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What Does a Ham Really
Need to Know?
John B. Johnston W3BE
Q. What does a ham really
need to know?
A. For a catalogue
of the duties every FCC-authorized amateur service licensee is supposed to be operationally and technically qualified to perform
properly, read W3BE Checklists for Domestic and Foreign Amateur Service Licensees in Places Where the U.S. FCC Is Our Regulator
BE Informed No. 1.0.
it would seem there are three fundamental duties to carried out by persons licensed by our federal government to cause or
allow an amateur radio station to transmit electromagnetic energy from practically anywhere:
1. DONT HARM ANYONE. Understand and avoid the possibilities for causing
excessive RF radiation to themselves, their families, friends, neighbors, and the general population.
2. DON'T CAUSE RADIO INTERFERENCE. Make correct decisions and
take actions necessary to avoid causing any disruption to the reception of transmissions from stations in any legitimate radio
service, including our own amateur service.
3. SHARE THE SPECTRUM. Cooperate in maintaining an orderly over-the-air functioning of our amateur service
while conducting self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations normally expected from duly authorized
persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.
Q. What abilities are required in order to perform these duties properly?
A. They can be summarized under five topics:
1. 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.
2. 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
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Possess knowledge of and
utilize the Section 97.101(a)-required good amateur practice transmitting protocols in widespread use in the amateur service.
Q. What is the exam all about?
A. Section 97.503 says that a written examination for a license
grant must be such as to prove that the examinee possesses the operational and technical qualifications required to perform
properly the duties of an amateur service licensee. Possessing about 75% of those qualifications is the minimum acceptable
Q. Just who decides what those
operational and technical qualifications are?
In places where the FCC is our regulator, our Section 97.507 preparing VEs are charged with doing that. It says:
Each question on each VEC question pool must be prepared by a VE holding the required FCC-issued operator license. In
other places, the qualifications are determined by the regulatory authority there.
Q. What are the credentials of those VE question writers?
A. Our Section 97.507 preparing VEs are VEC-accredited hams holding
FCC expert Amateur Extra Class operator license grants. Section 97.507 also authorizes intermediate General and Advanced Class
operators to prepare questions for certain examination elements.
Q. Does it matter which 25% the examinee doesn't know about operational and technical qualifications?
A. You might think that it should
matter very much, but our Section 97.509 administering VEs apparently are unconcerned. They reportedly do not routinely take
any action to remedy an examinee's partial lack of correct knowledge.
Q. What do the international regulations say?
A. ITU-R M.1544 minimum qualifications of radio amateurs recommends:
1. That administrations take such measures as they
judge necessary to verify the operational and technical qualifications of any person wishing to operate an amateur station.
In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, this work is outsourced to our VEs.
2. That any person seeking a license to operate an amateur station should
demonstrate theoretical (i.e., hypothetical, academic, notional, imaginary, conjectural, speculative, abstract) knowledge
of: Radio Regulations (international, domestic); Methods of radio communication (radiotelephony, radio telegraphy, data and
image); Radio system theory (transmitters, receivers, antennas and propagation, measurements); Radio emission safety, Electromagnetic
compatibility; and Avoidance and resolution of radio frequency interference.
Q. Should our VEs implement ITU-R M. 1544.1?
A. They should incorporate its
standards into our Element 2 because it is supposed to contain the minimum qualifications to demonstrate by any person seeking
an amateur service license. Passing Element 2 is common to every FCC amateur operator license grant.
Q. I am very disappointed with the way the volunteer examiner system has matured and
the way it is being carried out by our local VE teams. I volunteered to help out as an instructor. I intended to explain the
background of each question and correct answer choice. I also intended to explain why the distractor answers were incorrect.
I was told, however, to just point out the correct answers and move on. To my mind, this does not teach newcomers how to perform
properly the duties of an FCC amateur service licensee.
You must be an elder ham. Things have changed. Examining has taken on a life of its own. So has teaching.
Q. I firmly believe we are attracting the wrong people to the hobby.
A. Your use of the term "we" apparently refers
to our current amateur service community. So, you may have a difficult job ahead of convincing us that we are the wrong people
for our hobby. Don't expect us to be happy about being informed of your belief.
Q. What sort of people should we be attracting to ham radio?
A. As far as our regulator's rules are concerned, no one is under any obligation
to attract anyone to our amateur service. In Section 97.1(d), in fact, our regulator assures us that Part 97 is already designed
to expand the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronic experts.
Your motivation to attract people to share our amateur spectrum bounty, therefore, must come from somewhere else.
for instance, as a business model, your objective is to sell amateur station apparatus, related paraphernalia, services, etc.,
you would want to attract people with the inclination and wherewithal to frequently purchase such commercial offerings.
rather, you want to help satisfy our regulators’ expectation, you would want to attract willing people having the capability
of providing an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency.
If, rather, you want to participate on
behalf of an employer in a Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) emergency preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill, you
would want to attract employees of entities willing to entrust their communication needs to them.
If you are a Section 97.519 volunteer-examiner
coordinator, you just want to make the amateur service accessible to as many citizens as possible.
If, rather, you want to strictly observe the long-standing
pertinent statutes and international regulations, you would want to attract people interested in radio technique solely
with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest who want to engage in self-training, intercommunication and technical
Q. Our VEs just don’t get it. Instead of preparing and administering examinations
“such as to prove that examinees possess the operational and technical qualification required to perform properly the
duties of an amateur service licensee,” they are mesmerized by exam tinkerers having other – sometimes commercial
Section 97.507 examination preparing VEs are supposed to provide questions for three pools maintained by our fourteen Section
97.519 volunteer-examiner coordinators. Element 2 is supposed to concern the privileges of a Technician Class operator license.
Element 3 is supposed to concern the privileges of the General Class operator
license. Element 4 is supposed to concern the privileges of the Amateur Extra Class operator license. Those privileges are
codified in Part 97. That is the base from where our VEs should be using their certified knowhow of those privileges to prepare
and administer examinations.
Q. The GOTA on-the-air
experience we provide to unlicensed and under-licensed persons is superior to memorizing the VECs’ answers to a lot
of superfluous questions. GOTA experience facilitates personalized hands-on training by mentors at real amateur stations.
How about using GOTA experience as our license qualifier?
A. You apparently observe that our amateur service Section 97.301 spectrum allocations
have the capacity to accommodate very large influxes of additional stations, indeed. For Q/A on this topic, read GOTA
Experience as Our License Qualifier BE Informed No. 2.8.
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October 4, 2017
Supersedes all prior versions