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Supercon 2022: Tap Your Rich Uncle to Fund Your Amateur Radio Dreams

Imagine you had a rich uncle who wanted to fund some of your projects. Like, seriously rich — thanks to shrewd investments, he’s sitting on a pile of cash and is now legally obligated to give away $5,000,000 a year to deserving recipients. That would be pretty cool indeed, but like anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right?

Well, maybe not. It turns out that we in the amateur radio community — and even amateur radio adjacent fields — have a rich uncle named Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a foundation with a large endowment and a broad mission to “support amateur radio, funds scholarships and worthy educational programs, and financially support technically innovative amateur radio and digital communications projects.” As the foundation’s Outreach Manager John Hayes (K7EV) explained at Supercon 2022, ARDC is a California-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has been in the business of giving away money to worthy projects in the amateur radio space since 2021.

Early Adopter Indeed!

The group’s roots go back much further than that, though — into the 1980s — and explain its ample endowment. In a brilliantly visionary move, a ham named Hank Magnuski (KA6M) saw the potential for the new hotness of the Internet Protocol (IP) and asked Jon Postel, then the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) administrator and pretty much the guy you went to if you need an IP address in those wild and wooly early days of the Internet. Jon came through big time, with a Class A block of over 16 million IP addresses. Talk about getting in on the ground floor! Fast forward a few decades, and after giving away some of those Class A addresses to deserving amateur radio projects, ARDC decided it was time to cash in some of their largesse. And so in 2019, they sold four million addresses to someone with deep pockets, and they made a ton of money in the process.

The foundation is now legally required to give away at least 5% of its money a year to qualified applicants, and John’s talk (slides — PDF) ably covers exactly what that entails. Basically, anything that supports and grows amateur radio is at least in the right ballpark. Examples of past recipients include the University of Southern Florida’s amateur radio club (WB4USF) getting a $15,000 grant to buy equipment for their club station, $38,000 to build an emergency communication mesh network in Rhode Island, and $236,000 to the Kyushu Institute of Technology to build an open-source CubeSat network. Groups have used grant funds to make repairs and upgrades to storm-damaged repeater networks, build emergency comms trailers, and even $1.6 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to save their famed rooftop radome.

More Than Paying for Gear

Given their mission, a lot of grants go to educational outreach and scholarships. The scholarships include not just the usual post-secondary grants, but also a lot of STEM outreach. One of the first grants went to ARISS, or Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. That 2019 grant gave ARISS the funds necessary to design and build a custom amateur radio station for the ISS, with the aim of getting schoolkids interested in STEM by letting them talk directly to the hams aboard the ISS from a simple handy-talkie transceiver. The ARDC-funded station flew to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-20 resupply mission in March 2020; the station has been used hundreds of times since and can be considered a smashing success in terms of outreach and engagement.

John’s talk was polished and professional — he’d already given it more than 40 times in 2022 by the time Supercon rolled around — and really gets the wheels turning. If you’re in a ham radio group, or even in an area that’s plausibly related, it probably makes sense to think about what your rich uncle can make possible.

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