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Amateur Radios Fall from Grace: the discussion in QRZ on licensing and testing

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Amateur Radios Fall from Grace:
The discussion in QRZ on licensing and testing


The Great Debate in QRZ

There is a very interesting debate going on in the  open discussion forums about amateur radio licensing and testing.

The discussion was initiated by Charles Young, KY5U.  Charles posted a presentation from the Arizona Section of the ARRL concerning a strategy for passing the Amateur Radio exams.  Anything out of the ordinary, or unexpected, gets attention.  So perhaps this advice from this ARRL section was unexpected:

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)

At the time of this writing there are over 600 replies to this posting.

With 600+ responses, I skimmed many of them.  I found this exchange interesting.

An Interesting Exchange – Who are these guys?

First, who are the players?  This is the public information that these folks have placed in their QRZ profiles.

KB1SF – Keith C Baker – Extra Class

I’m a Past President of AMSAT, The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation ( I also served as Executive Vice President of the organization from 1994 to 1998 and was a member of the Board of Directors of AMSAT from 1994 to 2003. Currently, I’m serving as the President of the Lambton County (Ontario, Canada) Radio Club (

AG3Y – James Stanicek – Extra Class

I was a Professional Broadcaster and held an F.C.C. 1st Class Radio-Telephone license for several years before becoming a Ham. My past jobs have included being the Chief Engineer for a medium market FM station, and Assistant Chief Engineer for a medium market UHF Television station.

My last job was as a Technical Specialist working for a large Satellite Internet and Television program provider. I worked in the R & D Labs as a prototype builder/modifier for the outdoor ground units for the new era in Broadband Services provided by GeoStationary Satellites. I used microscopes and very tiny tools to fabricate circuitry using 0402 and smaller S MD components.

AG3Y – James Stanicek – Extra Class

This posting is fairly clear and to the point.

The N.E.A. [ National Educational Association ] or whoever makes those kinds of decisions, has turned the American education system into a complete “teach by the test” system, and every teacher I have ever had a chance to talk to, either active, or retired, simply HATES it!
If you look at the achievement levels at which our youngsters rate, you will see that they have slipped far down the scale from what they used to be several years ago.
It seems that the mucky-mucks at the F.C.C. have followed suit and turned the amateur radio testing system into the same sort of disaster. It is well known, and stated repeatedly that the new breed of ham radio license holder has a far lower level of understanding about what the avocation is supposed to be all about. Prior to getting their licenses, many have never even HEARD a signal on the HF bands, and questions about “how do I build a dipole” etc. are posted over and over.
This “gotta have it NOW” fixation has got to stop, or we are all going to be seeing a nation full of discouraged, uneducated people trying to do in weeks, what it took us O.T.s YEARS to accomplish!

I am going to take the interpretation as this:

One could say that, testing in a traditional sense, was to validate that the student has mastered some defined set of knowledge – that they have an “understanding”.  There was a priority of knowledge – the exam was a tool to test the students mastery of the knowledge.  If you could pass the exam then it was an indirect demonstration that you mastered the body of knowledge for which the exam was designed to test.

The point is that mastery of knowledge was primary.  The exam was a tool to test that mastery.

The new approach seems to be a focus on the tool – how to manipulate the tool to give an appearance that one has mastered the knowledge.  In a sense, the new approach is to “teach the test(exam)” which in effect, subverts the intended purpose of the exam.

That is, teach students how to subvert the tool rather than teach them the body of knowledge for which the exam (tool) was designed to test, verify, or validate.  The effort is redirected toward subverting a tool.  The effort of “teaching (subvert the exam) ” is now nearly disengaged from teaching the body of knowledge.

It is the “quick fix” that James, AG3Y, writes about.  It would go like this.  I want to create an appearance that I have mastered a body of knowledge; the exam is to tool to measure mastery of knowledge; if I can find a clever way to subvert the the tool, then I can have the appearance of mastery – without mastery.

Applying the Arizona ARRL Section Strategy

Here’s how this would work.

This is a question from the Technician Test

T9A12 (C) – What is the approximate length, in inches, of a 6-meter 1/2 wavelength wire dipole antenna?
A. 6 inches
B. 50 inches
C. 112 inches
D. 236 inches

Following the advice of the Arizona Section of the ARRL one would read the question and memorize the answer “112 inches”.  So, its a matter of question and answer association – this is why the testing strategy is to never read a wrong answer.  It’s pattered after a stimulus/response approach.

If you hear “What is the approximate length, in inches, of a 6-meter 1/2 wavelength wire dipole antenna?” you respond “112 inches”.  There is no conceptual knowledge necessary other than memorization.

What have you lost?  If you could truly answer the question above from a set of concepts you would know the following.

You would know:

  1. The relationship of frequency, wavelength, and the speed of light
  2. The velocity of the speed of light
  3. The concept of velocity factor in a wire
  4. Conversion of meters, feet, and inches
  5. Using all the above, derive the formula for the approximate length of a dipole at any frequency
  6. Use the above formula as a practical matter in numerous situations.

So, rather than investing effort and time in mastery of the concepts above one invests effort in memorizing the answer as stimulus/response – “112 inches”  You need not understand anything about dipoles, resonant frequency, the speed of light, velocity factor, or any of it.

It is important to note that mastery of the first four concepts above gives you the practical power of item 5 and 6 – the ability to derive a formula and calculating the approximate length of a 1/2 wave dipole for any frequency.  In the memorization model – you are helpless.

This results in what James has pointed out.  That is, having memorized only the answers and passed the Amateur exams … “…how do I build a dipole” etc. are posted over and over.”

At the opposite extreme – that of conceptual understanding of underlying principles, theory, and some math – you can go much farther.

But once seduced by the path of “memorizing the answer” – you will never get there from here.

KB1SF – Keith C Baker – Extra Class

Keith wrote a very complex response.  I have added some commentary along the way

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

As others here have so eloquently noted…according to the ITU, ours was always intended to simply be an “amateur” radio service made up of “amateurs”…not the achievement-based, “No budding RF Engineer Left Behind” radio service that, unfortunately, the FCC turned us into back in the late 1950s.

And, as some of you know, for a number of years now, I’ve been advocating that the content and comprehensiveness of our tests for entry and advancement in our Service should simply match the specific privileges they grant.

Right now, they very clearly don’t.

Indeed, these “incentives” for advancement have all largely been set up to do nothing more than entice people into “higher learning” by stoking their egos…creating a whole series of achievement-based “rewards” that include gaining so-called “exclusive” access to artificially subdivided frequencies and bandwidth. Clearly, this “incentive” nonsense was designed for absolutely no other purpose than to force “education” by stroking people’s egos, thereby separating the “us’es” from the “them’s” in our Service.

Or, to put it more bluntly, for the last 50 years, our entire licensing system (beyond the Technician license) has been based on nothing more than pure, unadulterated snobbery.

I took at look at the definitions of snobbery

A snob is someone who adopts the worldview of snobbery — that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, etc…

However, a form of snobbery can be adopted by someone not a part of that group; a pseudo-intellectual, a celebrity worshiper, and a poor person idolizing money and the rich are types of snobs who do not base their snobbery on their personal attributes. Such a snob idolizes and imitates, if possible, the manners, worldview, and lifestyle of a classification of people to which he or she aspires, but does not yet belong, and to which he or she may never belong (wealthy, famous, intellectual, beautiful, etc.).

It is agreed, however, that the word “snob” broke into broad public usage with William Makepeace Thackeray’s Book of Snobs… Thackeray was implying, were the showy things of this world…

Some people may be motivated by “showy things” as in the description above.  In the context of amateur radio this could be a vanity title like General class, or Advanced class, or Extra.   In the business world, job titles are important to some people.  It is sort of a trick of some Human Resource departments to give a person a “promotion” with a vanity job title but very little change in compensation, benefits, or responsibility.  A vanity job title costs a company nothing – yet it has value to people..

A person could be a snob by associating themselves with titles and classes of people to which they know they can never belong “Such a snob idolizes and imitates, if possible, the manners, worldview, and lifestyle of a classification of people to which he or she aspires, but does not yet belong, and to which he or she may never belong…”

It could very well be that a person who goes after an Extra according to the Arizona ARRL Section Strategy are just these sort of people that are the snobs.  These are the folks that want the [ vanity ] title without the concomitant mastery of knowledge for which the exam was originally designed to test or validate.

But to call someone a snob who legitimately masters the knowledge base for Extra class and does not subvert the purpose of the exam would not be right in all cases.

It comes down to motivation.  Why does someone get an Extra class?  What drives people?

One answer is curiosity.  The drive of science is curiosity.  Asking questions for which there are not yet answers.  In the early 1900’s, at the beginning of the wireless age, I would say that the reason why people learned about radio was simply to learn as much as they could – driven by curiosity.  In the early 1900’s, I could imagine one would learn as much as was in the body of knowledge about radio at the time, and then extend that knowledge through theory and experimentation.  That is, advance the state-of-the-art.

Now, how could a pursuit of knowledge like this be called snobbery?  Such a pursuit of knowledge is in fact achievement-based.  You demonstrate your mastery of knowledge by a) what you can do; b) the concepts you understand related to what you can do and what you can imagine; c) your ability to extend the known body of knowledge beyond what it is in a particular point of time in history.

How can “enticing people into higher learning be a bad thing?  “… Indeed, these “incentives” for advancement have all largely been set up to do nothing more than entice people into “higher learning” by stoking their egos.” If there were no “higher learning” in Radio, we’d all be using Spark Gap in 2009.

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

And while it IS true that ours has become a licensing system that now allows “wet-behind-the-ears” Technicians, after passing a horrifically simple, 35 question exam, the “privilege” of building and operating, for example, a full KW amplifier (from scratch, no less!) for 2.4 GHz and then aiming the antenna at themselves (or their neighbors) at full tilt, thereby causing irreparable eye damage to both.

But, ours is ALSO licensing system where the content and comprehensiveness of what’s on the General Class examination (and ALL of what’s on the Extra Class exam!) go WELL beyond what is minimally required by the international Radio Regulations to provide a reasonable assurance that such license holders will, in fact, operate their stations in a safe and courteous manner with the added privileges those licenses specifically grant.

It seems that James and Keith are talking past each other… “go WELL beyond what is minimally required by the international Radio Regulations to provide a reasonable assurance that such license holders will, in fact, operate their stations in a safe and courteous manner with the added privileges those licenses specifically grant.”

What are we trying to create when we license amateur radio operators?  James, AG3Y, seems to be on the path to creating amateur radio operators as people who can master a sort of abstract body of knowledge as well as practical knowledge – to extend the state-of-the-art of Radio.  Keith seems to be on the path to “functional” operators – people who know a set of practices but maybe don’t understand the why or wherefore of those practices.  For example, people who can calculate the length of a dipole from a formula, but have little knowledge or understanding of how that formula was derived or the underlying concepts that make the formula a valid approximation of resonance for a dipole.

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

And, as if that weren’t enough, these blatant disconnects in our current licensing system have now made our higher-class exams (particularly the one for the Extra Class license) systemically discriminatory (spelled “illegal”) under a whole plethora of current US federal equal access laws relating to how US Government-administered licenses are to be granted. That’s because our 1950s-era licensing and testing approach (not to mention the content and comprehensiveness of our exams) remain so completely out of touch with the specific, largely ego-based privileges that they grant and, in the case of our Extra Class exam, go well beyond what the International Radio Regulations require for full access to our bands.

Would someone please explain to me what specific additional technical or operational skills (beyond those required to obtain a General Class license) are absolutely required to safely and courteously operate in the so-called “Extra Class” portions of OUR bands?

And, how does mastering all 600-plus pages of the ARRL’s Extra Class License manual (a “hazing ritual” required by all but the most learned BSEEs in our ranks) to successfully PASS that examination DIRECTLY relate in ANY way to the skills required to fill out an application for a so-called “exclusive” call sign?

Wow.  Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn toward mastery a body of knowledge, the Extra exam is no “hazing ritual”.  Far from it; it is simply more to learn on the path – a very long path at that.

Having taken only 2 courses in electronics in college as part of a degree in physics, I would say that the average 1st or 2nd year engineering major in electronics knows far more than what is on the Extra exam  Bottom line, mastery of the Extra class material would allow you to sustain a conversation with a teenager or early 20’s something undergraduate college student majoring in electronics.

I don’t think an undergrad college student is on some ego-trip in his/her education.  They are following their curiosity, mastering a body of knowledge in a certain domain, and hopefully, getting compensation ( a job ) upon graduation.  Mastery of knowledge is no ego trip – it’s a means to an end – to earn a living.

If Extra class is less knowledge than a teenage kid in college – what “snobbery” or “elitism” could there be in holding an Extra class Amateur Radio license?

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

Unfortunately, far too many US Hams remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that most governments in the rest of the world steadfastly refrained from buying into the FCC’s ego-stroking, achievement-based, incentive licensing nonsense for their own Amateur Services. In fact, throughout the rest of the world, Amateur licenses are usually regarded as “certificates of safety”, much like the written test one takes to obtain a license to operate a private motor vehicle or to fly a private aircraft.

That is, these other country’s licensing systems are specifically designed to be just comprehensive enough to do NOTHING MORE than provide a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.

I think here one can find Keith’s implicit (if not explicit) definition of Amateur Radio – its “NOTHING MORE” and “just comprehensive enough” to ensure an amateur radio operator is not going to “…become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.”

The Fall from Grace…

In the opinion above, Amateur Radio has taken a very hard deep fall from grace.  Far from its historical roots where Amateur Radio was making advances in Radio, now all we are interested in is the assurance that Amateur Radio operators don’t kill themselves or others with their hobby.  It sounds like Amateur Radio Operators are now the “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – those who only know enough to be dangerous.

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

It is an irrefutable fact that our average age is now approaching 60 and the number of Amateur Radio licensees hasn’t grown in the United States since 2003 (or 1999 if you take into account that the license data we’re looking at will always be 10 years out of date). And, sadly, BOTH of these downward trends show absolutely NO sign of reversing themselves anytime soon.

However, based on their regulatory actions in our Service over the last 20 years (including their latest decision to drop all forms of Morse testing), it’s absolutely clear the FCC has (finally!) recognized the horrific, constrictive mess their predecessors made of our licensing and regulatory system when they first hatched their stupid “license-class-and-operating-mode-based” foolishness back in the 1950s.

Is it about numbers or quality?

KB1SF – Keith C Baker

And, as a direct result of that realization, I also firmly believe the FCC (with the ARRL’s behind-the-scenes tacit approval) has now embarked on a long-term plan that will largely de-regulate our Service, allowing it to revert back to the time when our licensing system was aimed primarily at insuring non-interference and the safety of its operators (and their neighbors)…and nothing more.

That is, after assuring applicants are well versed in the critical aspects of what we do, I predict our licensing system in the United States will eventually revert to a simple series of forward-looking “licenses to learn” based solely on safety and non-interference considerations, rather than on a meaningless series of ego-stroking “rewards” tied to an ever-more irrelevant set of backward looking “achievement tests” that have accomplished absolutely NOTHING but to perpetuate an entrenched (and now blatantly illegal) institutionalized snobbery in our Service.

In fact, the FCC appears to now be well along in their plan to completely dismantle the remaining “hazing rituals” in the licensing system for our Service so as to bring it back in line with the (far less achievement-oriented) ITU guidelines. Dropping the Morse test for all classes of licenses was simply the latest chapter in that plan.

However, as nobody in any official capacity is listening to the ever more paranoid rants from the crowd who desperately want to keep all that 1950’s-era ego-stroking snob appeal in place, they and their ever-shrinking minority are now forced to rely more and more heavily on forums like these as their last best hope to stem the tide.

But…fortunately…it would appear they aren’t getting any traction here, either.

Why do people think the way they do

There is more to Keith Baker, KB1SF.  Keith is a business owner.  His company is KCB Associates ( cached ).

And to remind you of James Stanicek, AG3Y  “…I worked in the R & D Labs as a prototype builder/modifier for the outdoor ground units for the new era in Broadband Services provided by GeoStationary Satellites.”

Education vs Training

I just wonder if the differences between James and Keith comes down these two lines.

James, in his posting, makes reference to “education“.  On the home page of Keith’s business he makes reference to “training“.

From the posting by James… ( “…the N.E.A. [ National Educational Association ] or whoever makes those kinds of decisions, has turned the American education system into a complete “teach by the test” system.)”

From Keith’s business web site… (“Our Approach…. We incorporate your organization’s real work into our project management and other training — not fake academic exercises.  We customize our training and consulting approach to fit your organization’s specific needs.”)

Here lies the difference.  There are many subtle meanings to these two words – eduction and training.  But I would take it that “training” tends more toward being able to perform a set of specific functional tasks – and no more.  To me, “education”, is a more encompassing term.

One trains people for a functional, operational role; one would get an education to do R&D and extend the state of the art.  In the first case, training for a task assumes the task is well know and can be easily defined.  In the latter case, educating for R&D assumes an unknown future.  In a sense the future is to be created.  Education is not so much a set of facts but how to use existing facts, and a methodology, to get beyond what is known now.

If R&D can create a future then will come training.  But there is a primacy of getting to the next future before any “training” can be done.  And I would think that it’s “education” that makes a future – not “training”.

We all try to make people in our own image.  And the lines of the discussion between Keith and James comes down to this.  James, with a focus on “education”, wants to turn Amateur Radio operators into people more like R&D people; Keith wants to “train” people to be functional operations people – no “fake academic exercises.”


Of course there will be no conclusion until there is a clear and concise definition of Amateur Radio in 2009 and beyond.  We know what Amateur Radio was in the early 1900’s at the dawn of the wireless age and what it has been since then- but what is it now – at this current state of technology?

The difficulty is that the “sweet spot” for wireless has long passed.  Global communication using RF is a taken-for-granted part of reality.  There is nothing new or novel about it.  There is no curiosity about it on the part of the younger generation that who never knew a time when there was no cell phone, no computer, and no Internet.

The older people are the holdouts on Amateur Radio – as a sort of remembrance of days sitting in front of a shortwave radio or an amateur radio listening to voices from across the globe – and how utterly amazing this was.  I was one of those people.

But those days are past.  Radio is as mature and as ubiquitous as the automobile.  When one tuns the key in the ignition to start a car and drive away how many people think this is a wondrous new invention?  None.  The same with Radio.

So to address the lack of curiosity of Radio – a technology past the “sweet spot” of innovation – one could venture various program to increasingly entice people to become amateurs.  Since people are no longer driven by curiosity to the point where they will expend the effort to master the material then one way to increase the number of Amateurs is to lower the standards of mastery of the knowledge of radio.

My untested assumption is that mastery of the knowledge of Amateur Extra is less knowledge than a second year undergraduate teenager pursuing a degree in Electronics.  Mastery of Amateur Extra materials will not even get you into a legitimate conversation of state of the art of anything electronics in 2009.

So, this charge of “elitism” and “snobbery” among the classes of Amateur Radio operators (Tech, General, Extra) may be valid in the singular isolated context of Amateur Radio.  But there certainly is no elitism or snobbery when one puts Amateur Extra in the larger context of a college education. That is, Amateur Extra is about the level of a 1st or 2nd year undergrad teenager pursuing a degree in electronics.

If you hold an amateur extra license at the age of 30, 40, or 50 and want stroke your ego or vanity by saying that you are smarter then a teenage kid in college – OK – but that is not going to buy you any “Street Cred”  in adult circles.

So really, maybe Keith Baker, KB1SF is right.  In the (post) modern age an Amateur Radio education as well as the exam should be designed to provide assurance that you don’t kill yourself or your neighbor – “and nothing more“.

… licensing systems are specifically designed to be just comprehensive enough to do NOTHING MORE than provide a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.

And in this case – Amateur exams as assurance of safety – you certainly don’t want to follow the strategy and approach of test taking advocated by the Arizona ARRL Section – learn to subvert the exam as a tool of competency – memorize only the answers – nothing more.  Since in this case, one learns nothing and one could very well be a hazard and a nuisance to both themselves and neighbors.

If the Arizona ARRL section advocates the test taking strategy that they have documented knowing that the exam is to provide “a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.” would they still advocate a strategy that effectively subverts the purpose of the exam to test competency of the material?


See related posting –


Written by frrl

July 4, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

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  1. […] Amateur Radios Fall from Grace:the discussion in QRZ on licensing and testing […]

  2. As I seem to have been quoted at great length here, let me try to clarify my position.

    First of all, it’s not the “difficulty” of the Extra Class exam that is at issue here. Rather, it’s whether or not the exam for the Extra Class license (or indeed, the need for the license itself) is RELEVANT to the added operational privileges it grants. That is, does that license (and the exam one takes to obtain it) fulfill a specific, “regulatory purpose”?

    In other forums, I’ve continually asked numerous responders to my posts to explain what the fundamental OPERATIONAL differences are between the privileges granted to a General Class licensee an and Extra Class licensee in our Service in the United States.

    So far, those requests have all been met with stony silence. Could it be that (gasp!) there ARE none?

    The truth is that our Federal Communications Commission is NOT a university of higher learning. It’s function is NOT (and has not ever been) to “impart a body of knowledge” in license applicants as some posters here have suggested. Rather, by law, it is a REGULATORY agency, whose charter is to simply determine whether (or not) applicants for a license in our Service are qualified to exercise the privileges of a license grant in our Service.

    So, in that sense, I firmly contend that when they rammed their so-called “incentive licensing” system down our collective throats back in the late 1960s, the FCC (and the behest of the ARRL) was clearly overstepping its legal and regulatory bounds. And that overreach has only gotten more and more apparent as time has progressed.

    That’s because the FCC, as a federal agency, is NOT exempt from complying other federal laws that govern access to programs administered by federal agencies, particularly as they relate to for “barrier free” access to such programs by persons with disabilities.

    Today, not only have those other federal laws become more numerous, but they have also become ever more restrictive as to the content and comprehensiveness of the questions that all federally conducted examinations can contain.

    That is, unlike the 1950s and 1960s, where the FCC could ask “just anything” on a license exam and get away with it, those days are now LONG gone. Today, there has to be a specific, regulatory REASON for asking every single question on an exam. Even the examination (and in our case, the license class grant that it supports) has to fulfill a specific, regulatory need.

    Indeed, ONE of the newer federal laws that applies to the federal regulatory and licensing system for our Service is the “Persons with Disabilities Act of 1990″…the so-called ADA. Specifically, Section 202 of that law titled “Discrimination” reads as follows:

    “Subject to the provisions of this title, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of A PUBLIC ENTITY (emphasis mine), or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”

    And, because it is an arm of the federal government (and supported by your and my federal tax dollars) it would seem to me that the FCC certainly qualifies as a “public entity” under the terms of this Act.

    However, the ADA is not the only federal statute that deals with such issues. Another federal statute is the “Rehabilitation Act”. And, as I read it, among other things, it also specifically prohibits Federal Executive Agencies (such as the FCC) from excluding persons with disabilities from obtaining the benefits of federal programs as a result of their disability.

    Specifically, Section 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act (which relates to nondiscrimination Under Federal Grants and Programs) reads in part as follows:

    “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 7(20), shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance OR UNDER ANY PROGRAM OR ACTIVITY CONDUCTED BY ANY EXECUTIVE AGENCY…”(emphasis mine)

    The law goes on to say that, “The head of each such agency shall promulgate such regulations as may be necessary to carry out the amendments to this section made by the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Act of 1978”.

    It seems to me that, just using the provisions of one or the other of these Acts, a good class action lawyer could now make a very strong case that our whole FCC incentive licensing system unfairly “excludes participation in…denies the benefits of…or subjects disabled persons to discrimination under” the FEDERALLY administered licensing system for the Amateur Radio Service in the United States.

    That’s because our licensing system withholds full participation in our Service (i.e. an Extra Class license) based on applicants passing ever-more-irrelevant written examinations that are not only internally duplicative (as I will show below), but also go WELL BEYOND what the international ITU guidelines suggest should be the MINIMUM qualifications for full participation in our Amateur Service.

    The term educators use to describe such tests is “invalid” because such tests measure skills and abilities that bear little or no relationship to what candidates actually need to know in order to successfully perform in their new roles. When constructing such tests, one must always ask the question: “Does the test actually measure what it is supposed to measure?”

    What’s more, when such tests require a knowledge of predominantly “nice to know” rather than “need to know” information, then, according to a whole host of equal access legislation in the USA (like those I’ve cited above), such tests become what’s called “systemically discriminatory”. That’s because, taken together, they create a SYSTEM that makes a license grant contingent on applicants successfully answering questions that have little or no DIRECT relationship to the privileges they grant.

    Let me cite an example that may help to illustrate my point.

    Under current US federal law, when hiring a person to stack boxes in a government warehouse, you can no longer legally make that person’s hiring decision based on them successfully completing an examination over how boxes are MADE. The job they are applying for is to STACK the boxes, NOT to make them. And while a knowledge of how boxes are made is certainly “nice to know”, it is NOT an essential element in the job they are being hired for.

    Therefore, they cannot (legally) be required to know such information.

    Likewise, forcing applicants for an Extra Class License to correctly answer a question like: “What is the direction of an ascending pass for an amateur satellite?” is an absolutely invalid and illegal question under current US law.

    That’s because satellite operation is NOT an operational privilege granted exclusively to Extra Class license holders. And it is certainly NOT a requirement in order to be qualified to operate in the last few KHz of our HF bands now reserved for Extra Class operators. In fact, ANYONE with a valid Amateur License in the United States (including Technicians!) can operate via our fleet of amateur satellites.

    Likewise, asking an Extra Class applicant the question “How many times per second is a new frame transmitted in a fast-scan television system?” is also an illegal question because, once again, Amateur television operation is NOT an exclusive operational privilege granted solely to Extra Class operators.

    As with satellite operation, ANYONE with a valid Amateur Radio License in the USA (including Technicians) can legally operate an Amateur television transmitter. That question is, therefore both invalid AND illegal under US equal access law because it creates an unnecessary barrier to applicants. Indeed, the knowledges and skills required to correctly answer that particular question have absolutely NOTHING to do with the knowledge and skills needed to safely and courteously exercise the uniquely exclusive privileges an Extra Class License grants.

    Note that the “easiness” or the “hardness” of the questions (or the test) is not the issue here. Rather, it’s the RELEVANCE of the questions asked to the SPECIFIC privileges a particular class of license grants that is important in determining the legal validity of our tests.

    And, sadly, BOTH the General AND Extra Class exam pools are now CHOCK FULL of these equally “nice to know” questions that often bear absolutely NO direct relationship to the added privileges granted. True, such questions discuss Amateur operation in general and contribute to a “body of knowledge”. But, under today’s federal equal-access laws, that’s simply no longer good enough.

    Frankly, BOTH of the questions I’ve shown above belong in the TECHNICIAN question pool, NOT in the one for Extra Class.

    And making correctly answering such misplaced questions contingent on the grant of an Extra Class license becomes systemically discriminatory because it perpetuates a SYSTEM of discrimination by forcing ALL applicants (not just the disabled) to demonstrate knowledge and skills that are either irrelevant, or are not required for the exclusive privileges associated with the class and type of license being sought.


    The bottom line here is that, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s (when the FCC first hatched their “incentive licensing” foolishness at the behest of the ARRL), in the United States today, you can no longer legally test people for a government license if you cannot somehow DIRECTLY RELATE the skills and knowledges being examined to a SPECIFIC operational or safety need the new license will grant.

    Unfortunately, the problem the FCC now faces for our Service is NOT just a matter of changing questions or making them “more” or “less” comprehensive. The problem lies in the fact that, back in the 1950s and 1960s, the FCC (at the ARRL’s urging) decided that the ONLY privileges that would be withheld from lower class licensees in our system would be access to “exclusive” frequencies and call signs.

    THAT prior management decision, in turn, means that the FCC’s (now thoroughly entrenched) licensing system for our Service has become quite illegal under US federal equal access law.

    That’s because, under these new federal laws, our system arbitrarily withholds access to those so-called “exclusive” privileges based on tests and questions that have absolutely NOTHING directly to do with the (predominantly frequency-based) privileges those tests grant.

    In short, today’s FCC is now caught between a legal “rock and a hard place”.

    Clearly, a 50 question test based on a 600-page license manual over highly technical (but yet still largely irrelevant) information to successfully determine if an applicant for an Extra Class license can safely and courteously operate in the last few KHz of our HF bands is overkill. Beyond knowing where the new lower-end frequency boundaries are, that skill set should have ALREADY been tested on the General Class exam.

    Likewise, it DOES NOT take a 50 question exam over largely unrelated technical material to insure Extra Class applicants can successfully fill out an application for a so-called “exclusive” call sign. Quite frankly, I believe our Question Pool Committee would be very hard-pressed to even come up with 50 unique questions that are specifically related to the two additional operational privileges our Extra Class license now grants.

    Yet, as I’ve said, under our arcane FCC “incentive licensing” farce, those are the ONLY TWO added operational privileges an Extra Class license grants to those who successfully complete such irrelevant tests.

    And, as I’ve also shown by citing just TWO questions from the current Extra Class exam pool, there remains a glaring (and I say blatantly illegal) disconnect between the content and the comprehensiveness of the questions on our exams (particularly those for an Extra Class license) and the (meager) additional (predominantly frequency-access-based) privileges they grant.

    Sadly, for FAR too many crusty curmudgeons in our ranks, it has now become an inconvenient truth that new US federal equal access laws (which the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act are two among many) that now require that EVERYONE be given an equal opportunity for full, “barrier free” access to public services and resources like the Amateur Radio Service. Clearly, such laws are now threatening to break up their horrifically entrenched, government protected, members only “Country Club”.

    Now, certainly, complying with these new laws does NOT mean there should no longer be any licensing or control of that access to our Service. To the contrary, the ITU rules very clearly state that applicants who wish to operate in our Service are to be both tested AND licensed.

    But, what this DOES mean is that, in order to be in full compliance with US equal access law, federal agencies like the FCC can no longer arbitrarily place regulatory barriers in front of people seeking full and complete access to federally administered programs like Amateur Radio without just cause. That also means that the content and comprehensiveness of our exams need to be DIRECTLY tied to some very specific operational needs.

    Right now (and as I have very clearly shown with just two questions from the exam pool for the Extra Class license) they clearly aren’t. Quite frankly, I seriously doubt whether our hard-working Question Pool Committee could even come up with 50 UNIQUE questions that relate SPECIFICALLY to the meager additional operational privileges our Extra Class license now grants.

    It is also important to remember that no person needs to specifically prove they’ve been discriminated against in order for a federal agency to be found guilty of systemic discrimination under these laws. All that’s necessary is that it can be reasonably shown in a court of law that a SYSTEM of such discrimination exists in that federal agency (in this case the FCC’s licensing requirements for our Service) just as I have clearly and unequivocally done in the paragraphs above.

    I’ve always found it sad that, everywhere else in the world; governments have left it up to we Hams to decide which operating mode goes where on our bands. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the organization that governs all radio services internationally, has set out broad (VERY broad) frequency allocations for our Service…usually consisting of only an upper and lower band limit and a specified bandwidth for the emissions to be conducted therein.

    It is only in the United States that those broad limits have been further restricted by license class and operating mode in our Part 97. And that is because the FCC, back in the 1950s and 60s, decided to base differences in our license classes (and the incentive for us to upgrade) on ego-stroking “exclusivity” (i.e access to so-called “exclusive” operating frequencies and modes) rather than on specific operational considerations such as limits on power output, constructing transmitters “from scratch”, operating a repeater or club station, or giving exams.

    And, as I have also said, simply “stroking egos” no longer cuts it as a valid (spelled: “legal”) reason for a US Government agency to grant full privileges to one class of licensees in our Service while arbitrarily and capriciously withholding them from another.

    Indeed, such differentiation can no longer be legally based on applicants being forced to correctly answer exam questions that are duplicative, irrelevant and/or unrelated to the SPECIFIC additional operating privileges such new licenses will grant.


    By contrast, and unlike the “ego-based” tests proscribed for applicants to our Service in the USA, the Canadian license system for our Service ties the successful completion of THEIR advanced test to specific operational needs. In exchange for successfully passing it, Canadian hams are given just a very small number of very specific additional privileges that are far more commensurate with the technical material examined. These include being able to build transmitters “from scratch”, run a KW of power (vice 250 Watts), be the licensee of a club or repeater station, and give exams.

    Clearly, the latter pursuits involve a great deal more potential risk of physical harm to either one’s self or to others (running high power) if you don’t know what you are doing, or are activities with much greater probabilities of causing harmful interference to others on the Ham bands or other services (building transmitters from scratch or running a club station or a repeater). ALL of those activities absolutely require a modicum of additional technical knowledge to perform safely and without interfering with other operators or other Services.

    And, because the Canadian test criteria are largely based on such clearly delineated operational and safety needs (rather than on simply granting Extra Class operators “exclusive” access to artificially walled-off frequency spectrum that General Class operators ALREADY have demonstrated they are qualified to operate in) they are far less prone to charges of systemic discrimination than the US testing structure.

    What’s more, in Canada, those Amateurs with a Basic With Honours Certificate (granted by scoring 80 percent on a 100-question exam) can operate ANYWHERE within the upper and lower limits of ALL of our internationally allocated Amateur Bands. The only frequency restrictions such Basic Certificate holders have are by emission BANDWIDTH, NOT by license class or operating mode. And, usually, for HF, that bandwidth limit is set at 6 KHz (except for 30 Meters where it is set at 1 KHz).

    Or, to put it another way, the only operational restrictions place on Basic Certificate holders in Canada is that short “laundry list” of limitations I’ve outlined above which are reserved exclusively for Advanced Certificate holders. And their Advanced Exam covers ONLY that material that is DIRECTLY related to the specific additional privileges their Advanced Certificate grants.

    What’s more, Canada (like most other countries in the world) leaves it up to its Hams to decide for themselves “what goes where” on our bands. And their exam structures are usually based solely on safety and operational considerations rather than on needlessly (and illegally) “stroking egos”.


    KB1SF / VA3KSF


    January 18, 2010 at 1:48 am

    • I get all the above. In essence, the Amateur Radio exams go far beyond what is actually needed to operate Ham Radio and to operate safely.

      I agree. I also get it that the ARRL is trying to go beyond the absolute bare minimum hoping that Amateur Radio operators could possess a knowlege more than what can drag them out the sea and allow them to walk on two legs.

      I know that some people think that “average” or “just getting by” is good enough. That is, if a grade of D- in grammar school or high school is “good enough” to pass then that that is OK.

      Who would be proud to show a report card with straight D- grades? The are not F’s (Failure). But straight D’s would represent the bare minimum needed to pass. Is that embarassing?

      I heard about a person in community college who asked the teacher what he had to do to pass the class. The response was that if you “show up” for class that at least would get you a D. That is all this person did.

      So who wants to be average? I suppose many people do want to be (just) average. But, I think the incentive licensing system is the corrective (or response) to everyong being “just average” by doing the absolute bare minimum to get an amateur radio license.

      As we saw in the QRZ discussion boards, the ARRL Arizona Division is helping people pass the exam by having them memorize the answers. Forget about any learning. What is that all about?

      There are people who only want to get by. What you have written above is perfect for them.

      On the first page of the first chapter of Sarah Palins book “Going Rogue” she quotes Lou Holtz

      “I don’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary”

      I think the ARRL agrees – as demonstrated by the Incentive Licensing System and the explicit “Class Structure” – that average is not good enough.

      Why be average… when you could be remarkable?


      January 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm

      • Certainly, one should strive to be all they can be. But is a federally-funded, taxpayer supported federal REGULATORY agency really the place for it?

        What’s more, your staunch defense of “Incentive Licensing” begs the obvious question as to where else is “achievement” and “commitment” made a hard and fast basis for a full-featured state or federal license grant?

        You’ve neglected to note that Sara Palin’s OTHER mantra is to get the US Government out of our lives. So is it REALLY the US Government’s job to force “achievement’ down people’s throats by stroking their egos? And haven’t you ever wondered why most other federal and state operator license grants simply measure basic competencies rather than “achievement” as our US amateur radio exams do?

        I think it is also important to remember that the FCC is NOT a public or private, degree granting “university”! It never has been. Rather, the FCC is US Government, taxpayer supported REGULATORY agency. And their sole regulatory purpose in testing and licensing us is to simply determine our fitness to safely and courteously OPERATE on the public airwaves in the Amateur Radio Service. Period.

        Indeed, I’ve often wondered why I didn’t have to know the intricate details of how the wings, tail and fuselage structures of my private aircraft were manufactured in order for me to obtain my FAA Private Pilot’s license to fly one. And I daresay operation of a private aircraft presents a far more serious risk to life and limb than anything I have ever done with my amateur radio station.

        And why was it that I didn’t have to demonstrate an in-depth working knowledge of how the windshield wipers, fuel pump and injectors as well as the electrical system in my private automobile worked in order for me to be able to obtain a license to drive my car farther away from home, for example?

        Has anyone ever heard of an “Extra Class” driver’s license to drive a private automobile?

        Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Indeed, it’s about as absurd as having to obtain an Extra Class ham license in order to operate my private radio station in artificially walled-off portions of our HF frequencies that require operational knowledges and skills that, as I have already shown, are virtually IDENTICAL to those granted to General Class license holders.

        So, once again, ALL I’m advocating here is that the content and comprehensiveness of our US amateur radio exam structure match the various privileges it grants.

        Right now, it very clearly doesn’t.

        Now, this is not to say that all of our tests are “too comprehensive”. I’m simply saying that the content and comprehensiveness of the exams DO NOT MATCH the privileges granted for successfully completing them.

        For example, in its present form, I contend the exam for our Technician license is NOT comprehensive ENOUGH. It routinely grants high power and “from scratch” transmitter and amplifier construction privileges to people who have not (yet) demonstrated they have enough knowledge and/or experience to know how to do those things safely, courteously and without also causing harmful interference to other hams or other services.

        On the other hand, our Extra Class exam goes well beyond what the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (not to mention common sense) dictates is needed for someone to operate his or her station in such a safe and courteous manner. As a result, THAT license class (and indeed the Advanced Class as well) serves NO useful regulatory purpose under the ITU rules…the international rules that serve as the ultimate authority for our Part 97.

        That’s because, as I have said, such higher-class licenses in our Service in the United States simply grant “exclusive” access to artificially walled-off frequency spectrum (as well as high power construction and operating activities) that have supposedly ALREADY been examined on our General Class exam. How can that be anything BUT blatantly and legally discriminatory?

        Honestly, does it REALLY require a working knowledge of a 600-page license manual (and the successful completion of a 50-question written examination) in order to safely and courteously operate one’s amateur station at 14.024 MHz rather than at 14.026 MHz? What’s so fundamentally different about those two activities that it requires all that “extra” knowledge?

        As I see it, the glaringly apparent legal disconnect in our current licensing system in the USA is that those operating privileges that have been specifically reserved for higher-class licenses (i.e. those privileges that have been artificially withheld from today’s Technicians, Generals and Advanced Class licensees) bear absolutely NO relationship to their potential to cause serious harm to ourselves or others, or to cause harmful interference to other hams (or other services).

        Those people who know me also know that I’ve lived and worked in a number of other countries in the world and that I currently hold amateur licenses in three of them. And while many countries around the world DO have multi-tiered licensing systems like ours, most are based on safety and non-interference considerations rather than relying on ego-stroking “incentives” to induce “pseudo-education” as ours does.

        Indeed, it is precisely those operational and safety considerations that most other counties on the planet use to differentiate one license class from another in their amateur services. As a result, THEIR competency considerations, rather than on simple, open-ended educational “achievement” as ours in the USA are.

        As I have also discussed, Canada’s simple, two-tiered license system withholds specific operational privileges from their lower-class licensees based on criteria that revolve around such operational needs, as well as safety and non-interference considerations.

        For example, the current Canadian “Basic” exam (the exam for their lowest class certificate) is equivalent in content and comprehensiveness to our Technician and General Class exams put together. Once applicants pass that pretty comprehensive (100 questions!) exam with a score of 80 percent or better, Canadian hams are then allowed to operate anywhere on our bands with that one Basic, “issued for life” license.

        The kicker, however, is that these so-called “Basic with Honours” Certificate holders, are still restricted to running only 250 watts of power or less. They also cannot hold the license of a repeater or club station, construct non-kit built transmitting equipment “from scratch”, or give exams.

        Indeed, unlike our US exam structure…which allows even “wet-behind-the-ears” Technicians to do all these inherently more risky things from day one…under the Canadian system each of the latter privileges are specifically reserved for those who successfully pass yet another, far more technically comprehensive, 50 question, “Advanced” exam.

        But, unlike our Extra Class exam, the Canadian Advanced exam is still not a broad, education-based “achievement test”. That is, it’s not a test of “knowledge for knowledge’s sake…something that is more appropriate for a college or university degree program.

        Maybe that’s because Industry Canada believes that such “education” is a private matter best left up to we hams to decide for ourselves how much (or how little) we want of it. Industry Canada also leaves it up to we hams to decide for ourselves “what goes where” on our bands. That’s because, in Canada, (like most everywhere else on the planet) hams are routinely regulated by maximum emission BANDWIDTH rather than by license class and emission mode as we are in the United States.

        So, in that sense, Industry Canada well recognizes that a ham license is simply a lifetime “license to learn” after candidates demonstrate the requisite MINIMUM set of skills and knowledges required to keep both themselves and their neighbors safe and their signals from causing harmful interference with the privileges granted. The Canadian government also well realizes that our hobby offers a lifetime of learning and that it makes absolutely NO sense to put the “final exams” at the beginning of that learning process, let alone as a hard and fast prerequisite for full access to our internationally allocated frequencies..

        That is, like most other amateur radio licensing structures in the world, Canada does not maintain a largely backward-looking, “achievement-based” system of Boy Scout “Merit Badges” obtained only after completing an irrelevant series of ever more difficult “hazing rituals” over relatively meaningless information. I say “meaningless” because most people who take our US Extra Class exam at the start of their amateur radio “careers” cannot (and therefore, do not) yet possess the requisite “hands on” learning that only comes with years of on-air experience.

        As a result, the Canadian Advanced test covers only that technical and other material that is specifically related to that small handful of added (primarily operational) privileges granted exclusively to Advanced Certificate holders. This makes BOTH the Canadian Basic and Advanced exams FAR more legally supportable as valid examination and licensing tools under Canada’s equal access statutes because they are directly tied to specific operational and safety needs.

        This also means that, for Canadian hams, a so-called “Basic with Honours” Certificate (granted by a mark of 80 percent or more on the Basic exam) offers all the mainstream privileges most people will ever need or want in our Service. So, it should come as no surprise that most Canadian hams hold just a Basic Certificate in one form or another.

        Usually, the only people who feel the need to take the test for an Advanced Certificate in Canada are those who want to do that very small handful of very specific and far more potentially hazardous, interference-prone, or legally contentious things in our Service. In short, obtaining an advanced license in our Service in Canada it’s not an “ego stroking” thing, but, rather, a “need” thing.

        This may also help explain why all of our “badge of honor” and “my license is better than your license” snobbery that still seems to run rampant in our Service in the USA is (refreshingly) absent in Canada, and indeed, in most other Amateur Services throughout the rest of the world.


        KB1SF / VA3KSF / IV3KBU


        June 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  3. I started the QRZ thread because if one assumes the purpose of a test is to verify knowledge, then the direction by the ARRL official subverts that purpose. Taking that logic a step farther, the organization which meets with the FCC to get direction on testing for the volunteer examiners (NCVEC) is well aware this subversion is going on and makes no attempt to fix it. So in truth Amateur Radio has the “illusion” of basic competence testing.

    While I agree with the FCC on their purpose for the test, they have abdicated responsibility for testing to the examiners. The examiners could close this loophole and make the test a real representation of comprehension of the test material. Nothing in the Freedom of Information act requires the publishing of the CORRECT answer, just the pool of questions and answers as the FAA does. Change to the question pool more frequently and not publishing the answers would do much to stop the subversion of the testing process. If pools changed often, it would stymie those that would seek to interview recent tested amateurs and publish the answers based on the interviews.

    The problem here is the NCVEC would have to lead the way, and they show no concern for this issue. My opinion is that the NCVEC feels that the “illusion” of competency testing adequately straddles the fence between lessening FCC requirement and the expectation of older amateurs that the test cover technical material that may not be relevant with today’s Ham Radio.

    Personally I would rather a test more directed at what potential amateurs really need to know like more safety, more rules, more operating related questions, and theory based on current need. Of course I would not want the answers published ahead of time. It might cut down on the operation out of band, bad operating technique, operating outside of privileges, and use of CB related colloquial terms.

    Presently the testing scenario is a pothole at the entrance to Amateur Radio that everyone seems more content in driving around than fixing. The original post on QRZ attempted to spark discussion on this issue, especially the “wink wink” attitude of some ARRL officials and VEs toward the test. Discounting the dynamics of reflector debates, it has been a good discussion albeit discussion isn’t action.

    The ARRL as the self proclaimed representative of Amateur Radio would be expected to prompt the NCVEC to do the right thing. The fact that the subject of the original post on QRZ feels comfortable saying what he did shows they are complicit with the testing woes and not inclined to represent us for the changes necessary to make the testing process honest. As an ARRL member, I find this regrettable.

    More disturbing are the numbers of amateurs who defend the current “illusion” of testing. My opinion is that so many have gotten licenses using the answer association method that to fight for an honest test would negate their own method of passing the test. For this purpose it is more incumbent on the NCVEC and the ARRL to address this issue as supposed “non-partisans” in the debate.

    I acknowledge that this does not appear to be a simple issue. My interest is not maintaining snobbery but in honesty. I expect an honest test to measure an applicant’s knowledge based on a the study material in order to validate that candidate’s readiness to be a Ham. Let the NCVEC define the test, and whatever it is, let them put practices in place that ensure honest evaluation. The rest is just smoke screen.


    July 13, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    • The Arizona ARRL Section Manager is Tom Fagan K7DF. A few days ago I sent him e-mail asking his opinion on this – or better, what is the official AZ ARRL section postion on this. It would be interesting to see how this goes up the chain to the ARRL Divsion and then the ARRL President

      This is the repsonse from Tom. I think we should stick with this and follow it up the ARRL and see what kind of an official answer we get from the ARRL President and then seee how this flows down the line to the ARRL Divisions and Sections.

      From an organizational perspective, it seems sub-optimal for a organization like the ARRL to have mixed messages coming out the the ARRL Sections. That is, every ARRL section making things up as they go. Any (and every) organization should have a consistent message cascaded downward.

      For the ARRL sections to be out of alignment with the “official” position from the national ARRL would cause confusion and would not reflect well on the ARRL. It should not be “anything goes” by the ARRL Divisions or ARRL sections.

      The ARRL needs good leaders at these lower levels to properly communicate the national message. And then, most importantly, back it up with practical demontration on how they prepare individuals for the test – which then touches on Rick Paquette W7RAP who wrote the Presentation that is now under discussion.

      Talk is cheap; lets see it in action with a new presentation from Rick Paquette W7RAP on “How to pass Exams”.



      From: This sender is DomainKeys verified “Tom Fagan”

      I did not know about the QRZ discussion. Thanks for letting me know about this. Rick is my Section VEC.

      Tom Fagan K7DF
      ARRL Section Manager Arizona

      From: ke9zm
      Sent: Friday, July 10, 2009 5:50:12 AM
      Subject: ARRL AZ Section discussed in QRZ – What is the official AZ ARRL Positon on this


      There is a discussion in the open forums in QRZ.COM regarding the ARRL Arizona Section which you are Section Manager.

      This discussion created (last I looked) nearly 1,000 replies. This issue was a Presentation from your ARRL section recommending that hams memorize the answers to the Ham exams to pass the test. (Implying that one not necessarily have to understand the material)

      I was wondering if you have an official statement regarding this.

      Gary / ke9zm

      From QRZ

      ARRL Official says memorize only the answers

      ( )

      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


      July 13, 2009 at 6:29 pm

  4. I’m reminded of a letter in QST a few years ago. The writer was insistent that the FCC licensing process was there to “pose challenges” to people. He was furious over the recent changes to the licensing structure. The process was there “to give him a challenge.”

    I don’t begrudge people who need an external stimulus, structure or framework to get them going, but the FCC is not the right agency to do that. I would bet that ham goes out and chases certificates and that is fine.

    But I would also bet that the same curiosity FRRL cites as a justification for testing (and BTW, like Keith I do want continued testing) is the same curiosity that self-directs many experimenters.

    Let me say that again: Experimenters.

    The real old timers whom we pay respect to in amateur radio, HPM and Collins, didn’t come of age during Incentive Licensing. The idea that the FCC should just test for safety and regulatory purposes is not new! The early pre-war tests for radio experimenters were much less rigourous than even today’s tests.

    Our situation now will never be solved by reinstituting 50WPM CW and 5000-question 10-tier license structure (to make the reductio ad absurdium).

    We’re what we are because technology has passed us. We are no longer the sole source of interesting, culture-changing, things anymore. There are many things to be curious about and many avenues to satisfy such curiosity.

    Most if not all of them don’t require the Extra exam. Many do require tests, and research projects and other challenges, but these are internally logical to whatever field one chooses to enter. Many new fields don’t have formal licensing: One just goes out and does something!

    The gentleman from QST implies that this should not be so for amateur radio, that any testing and licensing regime should pose “challenges” without any context or logic to them.

    There is a term for this. Make-work.

    And a term for people who want the government to give them a boon–our spectrum resources–for make-work: Welfare.

    David Moisan, N1KGH

    July 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    • I’m reminded of a letter in QST a few years ago. The writer was insistent that the FCC licensing process was there to “pose challenges” to people. He was furious over the recent changes to the licensing structure. The process was there “to give him a challenge.”

      I think that people who are truly interested in radio or electronics will be self-motivated and Ham Radio, licenses, and all that would be peripheral to a self-directed interest. Certainly “hard core” people are going to go to college or pursue some degree in electronics/radio and take it far beyond a hobby. Someone with a real curiosity is not going to need any external driver to motivate them to learn as much as they can.

      We’re what we are because technology has passed us. We are no longer the sole source of interesting, culture-changing, things anymore. There are many things to be curious about and many avenues to satisfy such curiosity.

      Most if not all of them don’t require the Extra exam. Many do require tests, and research projects and other challenges, but these are internally logical to whatever field one chooses to enter. Many new fields don’t have formal licensing: One just goes out and does something!

      Here is where I see this approach of “memorizing the answers” doing some real fundamental damage. With the speed of cultural change including technology one has to “learn how to learn”. If anyone is seduced with the idea that “memorizing the answers” to a test is a way to achievement – then this puts people seduced on a path of failure. You have deprived a person an opportunity to exercise a basic skill (the ability to learn) which is a skill one will need to use over a lifetime.

      The gentleman from QST implies that this should not be so for amateur radio, that any testing and licensing regime should pose “challenges” without any context or logic to them.

      There is a term for this. Make-work.

      And a term for people who want the government to give them a boon–our spectrum resources–for make-work: Welfare.

      The only reason I can see for “make-work” is as a gatekeeper. I know it’s an unpopular idea but the (Morse) code requirement was a “make-work” gatekeeper.

      On a local repeater in Chicago, a guy that I talk to went from Tech to Extra (with code) in about 4 weeks. I asked him why this rapid advancement. He told me “I wanted to show people I was serious about Ham Radio”

      So, “show me you’re serious about this hobby” – could be the answer to “Why do we have the code requirement”. Well, there is no more gatekeeper and demonstrations of “I’m serious and willing to demonstrate it” – is now gone.

      There is the possibility that if the hobby is filled with “CB-types” – sensible people will flee.


      July 6, 2009 at 2:11 am

  5. You’re defining my direction.

    Scot, KA3DRR


    July 5, 2009 at 3:05 pm

  6. So, if these big-wigs are teaching folks how to “beat the test” then I would assume their prospective ham students aren’t that interested in the radio science.

    So, what are they interested in ? For casual, instant gratification there are cell phones, skype, Internet forums, etc. even 2m repeaters.

    HF QSOs are DX. But they take some patience. I turned off some Boy Scouts over Field Day because the interval between 6m QSOs was uncomfortably long. Oh well.

    There seemed (where I live) to be a great interest in licensing folks to help with Fair Parades, Bike Rides, etc. Then after 9/11, there was a push to license all kinds of police men, “responders”, etc.

    There has always been a good deal of cross-breeding between storm chasers and ham operators.

    When my dad was a ham, (before the hobby computer scene) Ham radio was the traditional “everybody does it” hobby of electrical engineers.

    I don’t there is a strong correlation anymore.



    July 4, 2009 at 9:41 pm

  7. Wow ! That’s quite an article. I hadn’t followed the original thread(s) on QRZ.

    I hadn’t considered before the “snobbery” involved in randomly cutting up the bands into specific license class segments.

    I didn’t really consider the tech and general (and I assume Extra) exams to be there to “teach” anything. I just thought of them as historical barriers to keep “the crazies” out.

    I have an EE degree and I would say that a mastery of complex math (not to mean difficult but to contain the quantity “i”) and impedances would reflect on a 2nd or 3rd year student.

    You mention about hearing a lot of “how do I build a dipole” discussion. Hopefully these folks aren’t following through on kilowatt amps and microwave stations. I’m guessing if they did get that ambitious they bought it. AO-40 backlash against the shorter wavelengths proves what we’re not doing in amateur radio.



    July 4, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    • There is really no snobbery in cutting up the bands and having incentive licensing.

      It’s a change in the culture that we should all be equal and if someone has more than someone else we need to equalize that. The fact is simply that we are not all equal in skills, athletic ability, intellectual ability and so on. So, there will always be different levels of achievement – across sports, artistic ability, intellectual achievement, musical ability, and so on.

      The FCC/ARRL just leveraged on that difference in ability to create the license classes. So, based on ability and commitment, people get “stuck” in the progression of amateur radio license classes – maybe you end up a General.

      Now someone else who is a Extra is a “snob” or “elitist”. Why can’t people accept that people have different achievement levels and accept the fact that, at some point, someone is going to get left behind on the road from Tech to Extra. Why demonize people for committeemen and achievement?


      July 6, 2009 at 2:04 am

      • FRRL wrote: ” Why demonize people for commitment and achievement?”

        Unfortunately you (like many others in our Service) are equating “achievement” with “licensing”. I say the two concepts are quite distinct.

        Clearly, there is absolutely nothing wrong if someone wants to “achieve” something as a result of their experiences in ham radio.

        But, once again, I and others here are simply pointing out that a taxpayer supported, federally administered LICENSING system is not the way to do it. Moreover, I’m saying that what the FCC has been doing all these years by forcing “achievement” down EVERYONE’S throat with their stupid “Incentive Licencing” nonsense has since become systemically discriminatory under current US law, and is therefore quite illegal.

        Indeed, the ARRL and other similar organizations have a boatload of awards one can strive for and “achieve” for those persons who need some external incentive to do so. Likewise, numerous “achievement” awards are also available for those who want yet another piece of paper to hang on their shack walls to show others how great they are.

        But those “incentives” have absolutely no place in a licensing system.

        Or, to put it another way, an FCC license in our Service is NOT a “diploma”. And the federal government has absolutely NO business continually peddling it as such, particularly in this supposedly “enlightened” age of equal access for all.

        Rather, our licenses should be thought of as nothing more than a “permission slip”…a “license to learn” if you will…that simply shows the holder has proven to the appropriate government agency that they have demonstrated the necessary set of knowledge and skills that will keep themselves and others safe without also causing harmful interference to other hams or other services with the (added) privileges granted.


        If people want (or need) some external document to show they have “achieved” some level of technical or other knowledge, that can (and should) be a pursuit that is undertaken OUTSIDE of the licensing system and NOT as an integral part of it.


        KB1SF / VA3KSF


        February 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm

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