W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.18      

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What Does the Possession

of an

Amateur Radio License Signify?

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. What does the possession of an amateur radio license signify?

A. In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, a Section 97.5(b)(1) amateur operator/primary station grant shown on the ULS signifies that the person named therein has been certified by three volunteer examiners (“VEs”) as having proven their operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of a FCC-authorized amateur service licensee (“ham”). Under reciprocal arrangements, several other countries accept an FCC-issued amateur operator/primary station grant as proof of qualifications and vice-versa. 

Q. What are those duties?

A. There should be three fundamental expectations:

  Every ham should be expected to understand and avoid the possibilities for causing excessive RF radiation to themselves, their families, friends, neighbors, and the general population. 

  Every ham should be expected to make expert decisions necessary to avoid causing any disruption to the reception of transmissions from stations in any legitimate radio services, including our own amateur service. 

  Every ham should be expected to cooperate in maintaining an orderly functioning of our amateur service.

Q. What abilities are required in order to perform these duties properly?

A. Every ham should be expected to possess the ability to read, understand, apply, and follow the rules – including knowledge of eighty technical terms (e.r.p., isotropically radiated power, modulation index, multiplex, PEP, etc.) that must be understood in order to make the rules meaningful.

   Every ham should be expected to possess and apply the ability to determine whether or not an amateur station’s transmissions are compliant with the technical standards codified in Part 97 Subpart B Technical Standards Section 97.301 through Section 97.313. This provides the assurance that the transmitting apparatus can be exempt from FCC equipment authorization oversight without unwanted consequence.

   Every ham should be expected to possess and apply the ability to properly assemble amateur stations composed of apparatus not necessarily FCC equipment authorized. Section 97.1(b) states our regulators’ expectation for the continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. The FCC does not include amateur station transmitters in its equipment authorization oversight. The Section 97.103 station licensee, rather, is the only person accountable for the amateur station being compliant with the necessary technical standards.

   Every ham should be expected to possess and apply the ability to properly assemble systems of amateur stations. The FCC does not pre-approve systems of amateur stations transmitting in the amateur service. The individual participating stations do not even have to be provided by the same Section 97.103 station licensee.

   Every ham should be expected to possess and utilize the Section 97.101(a)-required good amateur practice transmitting protocols in widespread use in the amateur service. Self-policing of our amateur service is expected.

Q. How does a person prove their abilities to their volunteer examiners?

A. That is done by the means of a written examination prepared by the Section 97.507 preparing VEs and administered to the applicant by a team of Section 97.509 administering VEs. When the applicant passes the examination, each administering VE certifies in writing that person is qualified. A Section 97.521 volunteer-examiner coordinator (“VEC”) then forwards the information electronically to the FCC for a license grant.

Q. How does an examinee acquire these abilities?

A. The 14 VECs maintain pools of the preparing VEs' questions and make them public. The questions are presented in multiple-choice format. One “correct” answer and three distractors are added. There are available commercial and non-commercial materials and training ranging from rote memorization of the “correct” answers to truly acquiring the requisite knowledge.

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August 15, 2016

Supersedes all previous editions