W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.12

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The Light Is On for

Former Hams

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. I have heard that former hams have been granted amnesty. I once held a General class license but didn’t keep it up. Can I get back in without taking a test?

A. No, but our regulator does want to encourage you to become involved again in the technical self-training and public service communications opportunities provided by our amateur service.  You will only have to pass our volunteer examiners’ basic Element 2 examination for a license grant. But it will not be necessary for you to pass their next step Element 3 examination for the General Class. 

   Be aware, however, that the technology and operator duties have progressed dramatically since you passed your examination many years ago. Element 2 is our fundamental entry-level examination that tests on the most minimum knowledge – as determined by our VEs – which the Section 97.105 control operator of any Section 97.5 amateur station transmitting from a place where the FCC regulates our communications must possess. It is a license requirement for every operator class.

Q. Will I get my old call sign if I come back?

A. Not initially, at least. Your station will be assigned a call sign under the sequential system. Once you have a license grant, however, your former call sign may be available to you under the vanity system.

Q. I held a Conditional Operator class license some 4 decades ago. Can I get exam credit for that?

A. No. Our Section 97.509 administering VEs are not authorized to give examination element credit to former Conditional Operator class license holders.  

Q. Then who does get amnesty?

A. Our VEs are authorized to give certain examination element credits to an examinee holding an expired-beyond-renewal grace period for a license grant of Technician Class operator granted before March 21, 1987, an Amateur Extra, an Advanced, or a General. 

Q.  I once had an Advanced ticket. Can I get that back?

A. No, Advanced Operator class licenses are no longer issued. But you can claim credit toward a General Operator class license grant without passing the second step Element 3 examination.  General authorizes more HF privileges than does Technician.

Q. How about my former Tech that expired before March 21, 1987?

A. You can also claim credit toward a General Operator class license grant without passing the second step Element 3 examination

Q. How long is the license term?

A. FCC amateur service licenses are normally granted free-of-charge for a ten-year term.  Licensees may apply for renewal, either on-line or by mail, beginning ninety days prior to expiration. Optionally, there are renewal service providers who may charge a fee. A person whose amateur service license grant has expired may apply for renewal of the license during a two-year grace period without requesting a rule waiver or retesting.

Q. What is the rationale for the amnesty?

A. Given that amateur service licensees are not required to prove activity in order to remain licensed, our regulator has observed that the fact that because an individual allowed his or her license to expire more than two years ago does not necessarily mean that the person no longer possesses adequate knowledge to be an amateur service licensee. Conversely, renewal of a license within the time permitted by the rules does not establish that the licensee retained such knowledge. For consistency, therefore, it amended the rules to grant credit for written examination Element 3 and Element 4 for expired licenses that required passage of those elements, but still require former licensees to pass the  Element 2 examination before they can be relicensed.

Q. Element 2 is for Technicians. I had an Advanced. Why must I pass the lower Element 2?

A. Any former licensee unsuccessful at an Element 2 examination forfeits the presumption that he or she has retained sufficient knowledge to operate an amateur station properly. Requiring former licensees to pass Element 2 also deters attempts by someone unqualified but with the same name as a former licensee to obtain a license grant without passing an examination. 

Q. Do the VEs have a record of my former license?   

A. No, you will have to convince them that you once held it. Our Section 97.509 administering VEs already are required to accept certain expired FCC-issued operator licenses as proof of licensure, regardless of how long ago the license was issued. VEs frequently accept other documentation to show an individual was a licensee and, therefore, is eligible for examination credit. For example, VEs accept license verification letters from the FCC and from Callbook Magazine listings. Check with your VE teams as to the proof they will accept.

Q. What is that Element 2 exam?

A. Element 2 is the basic written examination requirement for all classes of FCC amateur operator license grants. It consists of a 35 question set for which you must answer any 26 correctly to pass.  The questions are prepared by our VEs. Our 14 volunteer-examiner coordinators then cooperate in maintaining one Section 97.523 question pool for each of the three elements. They make each pool available to the public prior to our Section 97.507 preparing VEs’ use for making a question set. For conformity in administration, our VECs provide their pools in multiple-choice format with correct answers indicated.

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July 26, 2016

Supersedes all prior versions