Incentive Licensing Retrospective

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by K3UD, Dec 21, 2005.

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  1. W6FYK

    W6FYK Ham Member QRZ Page

    N5UV you are 100% correct.
    Change is just change.
    BTW this thread is a waste of space.
    2 months or so and it will be the law.
    I hope all the people who said "i won't talk to General-lites" do not talk with me.
    I consider the source.
    Happy Holidays.
  2. K5RKS

    K5RKS Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't know if incentive licensing was good or not. Actually, I think the answer is academic.

    Any changes -- good or bad -- in ham radio are swamped out by changes in society. Here is my story:

    I started out as a novice as a kid in high school in 1958. To stay on the air you had to pass your General within 12 months since the Novice only was good for a year and was not renewable.

    I flunked the 13WPM test at the age of 17 once when I went to the Federal Building in Downtown Los Angeles. I still remember that "mean old" FCC field engineer -- Bernie Lindon -- giving me the test and telling to practice some more and then come back. Well, I did practice with a bunch of my buddies who were also Novices or recent Generals. I came back and passed.

    I'll tell you this was -- and to this day still is -- one of the dozen highlights of my life. Given where I was in life at the time it to me was an "accomplishment".

    I still remember the day at the San Francisco FCC office in the old Customs House on Battery Street taking the 20WPM code test and passing it for the Extra test. This was in 1983. A bunch of guys who, like myself, were engineers at the IBM Silicon Valley lab studied the code during lunch time for about two months. We all had either Advanced or General tickets. We all took a Wednesday off and went up to San Francisco on the train and we all passed the Extra.

    Ham radio helped me quite a bit as a kid. It got me interested in radio and led to me going to engineering school and getting my BSEE. It lead to me getting a flunky job during college working for an FM station where I learned more about radio and got my 1st class commercial ticket. It lead to a career in engineering which over time moved into software development.

    I agree that ham radio has lost it cachet with employers. Just before I left Silicon Valley I worked as a software engineering consultant. Most of my clients could care less that I was a ham. When I brought in my QSL card they were curious as to what ham radio was.

    For me at least incentive licensing worked. I busted my fanny to pass that General. I studied to be able to pass that 20WPM code test for the Extra.

    I still enjoy ham radio today because it means something to me. It is still a challenge. It has a historical context of relevance for me.

    Now that I am retired I've started chasing DX. Zest in life means doing things which stretch you. When those guys show up on Peter I Island in Feburary I'll be in the pileups.

    Ham radio is dying. How else do you explain that fact that the median age of all hams in the USA is over 50. Could it be that the "challenge" is gone?

    With the ham radio I knew (and know) there is no such thing as "instant gratification". It took me a long time to be able to afford a tower with decent antennas. I had to jump through hoops with CC&Rs and building codes.

    Ham radio popularity is definately on a downward sprial. However, I don't think the hobby has significantly changed. I don't think the change is function of incentive licensing, or having the tests given by volunteer examiners rather than the FCC, or removing CW requirements or having hi-tech rigs that we can't work on. All that stuff only effects the popularity of ham radio at the margin.

    No doubt there have been changes in ham radio since 1958 when I got in this hobby. However, an even bigger change is the change is society. For many if something takes "work" it is not worth pursuing.

    I don't think ham radio has to appeal to the masses to have relevance. I am not expecting the ARRL or anybody else to turn this around -- as if it were possible.

    I don't think the ARRL or the FCC is going to have a significant effect on the number of hams in the year 2040, 2060, 2080, or 2100. There are bigger forces at work. Specifically, I don't think tinkering with the licensing requirements will have much bearing on the ham population.

    73 Roger K5RKS
  3. N3JBH

    N3JBH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just blame it all on the No Code tech’s. Heck the majority has.
    If it is an unpopular opinion blame the tech’s. And if was a great idea.
    Well congratulate an Extra. That is what keeps radio going. From what I see.
  4. KB7UXE

    KB7UXE Ham Member QRZ Page

    nocode tech was and is a good idea. it gets your feet wet, and if you like it, you "advance" your learnings to do more.
    more training and knowledge.
    I think cw is only the tip of the iceberg of the dumbing down of the
    ham license.
    your right, it's only a hobby, so, just like cb, why have a license at all???
    why even take a test ? why should you pay a fee for a license??? after all, it's only a hobby.
  5. KC9AGG

    KC9AGG Ham Member QRZ Page

    nice post. thankyou for that piece of history. but ham radio, like everything else is changing-although i'm not an "old -timer" i like the old ways, too, but realize things have changed and will continue to evolve. we need to let it go while we allow the old ways to teach us valuable lessons. thx again for the history.
  6. W3KHG

    W3KHG Ham Member QRZ Page

    SO SO BORING! Get a LIFE. Why not just write a book and promote it on CNN. GEEZ. Give us a break. Everyone wants to be an author.

    There has been much discussion on QRZ and eHam about the effects of Incentive Licensing in the late 1960s. While many here would like to relegate this subject to the dustbin of history I felt that a somewhat comprehensive review of what happened, why it happened and how it is still affecting us today might be of interest. A lot of what follows is purely my opinion that is driven by the research I have done on the subject.


    The stated reasons for the ARRL making and supporting incentive
    licensing proposals was related to the perceived decline in the number of amateurs who actually used CW on a regular basis, the increase in poor operating habits, declining courtesy on the bands, and lack of ongoing technical development among amateurs as a whole. This last reason actually boiled down to the noticeable decline in amateurs who did not homebrew much gear.

    As I have stated in several posts on the subject, the 50 Years Of ARRL book indicated that the 50s was the era of the greatest technological advances by amateurs. Three years later they implied that the situation had reversed and painful medicine was needed to put things right.

    There have been some connections made between the perceived technology lead that the Soviet Union had in the late 50s that resulted in the launching of Sputnik and the incentive licensing proposals of 1958 and later in the early 60s. This is certainly debatable although my research into the genesis of the proposals has not revealed an outstanding link, however, it is reasonable that the US would do whatever it took to catch up with the Soviet technology gap.

    It can be argued that IF there was a technology gap it was small. The US was concentrating on weapons of war development and building the finest cold war arsenal. Although latter day critics have denounced this effort, it did lead to some of the best military hardware ever produced to that point. This could have led to discussions at the FCC concerning perceived declining technical expertise of the existing amateur radio operator pool. I should point out that the initial request for IL proposals came from the FCC itself and the ARRL signed on with an initial proposal back to the FCC.

    It needs to be noted that one of the main purposes of the Amateur Service was to provide a trained pool of qualified operators in time of national emergency. Of course the term "qualified operator" at that time probably meant CW ops and those who could build and service equipment if called to do so. It can certainly be argued that since the Soviets had a satellite in space the time was coming when they would have more with perhaps some being able to carry weapons of mass destruction. There was probably a real fear of an impending national emergency where we would need that trained pool of operators.

    I have an extensive collection of QST from the mid 30s to the present, 73 from the first issue to about 1987 and CQ from 1951 to the early 90s. Incentive licensing has become a fascinating subject for me and I believe a lot of the directions amateur radio took or did not take came as a direct result of it. This library has enabled me to read every article, editorial, and letter to the editor that was published about incentive licensing from its first discussions to its post mortems in the mid 70s when many of the American radio manufactures were either out of business or struggling. As you may have guessed I have my own theory as to why this happened:

    1. The ARRL in its earlier history never really endorsed phone operation. In the late 30s they had a short-lived section in QST called "With The Phonies" The implication being obvious. In the 40s they changed it to "Phone Band Phunies" The ARRL was mostly a CW oriented organization with a nod given to RTTY every now and then. This made some sense though when you remember the stated purpose of the Amateur Radio Service was defined as a pool of trained operators, which meant CW operators.

    2. In the immediate postwar period the ARRL began to push SSB as a much more efficient means of communication than AM phone. They were right and the SSB articles and primers written for QST during the period were magnificent and most likely some of the best technical writing ever produced for QST. The problem was that Amateurs were not changing over at a fast enough rate, it was thought to be too complicated, too expensive, difficult to build and debug, and finally, difficult to receive correctly on the receivers of the day,

    3. In 1951 a new system of licensing went into effect establishing the Novice and Technician licenses but more importantly in 1953 the FCC ended up granting full amateur privileges to General Class license holders. Overnight the Generals invaded the hollowed ground of the Advanced and Extra class. At the time, in terms of privileges the Advanced class (or class A) was at the top of the heap. The Extra did not have any additional privileges.

    Since I was not there at the time (only 2 years old) I can only
    relate to what I read about what was taking place during this time period. It seems that many in the Advanced and Extra classes were outraged at the FCC and the ARRL for allowing this to happen. Of course it could be argued that opening all the bands up to Generals, establishing the Novice and Technician license eventually led to the period of great amateur technological achievement that the ARRL was proud talking about in the 50 years of ARRL retrospective that came out in the 80s.

    4. By the end of the 50s AM was still the major player on the phone bands. During this time period there were calls for the FCC to outlaw the use of AM below 30 megacycles. All of the pushing of SSB by the ARRL was having limited effect.

    I first became licensed as a novice in 1964 at age 13 and although I was an ARRL member this issue was completely over my head at the time. Any changes would not affect me for a long time. 1964 - 1968 is an eternity in the life of a 13 year old. As I got older and upgraded my license I started to see some of the implications of what might happen. In the end I ended up taking the Advanced test primarily to retain some VHF privileges I was going to lose if phase 2 of the incentive licensing proposal was implemented.

    Yes, there were two phases of this. The first one, which took away many privileges from the General, Advanced and Novice went into effect in 1968. Phase 2 was going to be more onerous for the General and Technician class operators. It is interesting to note that phase 2 was never implemented. It is my opinion that the ARRL realized that they had created a Frankenstein's monster and convinced the FCC not to go ahead with it.

    Many never upgraded and were herded into band slices packed with QRM. Some nights it was difficult to operate. Many just gave up. Hamfests of the period 1969 through about 1973 were packed with gear as hams that had given up sold it off. Used equipment markets became flooded. As this happened, activity levels dropped, AM ops switched to SSB and QRM levels on HF became manageable.

    It is my opinion that the main reason for incentive licensing was a means to right the perceived wrongs of 1953 and force the use of SSB. The latter being accomplished by forcing Generals into very crowded band segments where the only alternatives were to either give up AM and switch to SSB in order to have a fighting chance at a Friday night QSO or upgrade and use the relatively QRM free bands of the Advanced and Extra classes.

    Studies that were done during the time period prior to the first incentive licensing proposals suggested that Advanced and Extra class operators who used phone (many were CW only) were migrating to SSB in much larger percentages than General Class operators. It was thought that this was because the higher classes were more technically oriented than the General class. The thinking seemed to be that all that was needed was an upgrade of the General's technical skills and he or she would suddenly see the value of SSB and convert to it. If they did not, then they would be confined to the QRM purgatory of very limited phone bands segments until they finally saw the light.

    My opinion is that it was not a technical skill situation as much as it was an economic one. Older Advanced and Extra class operators most likely had more dollars to spend as individuals than the demographically younger General class hams. The irony was that technical advances and manufacturing efficiencies collaborated to bring to the market very good and very affordable SSB gear. There was not much affordable and utilitarian gear available prior to about 1962 with Collins, and Johnson leading the way with rather high priced SSB equipment.

    The advent of the SBE-33, The Swan and Heath single banders and later the Swan 350, Heath 100 series all band units, the National and Hallicrafters units eased the way in. There were also low priced two and three band radios from WRL and Galaxy and the high quality lower priced alternative to Collins....Drake. these and other manufacturers brought the SSB mode into the realm of
    most amateurs by 1970 when there was a good amount of used SSB gear around.

    In the end, the only things that incentive licensing accomplished were the generation of ill will among the amateur community, very crowded sub bands that served to limit traffic net operation and having a number of amateurs drop out of the service. We also saw a slow down in equipment purchases for a time period long enough to hurt the major American manufacturers and a sizable decline in the average page count of some ham magazines, especially CQ from about 1971 - 1975.

    The largest negative impact of incentive licensing was probably the caste system that was set up in the Amateur Radio service. This most likely led to the perceived (but not real) slowdown in the growth rate in Amateur Radio in the 70s. From the mid 70s the ARRL has endorsed almost every proposal to distance the ARS from the impact of incentive licensing.

    Since then we had increased privileges for General and Advanced licensees, Novice enhancement, the creation of the no code Technician license which in 1997 was cited by the ARRL as reason to change the licensing system once again which then led to the 5-WPM General and Extra. In the end we find ourselves in a for real no growth (actually a deflating) situation. If this is not irony.......

    Thanks for reading!

  7. W0GI

    W0GI Ham Member QRZ Page

    Back in the 70's there were telephones, and I could have said:  "Ham radio? What the heck can  I do with that and why would I wan't to bother?"

    Ham Radio isn't about "what does it give me".....

    Some of you guys always look at making this hobby something you need to sell, and something that impresses your neighbors.

    Ham radio is about learning, building, making a contact with a cheap radio into a dipole made with lamp cord.  It isn't about impressing the world, it is about impressing yourself.  Doing the impossble with lamp cord.

    Making your own statement, about how a common man can talk to another common man on the other side of the planet.  No monthly bills, no contracts, just a radio and wire.  

    You just don't seem to get it.  And you don't have to get it.  If the world is so full of jackasses, that have to be recruited, and ass-kissed to join this service, then let it die.

    Because, it isn't worth a damn if all we have is a bunch of radio buying morons, that have to be convinced as to why they should spend money for that new radio.

    While you try to justify Ham radio, let me say, that some of us did this for the love of radio, and didn't ask those already in the hobby to kiss our butts, and convince us why we should waste our time with this hobby.

    Well, I am not going to try to convince you.  Go away.  You have nothing to offer, other then your thoughts that Ham radio is something that we should justify.  I won't try to justify anything to you. You don't have a clue.

    Do something else important, other then telling us that built radios, how boring this hobby is.  Maybe you can save Jack Gerritson???  Another appliance operator.

    "To find the baseline for this declining interest in ham radio, just refer to the number of inactive techs that get a license and become inactive. This should at least tell us something is going on."

    Gee, that's a good point, a bunch of people that pass an easy test, buy an HT, and get bored on the local repeater? Too freaking lazy to learn 5WPM like my 10 year old children can, but they are the future of Ham Radio.

    Tell me about people that really get involved in ham radio losing interest, rather then those that just want to take the easy route, and play ham radio. But you will never understand, because we should make this CB, so everyone can join, and not have any entrance fee at all.

    That Code is so hard??? Man, I can understand the problem with 20Wpm, but I lost count of the kids that I gave 5wpm tests to.

    Give me... Give me... Give me...

    What a pile of BS.....

    73 - W6NJ
  8. AC3P

    AC3P Ham Member QRZ Page

    I still react that way. Since I live about 25 miles from the Laurel Md. monitoring site and back in the 1960's I would get phone calls at work from the FCC Field Office about an on-going TVI complaint.

    In fact the field engineers were hams and could be heard on the local Baltimore repeaters.
  9. KY5U

    KY5U Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Will talk to you on the air if you promise not to be this boring...

    Link to an Optomitrist for your vision issues. She's also a real estate agent in case you don't like it around here, you can move somewhere else.

    Apparantly there are a few folks standing in the "jerk" line too. Next!

    George, Hope you didn't mind but the trash can was full so I emptied the trash for you...
  10. W9OY

    W9OY Ham Member QRZ Page

    The ARRL is basically a publishing company.  At the structural change in licensing in the 50's the ARRL expanded its publishing operation considerably.  Incentive licensing of the late 60's gave the ARRL a new  and expanded market for licensing manuals and study materials.  The decline in newcomers has given the ARRL new incentive to rejigger the licensing structure to make it easier for a "new" crop of hams to enter the ranks.  Hopefully every one will buy at least one or two ARRL licensing products, and hopefully become "members".  

    The reasons for all this licensing manipulation is obvious.  When we were essentially all generals we all had fun.  Since incentive licensing ham radio has been on a down hill spiral, and Dave Sumner seems to be president for life like Castro ir Idi Amin Dada Oumee.  Maybe what we need is to rejigger the ARRL instead of a new licensing system.

    73  W9OY
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