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"Knowing how to operate a RADIO...
does not automatically make you a COMMUNICATOR!"


The EmComm Philosophy

One of the latest "hot topics" in amateur radio circles are the one or two day amateur radio courses (licensing test included) that offer such "come ons" as: "Become a ham radio operator this weekend! NO CODE test! Just memorize a few easy "multiple-guess" questions and "get-on-the-air!" Proponents of these "courses" believe that increasing the number of licensed hams in this manner will somehow save amateur radio. We heard some say: "Just get your license and get on the air. You can always learn the technical material and how to operate properly later!" The equipment manufacturers and other commercial interests love the idea of as many new hams as possible. Opponents of this "instant ham" approach suggest that this is just another indication of "the dumbing down of amateur radio" (and America).

EM believes that while a one or two day course, may result in a batch of new licensees, it is not the best thing for amateur radio.

Does passing the ham radio licensing test the old fashioned way, or the new fashioned way, ensure that new licensees will know all there is to know about electronics, the rules and regulations, and proper operating procedures? Of course not. In fact, none of us will ever understand all there is to know about radio. Should the goal then be just to answer 70% of the questions correctly so one can get an HT and start ragchewing on a repeater and find out when the next club breakfast or coffee break will be? We've even heard some 5 wpm (and some 13 wpm) hams say: "Once I passed the code test...I forgot it as fast as I could. I knew I'd never need it." We've also heard some voice operators sound like they take the same approach about proficient and courteous voice operating procedures. We can almost hear someone now saying: "This is America! People have the right to operate anyway they like! Who are you to dictate how a radio operator?

The purpose of the licensing test is to make you legally qualified to transmit on the amateur bands, and to get one started on A LIFELONG PATH of learning, practicing and perfecting the art and science of radio communications. FCC Part 97.1 ("Basis and purpose" of the amateur service) says (in part): "Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art. Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts. Sadly, this is often not the reality.

Perhaps you've heard someone say: "The real learning begins after one has a license." EM says that there is some validity to that concept in a general education context. Using the author's profession (registered nurse) as an example, it is my observation that new graduate nurses, with the ink hardly dry on a BSN diploma and a new state board issued license, are only minimally qualified to be entrusted with the care (and life) of a hospital patient. Many hospitals now require a supervised internship for new graduate nurses. Also, in the medical professions (and many others) continuing education is mandatory to maintain a license to practice. (Maybe this would be a good idea for radio amateurs?)

Conscientious hams are concerned about the increasing lack of good operating skill and courtesy they hear on the air. Part of the problem is the often promoted notion that "amateur radio is only a hobby"! While that may be true for 90% of today's hams, it is NOT what I believe or teach. (I prefer the word "avocation" or "service".) Remember: the word "hobby" does not appear in FCC Part 97!

As far as I am concerned, a licensed radio amateur has a solemn responsibility to always operate in a skilled, proficient, courteous, and legal manner. Even if they enjoy amateur radio only for its "hobby" aspects! But as long as the mantra: "It's only a hobby" is touted, amateur radio it will continue to (mostly) produce mediocre radio operators.
Parallels can be made between an amateur radio license and a private pilot's license. BOTH are serious business. Only a fool would attempt to fly an airplane until a series of classroom lessons had been completed, a specified number of hours of flight training have occurred, and the ability to fly has been demonstrated to and with a qualified instructor!

When I first became a licensed amateur, I would not transmit on the amateur bands until I was confident that I was properly prepared. Of course, sounding like a "lid" would probably not be fatal, it was important to me to not be recognized as a novice! I was proud of my new license and call sign! I recall my first contact very well. I double checked my rig and antenna, got up my nerve, and called CQ on 10 meters SSB . An operator in Iowa (KBØHFG) answered . After we exchanged signal reports, locations, names, etc., he asked me how long I had been a ham. I replied that he was my first ever contact. After a brief silence...he replied: "You sure fooled me...you sound like a pro.")

It may be helpful for readers to compare these similarities between an amateur radio license and a private pilot's license:
1. While both may be considered "a hobby" they both also require passing a federally administered test and a (revocable) license.
2. Both require a high degree of knowledge and technical skill.
3. Both are regulated by federal law.
4. If the rules are not obeyed, and good safety practices are not employed, death or injury may result.
5. Not everyone has the mental and physical abilities to engage in flying or radio communications.
6. Both the pilot's and the radio amateur's skills and abilities are a potential resource for emergency and public service.

These requirements cannot be said about pure hobbies such as building model planes, trains or automobiles; or, collecting stamps, match books or beer cans.

So put me on record as being opposed to making it as easy as possible to obtain an amateur radio license! Call me a retrograde* if you wish. But historically, becoming a licensed amateur radio operator was achieved only with considerable effort. And it was an accomplishment to be proud of! Amateur radio was never intended to be for the masses. That is why the Citizens Band, Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service bands were created.

In all disciplines each individual will have a different level of interest and commitment. As public service and emergency communications radio operators we each need to ask yourself:

1. (a) Am I content to be satisfied with serving only as a VHF / voice only / tactical communicator....limited to local communications only? (Don't tell me about repeaters or linked systems. They cannot be depended upon and often only unnecessarily tie up multiple frequencies that could be better utilized.) And, if another station asks you to handle some formal; message traffic, will you have to say: "Sorry. I can't do that." If that is your choice...so be it...you can still make a contribution to your community...but you have severely limited yourself. Or
(b), do you want to be a full service station capable of handling formal message traffic?

2. (a) Am I content to maintain a station capable of only one or two modes and dependant upon repeaters or commercial power and/or landline links? Or
(b), do I want to operate a full fledged station capable of operations on HF SSB and CW and that can accept and forward a RADIOGRAM?

If you answered "a" to either of these you have limited yourself as to what you can accomplish and what you can contribute as a volunteer public service radio amateur. More so, you have missed out on most of "The Magic of Radio"; and, the great satisfaction of accomplishing something that takes some extra study and effort! I encourage every reader of EM to think re-read FCC Part 97.1, and think about your goals. Then ask yourself : "Am I all that I can be?" - de K6SOJ

* Retrograde: "Having a direction contrary to that of the general motion of similar bodies. "