Elmer is what hams affectionately call an experienced amateur radio operator who acts as a mentor, guide, or encourager to new or prospective hams. They coach and help prepare for license exams. They help new hams obtain equipment and accessories and get on the air. They advise how to work the radio and what to say on the air. They spend time showing new hams how things are done. They practice communicating on the air to get over mic fright. They demonstrate new or different modes or aspects of ham radio. Elmers do all this and more.
So who is your Elmer? Few people jump into ham radio cold on their own; they probably saw it in action by a relative, friend, or neighbor. So that person is your most likely Elmer. But maybe that person is no longer around or available. Who do you turn to?
If you don’t have an Elmer now, a great way to find one is to join a local amateur radio club or EmComm group. You’re sure to find a number of experienced hams in these organizations and many of them are friendly and eager to help new folks get started in the hobby. Get to know people and get a feel for who are the extra-friendly and extra-helpful hams. Chances are they would be happy to be an Elmer to you.
Once you are up and running smoothly with your own amateur radio station, consider being an Elmer yourself. Getting a license and getting some air time is much of what a new ham is hoping for and once you’ve accomplished that, you can share your experience with them.
When do you stop needing an Elmer? Practically speaking, once you are licensed and have some experience on the air you’re mostly there. However, hams tend to try new things and get exposure to different aspects of amateur radio. Even seasoned amateurs need a mentor or coach for new experiences or technology. We all need Elmers from time to time.