A Short History Of US Amateur Radio License Fees

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by N2EY, Aug 29, 2020.

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  1. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    The FCC proposal to require license fees has started several threads in various forums, along with the usual lack of historical perspective.

    So, here's a short history of US Amateur Radio License fees (not VE test fees). The following is based on QST articles from the time periods listed.

    In all cases, the ARRL strongly opposed the fees. Sometimes the opposition was effective, sometimes it wasn't.

    In 1933, the FRC (predecessor of the FCC) proposed a fee of $5 ($100.17 in 2019 dollars) for amateur operator licenses. In those days operator license terms were 3 years. This proposal was strongly opposed and was not enacted.

    In 1954, the FCC proposed a fee of $3 ($28.93 in 2019 dollars) for amateur licenses. In those days, and until the early 1980s, license terms were 5 years. This proposal was strongly opposed and was not enacted.

    In the early 1960s the FCC again proposed fees for amateur licenses, and this time the proposal was enacted despite the opposition. The original effective date of January 1, 1964 was delayed a few months by a legal challenge, but by mid-March, 1964 the following fees were enacted:

    New or renewed license: $4 ($33.45 in 2019 dollars)
    Modified license: $2 ($16.72)
    Special callsign: $20 ($167.25)

    Novice and RACES licenses remained free.

    Effective August 1, 1970, the FCC raised the above fees for amateur licenses to the following:

    New or renewed license: $9 ($60.09 in 2019 dollars)
    Modified license: $4 ($26.71)
    Special callsign: $25 ($166.92)

    Novice and RACES licenses remained free.

    Effective March 1, 1975, the FCC lowered the above fees for amateur licenses to the following:

    New or renewed license: $4 ($19.27 in 2019 dollars)
    Modified license: $3 ($14.46)
    Duplicate license: $2 ($9.64)
    Special callsign: $25 ($120.46)

    Novice and RACES licenses remained free.

    Finally, effective January 1, 1977, FCC dropped all fees for amateur licenses. From then until now, all US amateur licenses have been free.

    VE testing fees are set by the VECs, and go to pay the costs of conducting the test sessions - space rental, duplication, postage, etc. The FCC sets a maximum fee, but VECs can set the fees lower, or waive them entirely.

    Modern vanity-call fees have varied over time - someone else can write their history.

    In the above schedule of fees, a "new or renewed license" included the fee for taking the tests, pass or fail, for a new license or a license upgrade. A "modified" license meant a change of address or name, but not a license upgrade.

    Special callsigns in those days followed different rules than today, but there were specific cases where an amateur could get a callsign that wasn't sequentially issued. The special-callsign fee was a one-time charge.

    All 2019-equivalent prices are from the Westegg Inflation Calculator:


    It is left to the reader to figure the per-year cost of the above fees.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
    WA4KCN, AB1YW, KD9AMN and 9 others like this.
  2. WU6X

    WU6X Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Excellent Jim ... Tnx for the history lesson.
    73, Dennis WU6X
    N2EY likes this.
  3. KO4GQP

    KO4GQP Ham Member QRZ Page

    In today’s news; Government has always tried to find new ways to tax its citizens.

    What this new tax and the revenue it generates will be spent on has not been made clear. Unless I missed that somewhere in the discussion.
    N3HOE likes this.
  4. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you had plotted this on a timeline, you would see a steady and steep decline over the 50 year period from 1970 to 2020 for the cost of a Part 97 license.

    If you then plot that against the number of Part 97 licensees over the same period, you will see an inverse correlation between number of licensees and the cost for a license.

    That is prima facie evidence that invoking a $50 fee for a license will have a step and dramatic negative impact on the future number of Part 97 licensees.
    WD9ALO, AB6Z, AA4TG and 2 others like this.
  5. W7IMM

    W7IMM Ham Member QRZ Page

    In reality, a "FEE" is not a "TAX" and conversely, a "TAX" is generally NOT a "FEE".

    Fees are usually charged to recover administrative costs to provide a service.....but Fees only burden the actual user of the service. And the user always has the choice to not use the "service"

    If NO FEES are charged for a privilege, then all taxpayers pay for it via the general fund (and then of course, the people who don't use this service are still paying for it but receiving NO benefit from it)

    I do not think that the taxpayers should be paying for us to have this license which does have an administrative cost at the federal level....... (not counting the costs for testing which is now assumed by VE's and then passed to the applicant) )

    It's not clear what the cost should be but it shouldn't be zero.

    IMHO, NONE of us deserve this federally issued (Hobby) license for no charge whatsoever.
    WX7LL, KG4ILV, W4MKC and 8 others like this.
  6. KE0VT

    KE0VT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I agree with WA6III. I came into the hobby in 1977, have never paid any fees including for my just issued vanity call. If it had been $50 I would have paid it and thought no more. If the extra costs $50 I will
    pay it also without complaint. However, I will try to beat the deadline.

    Every hobby costs something, motorcycling cost over $20K plus and on going like fuel, food while traveling, etc. In comparison hamming is inexpensive, BIG GUNS excepted. A complete new station
    about $3500., (mine). Modest set-up and attic antennas. You can get on the air for $600 with a decent used station and wire antenna(s).

    I have been off of HF for 18 years and am glad to be back on, lousy conditions and all.

    Even testing is free with some VE's. ARRL sponsored is about $15. Many are saying that if they get a paper license it should be on nice paper and framed for the $50. The "nice" paper was called basketweave
    safety paper and it is no longer manufactured. Just download the license, have it laminated and stick it in your pocket. Get a "nice" piece of paper and buy a frame for yourself maybe $30 total for the shack.

    If someone wants to join our fraternity it is worth the $50 don't you think? Test for all 3 grades then send in the extra paper work and voila' $50. Plus $50 if you want a vanity call. Total $100, still worth it for
    all the fun and enjoyment. Also,$100 or $200 is only several nights dining out at a nice restaurant.

    Bottom line. STOP whining. 73
    G4DWV, N0DIM, KR3DX and 4 others like this.
  7. KE0HTG

    KE0HTG Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    interesting argument but we do provide a national service in times of emergency to all tax payers and non tax payers, and you are right there is only about one million of us so why should everyone else have to pay and that should be implemented not just in the fcc but across the board in every state and county. Example , I have no children or none in school why on earth are you paying that school tax every year , I only use gas for my mower why would you pay the tax on the gas , you have never called 911 why would you pay for that, you dont go to the doctor why pay for other peoples medical care the list goes on, so thanks great idea you have saved every ham thousands a year by just spending 50.00 :) :)
    KF7PCL, K9GVT, NO7E and 1 other person like this.
  8. W7IMM

    W7IMM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Your arguments concerning other taxes don't really apply to a hobby service.

    There's of course, a LOT of controversy on that very subject.

    While Amateur Radio might have provided some EC capability in the past, it's sadly not really there today even though some would like to think it is. Most govt emergency groups can pretty much do without "us" and when asked privately, they'll tell you in no uncertain terms that they don't want any help from "amateurs"
    KR3DX, K5DC and AE8W like this.
  9. W0AQ

    W0AQ XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Short history is always fun.
    N2EY likes this.
  10. W0ARM

    W0ARM XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    My take is: This opens the door to ever-increasing monetary intervention and government bureaucracy. It's just how the Big Gov works...

    First, the $50 per license term is implemented. Maybe they charge that only upon a renewal, or maybe charge for everyone: new applications as well as renewals. Of course, now that they have added the new "fee" into the bureaucracy, a new means of managing [all] those fees will be needed. Thus, it will be necessary hire additional staff, and a new department will be created to oversee and "manage" the new fees (and the new staff/department). In a relatively short period of time, the "new" department staff will be over-worked (read that as "understaffed"), which means: more staff will be needed, and of course, added. The fee structure will, of course, not be enough to support the ever-growing bureaucratic department, staff and work-load, so additional revenues will be needed, thus forcing an increase in the "fee". Perhaps they should make renewals every five years now? Or maybe an annual renewal (sort of like a car registration) would be best? Or, just increase the fee to $75 or $100 for applications and renewals. Want to get a vanity call-sign? Well, that's now gonna cost you $125. Need to change and address or add a new name, that'll be $35... and on, and on. Where does it end?

    Once the "fee" is there; once they have their "foot in the door", you're allowing the the uncontrolled growth of an un-elected bunch of bureaucrats to "manage" amateur radio licensing, and the cost to manage it will just keep increasing and increasing. It's the one thing that government does best.

    I would near GUARANTEE that the FCC does not currently spend $5 a year (per licensee) with the current system, particularly given that nearly everything is (or can be) done on-line.

    Call it a fee, call it a tax... It's really a distinction without a difference. Obama care wasn't a tax either, right?

    Let's not allow the door to even opened, especially if we ever want this hobby to continue, and bring in new, younger operators.

    Lastly, the idea is to give the Government LESS, not more.

    That's my 2-cents.
    KO4RCD, WZ7U, KG4ILV and 9 others like this.

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