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Reading QST Magazine for Fifty Years

reading qst magazine

I have been reading QST magazine for more than fifty years, since I was first licensed in 1967. How has it changed over time, and why?

QST is the premiere ham radio magazine in much of the world since 1915, with 150,000 circulation at present. Over the past fifty years, its format has remained much the same, other than more color and larger footprint. Every month, QST presents hobby technical information, a membership newsletter and, of course, targeted advertising.

Some say most people reading QST magazine do so for the ads and product reviews. And, you will find lots of advertising. Not surprising, since most hobby magazines are a great medium for reaching a target market. Comparing QST April 1972 with April 2022, advertising came in at just under 40% of the content. Interestingly, ARRL requires advertisers seeking prime “cover” locations to contract for 12 consecutive months.

My main interest is the hobby technical information. You will find these divided between feature articles and shorter bits, with a heavy emphasis on “how to”. Over fifty years, I found this segment has dropped from around 35% to 25% of content, and there are fewer articles. Now, to be fair, many technical articles have shifted to sister publication QEX. Emphasis on home brew remains, especially for antennas.

The balance of content in QST is membership newsletter, including regulatory information and member activities. I find this segment the least interesting and largely a waste of space that could be better handled on a web site. But, I guess since ARRL forces you to join the organization rather than just subscribe to QST, that’s understandable.

So, I guess QST hasn’t changed format much in fifty years and draws its success from being the only game in town. But why has technical content declined, especially deeper articles on learning theory?

Reading QST Magazine – Where are the Writers?

Far fewer technical authors and topics appear in QST these days. Is that a demand or supply side issue? Since ARRL holds reader survey data quite secretly, I don’t know the answer. Perhaps readers and writers are just choosing other channels, i.e. websites, groups and blogs for this type of content.

On the demand side, are members really less interested in technical topics, or less able to consume them? On the supply side, are fewer people capable of or interested in writing such material? Or is this just a market making problem?

ARRL pays $65 per page for feature content, which is not a lot, but also not that far below other hobby magazines. Obviously, hobbyists don’t write articles to get rich.


  1. Hi John,

    Great think piece with your analysis! This is a very worthy endeavor as using key publications as data sources for content analysis is a tool used today by many quantitative historians to study cultural change.



  2. Mike Lanoway says:

    Hi John,
    Great topic, like so many of us QST was my first introduction to amateur radio from the written educational side followed by the local libraries, other electronic magazines, and the local radio and TV repair shop. I can remember going along with a friend, VE4RX ( SK) to what he described as an “old ham” selling off some of his radio equipment. A short bus/walk trip and we arrived and were greeted by an elderly fellow who welcomed us in and we went down stairs to a basement full of equipment, parts, workbench and piles of books and magazines. Anyway long story but I found an excellent copy of the 1947 ARRL Handbook. It was published the year I arrived in life and bought for it $1. Several years later I had it leather bound and still have it in my very small collection of books still remaining.My story and experience of QST is similar to yours. I was also impressed by the quality of of the benchmark construction and technical details. I eventually tried the digital edition after giving up the hard copies and finally left ARRL.

  3. Randall Hollingsworth says:

    QST is not the only game in town. CQ Magazine is still published, although the pandemic nearly killed it off. A recent covid recovery grant seems to have gotten them back on their feet.

    Regarding tech content, part of the problem I think is that it is a lot harder to homebrew equipment these days with the shift to surface mount components. A lot of hams don’t have the equipment or are willing to experiment with SMD.

  4. Scott says:

    John, sadly, for many things, magazines tend to be an anachronism. For us they were almost everything, But they tend not to be where people turn because there are so many more immediate, focused and detailed sources of information available to those who care.

    Blogs like yours, YouTube, any number of reflectors/mailing lists, GitHub, discussions of projects on podcasts like Ham Radio Workbench, and even Facebook groups provide project-related questions and answers on a daily or weekly basis for kit builders and homebrewers.

    Great examples are the QRP Labs and BITX reflector discussions of almost anything, most recently QDX- and SBITX- related issues. Great mentors abound in these spaces, and problems are uncovered, kicked around and solved in a cycle of a day or two.

    As far as authors go, I’m sure some folks still strive to get an article in a magazine, but many seem to opt for the dynamics of open source projects where an interested community can accelerate development in the absence of page limits and editors.

    Scott ka9p

  5. Greg A W2BEE says:

    John, I wouldn’t know about 75/80, suspect you were referring to AM or SSB and I’m strictly a CW op. I have monitored 75 in the past and hubris describes many of the ops who think they are radio talk show hosts! I’m certain QST or QEX could use your technical expertise. I wrote one article for QST but it was a puff piece. I’m more of an appliance operator having left kit building about 65 years ago. I tried to post a .pdf of my article but this program rejects attachments. QST_Sep_1996_p44-45 — 73, Greg W2BEE (July 1943)

  6. I’m a writer of Amateur Radio content (every week – https://zeroretries.substack.com). I choose not to write for QST and CQ because, in this era, I view their paywalls as being injurious to progress in Amateur Radio. This generation expects to be able to look up information freely – and QST and CQ put the majority of their periodical content behind paywalls, thus that content is invisible to the most vital, important segment of Amateur Radio – the younger folks and newest Amateur Radio Operators. So, I choose not to support the Amateur Radio publishing-industrial-complex with my writing.

  7. N8GNJ, I never thought of it that way, but an author that is tuned into the practices of the ARRL makes a cogent argument. Perhaps the ARRL should use a technique that seems to serve the New York Times well, allow a visitor to view a set number of articles per month free to encourage subscribing. I subscribe to the NYT but I’m unsure if the “free” articles for non-subscribers is still a policy. 73, Greg W2BEE

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