to watch more of them on YouTube, instead of play more radio themselves.
  2. They are really bad at promoting the hobby (either as a hobby or a service) to the public in general. Their superficial view of it to the masses are…
  3. …diluting the technical breadth and depth of amateur radio (in other words, they are promoting unskilled and untrained appliance operators, especially in preparedness communities.
  4. Randon’s point – it saturates the YouTube ham radio space making it way harder for hams and hams-to-be to find useful, helpful information, and to support legit non-douche YouTube elmers.

What it means for the OG youtubers is that they need to step up their game to compete for views. This brings the playing field back into their favor, at the expense of sounding like a douchetuber themself. “SMASH THAT LIKE BUTTON” is a common phrase among all of us now, because non-DoucheTubers still need to inform their audience that if they don’t like and subscribe, then videos made by douchtubers of low quality and high viewing rates will eventually overpower even the best creations from the most morally enriched and didactic creators – people like Dave Casler KE0OG, Ham Radio Crash Course, Mr. Carlson’s Lab, KM4ACK, Ham Radio 2.0, K8MRD, K6ARK, Signal Path Blog, K5ATA, TheSmokinApe, just to name a few…they all have to compete with the scum of the YouTube earth with the same techniques they do.

Great content does not automatically mean more viewers. Just ask how many times I’ve given presentations on youth in ham radio to near-empty rooms and worked my butt off on videos for all of a few hundred views (while 5 of my top ten videos are awful, unscripted, seat of the pants reviews of popular gear…seriously I still think my Solar Eclipse QSO party video was the moment when I proved to myself I could tell a Neistat-style story through video, but it’s only got 200 or so views despite it being one of my hardest videos to make.)

And the same is true for many hobbies; I’ve seen it happen with flying quadcopters over the last 7 years, and I’ve seen it happen with disc golf over the last year, where douchetubers will review a disc or gear sent to them from Chinese companies without even knowing what the ratings on it mean, never admitting to never having actually thrown a disc in their life, just because so many eyeballs are looking for that information out there, and they have a matching charismatic ability to disseminate useless information while maintaining an audience of people willing to give them their attention.

I would like to add, that while douche-HamTubers are starting to oversaturate the YouTube ham radio space with bad content, that there is no shortage of brilliant didactic (I love that word) ham creators making excellent videos and actually engaging with their passions and audiences while sharing knowledge in a fruitful manner that is well in alignment with the spirit of amateur radio. I wish that wasn’t discouraging to anybody wishing to make videos on YouTube (I had just given a talk to W4DXCC to promote everyone with a smartphone to give it a shot!), but I know that to be true as well.

Randon’s advice to spin the dial works here just as well as it works on the bands. Just spin the dial, and give your attention to those who really deserve it.

Here’s a looooong list of ham radio YouTubers curated by Kyle AA0Z. Do you see any douchetubers on this list? Let us know!