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“Tear Down That Wall”

ARRL Proposes Full Integration of Technician Class with the Rest of Ham Radio

BY RICH MOSESON,* W2VU

*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

President Ronald Reagan, in 1987, famously stood at the Berlin Wall and called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Today, the ARRL is proposing to tear down a metaphorical wall that has separated Technician Class hams from the rest of their fellow hams for nearly 70 years. In a petition to the FCC filed on February 28, the League is calling for full integration of Technicians with mainstream (read HF-active) ham radio with a broad expansion of Tech voice and digital privileges on HF. While we have a few quibbles with the League’s reasoning, we strongly support the proposal.

To fully understand its significance, though, we need to look at a little history. When the Technician license was created in 1951 (along with the Novice license), its purpose was to provide “experimenters” with slow-code access to the ham bands to explore and discover whatever might await on the frequencies above 220 MHz. They were to be a “different breed” of ham, a distinction that the FCC and ARRL persisted in making for decades to follow. The point of entry to “real” ham radio would be the one-year, non-renewable, Novice license.

By the time the mid-1980s rolled around, Novice licenses were renewable and privileges included only Morse code, at no more than 250 watts, on limited portions of the 80, 40, 15 and 10-meter bands. No voice, anywhere (the Novice was sometimes sarcastically referred to as the “No voice” license); no VHF or UHF privileges — at the peak of repeater popularity; and no digital modes at the peak of packet radio’s popularity1.

Many hams at the time were worried that the entry-level (Novice) license didn’t offer enough “meat” to get new hams active and involved, and eventually to upgrade to higher-level licenses. They worried about the hobby’s future. The amateur community responded with something called “Novice Enhancement,” which the FCC adopted in 1987. It provided limited voice privileges on 10 meters and access to portions of the 220-MHz and 1296-MHz bands, at reduced power levels. It was remarkably successful, at least on HF, with activity levels and purchases of new HF gear soaring. It gave the hobby and the industry a huge boost, which lasted until the next “sky is falling” moment in the early 2000s. That resulted in restructuring and the phase-out of Morse code as a licensing requirement. These changes provided yet another big boost, and made the Technician license the “standard” entry-level ham license2, as the FCC stopped issuing new Novice licenses as part of the whole package.

Today, just like a generation ago, many hams are worried that the entry-level (Technician) license doesn’t offer enough “meat” to get new hams active and involved, and eventually to upgrade to higher-level licenses. They worry about the hobby’s future. They are concerned that, once again, the privileges that come with the entry-level license are out of step with today’s popular activities and technology. A perfect example is FT8, the hot new digital mode that started on VHF but quickly became popular on HF as well — in fact, the WSJT team is working on a DXpedition version that could permit up to 600 QSOs per hour for DXpeditioners. Yet, Technicians have no digital mode privileges on HF, and their HF voice privileges are limited to 10 meters, which will be mostly a local band for the next several years. It is time for another boost, and the ARRL’s proposal is a good start.

Technician Enhancement
Here are the basics of what the League is proposing:

  • Phone privileges for Technicians on 3.900-4.000, 7.225-7.300, and 21.350-21.450 MHz, in addition to the existing 10- meter phone allocation at 28.3-28.5 MHz. These suggested subbands are big enough to be significant, yet small enough to provide an incentive to upgrade and get additional frequencies.
  • RTTY/digital mode privileges on the current Novice/Tech CW subbands on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters. This will allow Techs to enjoy keyboard modes such as RTTY, PSK31 and others, as well as more automated modes such as JT9 and FT8.
  • Maximum power levels for Technicians on HF would continue to be 200 watts PEP.

All in all, the proposed changes would give Techs the incentive to get on HF and get a taste of DXing, contesting and digital modes, as well as CW (which, despite ARRL assertions in the FCC petition, continues to grow in popularity). There would still be plenty of unavailable spectrum to encourage upgrading, such as the entire 2200, 630, 160, 60, 30, 20, 17, and 12-meter bands, and additional space and power on 80, 40, 15, and 10.

We would encourage the FCC to consider opening up the entire 10-meter band to Techs, to permit them to make use of FM repeaters at the top end of the band. But otherwise, we think the ARRL proposal is on the mark and worthy of serious consideration.

Perhaps most importantly, however, this proposal would finally “tear down that wall” between HF and VHF privileges that, for nearly seven decades, has resulted in Technicians being treated by their HF-focused peers as second-class citizens of the ham bands, even though Technicians today make up a majority of U.S. hams. Adoption of the ARRL’s proposal would fully integrate all hams with significant operating privileges on both the HF and VHF/UHF bands. It’s about time.

Quibble points: The League petition says license growth is essentially stagnant, relying for its assertion on overall numbers of licensees. What it ignores is the attrition rate of hams who become Silent Keys or who allow their licenses to expire without renewing them. The numbers of new hams joining our ranks each year continue to be healthy and impressive.

According to FCC data, 32,196 new amateur licenses were issued in 2017, on a par with the 32,552 new hams who joined our ranks in 2016 and 32,077 new licensees in 2015. That’s nearly 100,000 new hams in the past three years. Recruitment is not the main problem. Retention is.

We need to focus on ways to make sure that newly-licensed hams are welcomed into the community, encouraged to get on the air and to discover which parts of this multi-faceted hobby catch their interest. It could be public service, building, QRP, backwoods hiking/hamming, moonbounce, or who knows what else. We need to put more energy into making sure they can try a little bit of everything and find what works for them right now and in the future. The League’s proposal is one good step in that direction.

In This Issue: Contest Results and More

Our highlight this month is the SSB results of last year’s CQ World Wide DX Contest, which featured the highest-ever numberof logs received, despite propagation issues resulting from declining sunspot numbers. You’ll find this year’s resultsarticle a bit different than previous ones. Rather than simply running down the winners in each category, co-director DougZwiebel, KR2Q, offers quite a bit of analysis, looking at such things as QSO distribution by band, geographic distribution oflogs (Quick: Which continent accounts for the greatest number of CQWW SSB logs?), hours operated and more. In addition,Doug looks at some very close “horse races” and muses about whether future results articles need to focus more onthe locations and categories that account for the greatest amount of activity. If you’re a contester, we’d like to hear yourthoughts on the topic (but read the article first, please). If you’re not a contester, we’ve got an article by VK4QS on all thebenefits you can find by operating in the CQWW DX contests.

We’ve also got a look at two new pieces of station equipment — at both ends of the power spectrum. On the high-powerside of things, W9KNI reviews Elecraft’s new KPA1500 solid-state legal-limit amplifier, and at the QRP end of the scale,WB6NOA takes a “first look” at the MFJ-distributed Xiegu X5105 portable 5-watt transceiver. And speaking of QRP, ourcover story this month is QRP Editor KA8SMA’s account of his chilly experience operating low-power outdoors in late Januaryfor Winter Field Day. Plus, MF/LF Editor KB5NJD shares the story of how a condo-dwelling ham in Ohio is operating on 630meters despite a very small amount of available antenna space.Spring has sprung! Get outside … do some antenna work or take your rig out for some exercise in the great outdoors!– 73, Rich, W2VU

Notes:
  1. Novice privileges have varied through the years. In the 1950s and ’60s, Novices had voice privileges on 2 meters; those were revoked as part of the incentive licensing decision in 1967. The license was originally issued for one year and was not renewable; it later became 2 years, still nonrenewable, and later still became renewable and ran for the standard license term. Novices were originally limited to 75 watts and crystal control, restrictions that were eased in the 1970s.
  2. Technician privileges have varied through the years as well. Techs were initially limited to VHF and UHF only, first gaining Novice HF privileges in 1978. When the code test for Technician was eliminated, only those Techs who had passed a code test retained those privileges. Once all code tests were eliminated, all Techs regained Novice HF privileges.

Please submit hamfest and special event announcements at least three months in advance by e-mail to <hamfest@cq-amateur-radio.com> or <specialevent@cq-amateur-radio.com>, or by postal mail to: CQ Magazine, Attn: Hamfests (or Special Events), 17 West John St.., Hicksville, NY 11801.



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