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How much oversight does the ARRL exercise over its ARRL Sections?

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How much oversight does the ARRL exercise over its ARRL Sections?

While reading the open forums on I came across a thread that would cause one to stop and think about the future of Amateur Radio.  ( )

KY5U posted this in the Talk and Opinions forum

ARRL Official says memorize only the answers

From a 2008 study slide presentation by an Arizona ARRL Asst. Section Manager:Study ONLY The Test, Learn The Rest of HAM Radio LATER !
Study ONLY the CORRECT answers. Don’t try to learn the theory.
MINIMIZE The Things You Need To Learn…………MEMORIZE. (Page 5)


This is what is on the title page of the presentation

Presented By:
Rick Paquette W7RAP
ARRL Assistant Section Manager (AZ)
ARRL VE Liaison

Asking the significant questions

There are two questions that come to mind.

  1. How much oversight does the ARRL exercise over the ARRL Sections?
  2. Are we heading toward a decline in competency of Amateur Radio operators?

The Concept and Strategy for Licensing

Lets step back a a bit and review “incentive licensing”.

The basis of the structure of amateur radio licensing is incentive licensing.  FCC Amateur Radio licensing is arranged into classes.  At one time, five classes – Novice, Technician, General, Advanced, and Extra.

Theoretically, one advances from Novice to Extra by increased knowledge and competency as demonstrated by testing.  The more you know the “higher” the license class, and the “higher” the license class, then the more privileges you get.

The incentive licensing system is a win-win system.  The more you know that can demonstrated on a test then the more privileges you get from the FCC.  Good for you, good for the ARRL, and good for Amateur Radio that it has knowledgeable, capable, and competent operators based on this system of classes and testing.

How much oversight by the national ARRL?

In the presentation cited above, the Arizona ARRL Section sets out a strategy for passing the Amateur Radio licensing exams.  The recommended strategy by this ARRL Section effectively says (my interpretation) “Here is how to pass the test, forget the theory, just memorize one answer – the right answer”.

This effectively subverts the incentive licensing strategy.  As intended, the tests administered by Volunteer Examiners (VE) was to test knowledge and competency in Amateur Radio and its associated technology and operating procedures.

Demonstrate you know the material by passing the test and you get a FCC Amateur Radio license appropriate to that level of competency.  Learn more, become more competent, more proficient, and more knowledgeable, take another test to demonstrate this and you get a more a more advanced license and more operating privileges.

But the folks in the Arizona ARRL Section says… no, forget all that.  We will give you all the answers to the test, you memorize only the correct answer to each question,  take the test and you can pass.

Study ONLY The Test, Learn The Rest of HAM Radio LATER !
Study ONLY the CORRECT answers. Don’t try to learn the theory.
MINIMIZE The Things You Need To Learn…………MEMORIZE.

On seeing this, I wonder how much oversight the National ARRL has on the operation of its sections?  What does the National ARRL do when one of its sections is recommending something that is diametrically opposed to the general understanding of licensing as understood by the national ARRL?

Certainly, if asked, the official position of the National ARRL would not be in alignment with any ARRL section presenting the strategy above for passing the FCC licensing exams.

ARRL Hands Off?

arrlSo, is it “hands off” by the national ARRL?  In business, and I know this is not business, it’s all about alignment of business units and divisions to the corporate strategy.

So, for the national ARRL, why would they not want want the same? – a consistent message by the ARRL cascaded down to the ARRL Sections.  Without this there is ambiguity and confusion about what the real goal of testing is all about.

In 2008 ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN made “Technology” the Fifth Pillar of Amateur Radio.

How does the strategy of test taking by the ARRL Section mentioned above align with this?

A decline in Competency of Amateur Radio Operators

In the general culture I see a tendency toward less and less competency and a trajectory toward finding some way around a competency obstacle.  A sort of obsession with vanity titles – as if “Extra Class” would mean something if the way you got Extra was by passing licensing tests by memorizing answers as the AZ ARRL Section recommends.

The movie “Idiocracy”

I am not a fan of the movie “Idiocracy” – but it does follow through on a simple premise.  What if the culture lost its desire to learn, read books, understand history, and become competent?

This is from a review of Idiocray  in that makes the point

Idiocracy challenges a central article of faith in American life, the notion that we are destined for moral, material, and intellectual progress. And what if things really are getting worse? What if, more to the point, we really are getting dumber? Recently there’s been some troubling evidence that the arrow of intelligence is pointing downward.

A British study found that the intelligence of British 11-year-olds has actually declined during the last 20 years. Data from the Danish draft board indicate that intelligence peaked in the late-1990s and has now fallen to levels not seen since 1991, when MC Hammer-inspired parachute pants were all the rage. If that’s not enough to make you slit your wrists, I don’t know what is…

If you’re alarmed by the callousness and the crassness of our culture, which you certainly should be, do something about it. Lead or follow. Getting out of the way is not an option.

So how much is the Arizona ARRL Section on this path?  And, most importantly, “is getting out of the way” of the ARRL Arizona Section an option for the national ARRL?

What is the national ARRL doing to ensure the integrity of its ARRL Sections and to ensure alignment of a consistent message and understanding of Amateur Radio to both Amateur Radio operators and to segments of the general public that would want to become Amateur Radio operators?

If the national ARRL will not do it then who?  Who is the national advocate of Amateur Radio that will ensure the integrity of the Amateur Radio Service when such a basic mis-alignment is discovered?

At this level of misalignment one can see an every increasing number of appliance operators lacking the technical competence and radio theory traditionally associated with Amateur Radio.

And the beauty (or disappointment) of it all is that it’s happening in the ARRL itself in the same year an ARRL President announces that the Fifth Pillar of Amateur Radio is a focus on Technology.


ARRL Arizona Section –
Slate Article on Idiocracy –

Arizona ARRL Section recommendations on how to pass the Amatuer Radio license exams –


Written by frrl

June 24, 2009 at 4:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. Actually, speaking as an Extra, the incentive licensing system has proven to be a lose-lose proposition. Just talk to any of the Generals of the era (1960’s) who were thrown off the air unless they took the new exams.

    It hasn’t made expertise nor courtesy more prevalent than before incentive licensing.

    It has done its work: To create a clique class of operators who focus less on the pleasure of technology experimentation, communications and public service, and more on the level structure, of keeping their place, and keeping out those who won’t or can’t get up to their level.

    In that way, incentive licensing has won, if you like cliques supported on the government’s dime. Many hams do.

    On the other hand, I can make a strong argument that incentive licensing hasn’t done what it purportedly set out to do: Create a competent class of trained radio operators and technicians.

    If the Extra test was so good, why isn’t it required for an BSEE or MSEE? Many, many, EE’s have gone through years of schooling and never known they were supposed to get an Extra to be considered technically competent.

    (For that matter, why not a 50 WPM CW test? To hear some tell it, you can’t understand any technology without CW at the highest speeds! 5 WPM doesn’t count.)

    And radio, while extremely important, is not the only technical discipline. I never knew I was supposed to get my Extra before I earned my lowly BSCS in 1987. There are many, many, techies that made their bones with the early personal computers, as I did in that era.

    Tell any of them they aren’t “real” because they didn’t get their ham tickets in 1956 in front of the FCC Examiner of Doom.

    They’ll laugh in your face. Rightfully so. And they’ll turn away from the screaming old men with a snob complex, wondering why those people are in the hobby if they’re so angry about it.

    David Moisan, N1KGH

    June 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm

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