Incentive Licensing Retrospective

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

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  1. KB1SF

    KB1SF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks, George, for an interesting and thought-provoking post.

    Your excellent research about the history behind Incentive Licensing has certainly given us “crusty old curmudgeons” something to think seriously about…how we got here and what the ARRL / FCC / No-Code Techs (pick one) have since “done”(?) to our hobby.

    However, has anyone taken a few minutes away from their keyboards to actually listen across our HF Bands lately? Am I the only one noticing that, on many days, they seem dead from end to end? Aside from the occasional contest weekend (or 75 Meter net) most of what I hear these days on the bulk of our HF bands is little more than dead air.

    Now, I know we are approaching the bottom of the sunspot cycle. But, even so, I remember our bands being a LOT busier during previous sunspot minimums.

    All of which begs the question: Where the heck is everybody?

    Over and over again on this and other forums I hear the broken-record lament that our bands are being “invaded” from those dreaded “no-coders” and that those of us who prefer the “legacy modes” are going to be QRMed to death by those “digital elitists” once the ARRL (or someone else’s) bandwidth petition becomes “law”. The other broken-record I hear is that our bands are now being “given away” to unqualified newcomers who haven’t worked “hard enough” for their privileges.

    But, while we are all arguing about whose slice of HF spectrum needs to be protected from which dreaded onslaught, has anyone noticed that fewer and fewer of us actually seem to be OPERATING these days?

    Sadly, the same lack of activity seems to hold true on our VHF and UHF bands. How many of us have listened to one or more of our local repeaters only to hear little more than the repeater ID for hours at a time? How many of us have made a call on our local repeater (other than during “drive time”) only to have nobody return the call? The same holds true for Ham Radio clubs. They, too, appear to by dying.

    Just before I stepped down as President of AMSAT-NA, I remember some of our experimenters had proposed placing a wideband (HF to UHF and above) receiver on one of our satellites then under construction. The receiver would be able to listen on any frequency (or series of frequencies) on these bands from Low Earth orbit and would even digitally store what it heard for later download.

    Unfortunately, this was all happening at about the same time the ARRL was locked in battle with the “Little LEOs” who had formally requested parts of our 2m and 70 Cm spectrum be re-allocated to the commercial satellite service for their world-wide use.

    Needless to say, once the ARRL got wind of what AMSAT was proposing, they had a cow. Why? Simply because the downloads from our wideband receiver would show, beyond a shadow of doubt, that our Ham bands are NOT being used in an “efficient” manner and that the Little LEO proponents could now use that information against us to argue their case for world-wide sharing (if not re-allocation) of our spectrum! Sadly, based purely on current spectral use, it became painfully clear that our Amateur Radio interests simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in such an argument.

    Now, while it appears the “Little LEO” threat has gone away (at least for the moment), I think the long-term implications of this issue should be a wake-up call to us all.

    That is, I believe the principle threat to Amateur Radio’s existence these days is simply our own lack of interest. Many of us still have licenses, but fewer and fewer of us are regularly operating on the air. And, in the eyes of some VERY well heeled commercial interests (who, by the way, are also listening to us) that makes our bands “ripe for the picking” because they are mostly empty these days. In their eyes, we are now sitting on GOBS of commercially valuable spectrum space that’s being “wasted” on an ever-dwindling bunch of crusty old curmudgeons using their quaint, tube-type radios.

    While it’s certainly fun to reminisce about “what was”, the sad truth is that we live in the present, not the past. And, unless we all (yours truly included) begin spending a LOT more time on the air (and less time here chatting on the Internet about how our bands should (or shouldn’t) be carved up among ourselves) I’m afraid much of our spectrum is going to eventually be re-allocated to some other service based on our own “benign neglect”.

    Sadly, when that happens, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.


    KB1SF / VA3KSF
  2. AI4ME

    AI4ME Ham Member

    The ARRL seems to get bashed alot, but I want to remind those who do speak ill of it. The ARRL is, in essence, nothing more than a lobbying organization to represent Hams, both members and non-members, to the government.

    With this being said, a lobbyist is nothing more than a person who is tasked with taking the voiced opinions of the people it represents to the government. If you get a near 50/50 split in opinion, what do you do as a lobbyist? Try to reach a compromise that will please everyone, which we all know is impossbile. But you can do the best you can to try and represent everyone.

    My mom always said "The squeaky wheel gets the oil". If the people who have the strongest and/or most prolific voice say "Drop code!" then thats what they take to the government. Most people who are for keeping the code are content, so they dont say anything. Its only when someone is not content that they complain! So the ARRL is not an evil empire, but simply a vehicle.

    I will stand by my opinion about code. A practical solution to this situation would be to drop the code for General but keep it for Extra. To me that is a compromise that will please the largest percentage. (Personally I am for leaving things alone and keeping the code as it stands) Techs with code are allowed on limited HF sections. You could also simply drop the code requirement for Tech and in essence make every Tech a "Tech Plus".

    So there... I have given two solutions.

    I also prefer not to call it "Incentive Licensing" but rather "Accomplishment Licensing", because to me the progression in license class is more an accomplishment than an incentive!

    The winds of change are upon us. There is nothing we can do to stop it (both fortunately and unfortunately). The only thing we can do is steer it in a logical and acceptable direction.
  3. K3UD

    K3UD Guest


    Very good post!

    I certainly do not have a problem with the FCC establishing an entry level license class that is initially made up of present Novice, Tech and Tech+ licensees. I also feel that this class should have HF operating privileges on a variety of bands as well as all the modes available to us. The ARRL has proposed something like this and reiterated it again in the latest issue of QST.

    On the other hand I wonder what would happen to the present activity we do have on the V/U/M bands. For most hams the holy grail has always been HF operations and I would suspect if all of the those I propose for the beginner class were upgraded that a lot of VHF+ activity would go away and we would probably lose a some spectrum we have now.

    During the discussions of a no code license which would be limited to VHF+ it was often mentioned that this class of license would serve as the guardians of our allocations in the VHF+ spectrum. I am not sure that we every had a tremendous increase in activity with the possible exception of the time period immediately after the implementation of the no code Tech license. Unfortunately, a lot of them were discouraged by the hams who were using this spectrum and this served to dampen their enthusiam.

    So where are all the ops? All of the equipment manufacturers seem to be selling a lot of 2 meter and dual band radios and they produce a lot of HF/VHF-UHF capable radios. Yet activity seems to be declining.

  4. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    To be honest, I think that most permanent residents of our VHF/UHF spectrum outside of 2 meter and 440 MHz. FM are people who are licensed for HF operation, anyway. They choose to do moonbounce, aurora, and meteor scatter on these frequencies, activities which until very recently all required CW skills, too. Digital modes now support moonbounce and meteor scatter without CW skill, but aurora is very difficult above 6 meters without it.

    I doubt that the no-code HF license will change this activity much one way or the other. It will probably have some impact on FM activity. I doubt they will, but it would be great if hams would react sensibly by reducing the number of repeaters on the air and resorting to more simplex activity, in order to concentrate the diminshed activity on fewer channels and increase the likelihood of finding contacts!
  5. K9MBL

    K9MBL QRZ Member QRZ Page

    "Almost all of the new blood comes from the 11-meter pool. In fact, I haven’t met a new ham in the last 15 years that didn’t spend time either as a freebander, truck driver, or both. There’s your new novice class."

    There are a few statements made by Hams here and there that simply burn me up, and frankly, I'm tired of hearing/reading them!!  I am NOT a poor operator because I hold a Tech class license!!  I am NOT lazy because I hold a Tech class license!!  I am NOT against Morse Code because I hold a Tech class license!!  Or any combination of the above!

    I have three ant projects on the bench in my shop as I write this.  I have eight antennas on my tower/roof, half are home brewed, switched with a home brewed 12v relay system.  I recently elmered a new Ham, KI6BTR, who just received his ticket.  I will also be helping him set up his new station.  I have made an effort in my neighborhood to stress the importance of Amateur Radio to the general community and how they may benefit from it in the future (I haven't had one antenna complaint).  Not bad for a lowly, lazy, good-for-nothing technician, I must say.

    So, that said, please allow me to relate to you why a new tech ticket is on the verge of selling out.  It's the people folks!  It's the bitching and whining.  It's those who like to pass judgement on everyone but themselves.  It's the name calling and belittlement by other Hams.  I get the distinct impression that the older Extra fellas think this is their hobby exclusively and that things shouldn't change.  Many are stuck in yester-year and refuse to face the reality that things really do change - with, or without, them!

    I took a Ham class in 2/01 in Quartzsite, AZ before I took my Tech test.  I believe all Hams should be required to take some sort of instruction rather than memorize a question pool.  Anyway, Leo Roberts, K9DGX, was the instructor.  Let me tell you folks, when I passed my Tech exam I was nearly as proud as I was when I watched my daughter being born.  Silly, but true (my wife thinks its silly anyway!).  Leo was my Elmer and my first QSO - have the QSL card to prove it.  I hold great respect for Leo's knowledge and his desire to teach others.  So much that I adopted his K9 + my initials for my callsign.  Yes, it's incorrect, but I'm sure everyone will learn to live with it.

    Yes, there are a few no-gooders in the Ham community, but they can be found in all license classes.  Yes, a lot of them cut their teeth on CB.  I wish I had an accurate count of how many senior Hams indulge in 11m (now or in the past).  You want to recruit/retain good operators?  Stop the childish BS - you're running people off!  And get over the Morse Code thing.  FYI, folks in my circle don't dislike Morse, they dislike being forced to learn it.  And you know what, a couple of them really to like it, use it but refuse to test for it.  And it's not because they're lazy!!!

    Thanks for the rant.  Hope ya'll have a Merry Christmas.

    73, Mike
  6. AI4ME

    AI4ME Ham Member


      I agree with you. There is nothing wrong with being a Tech. Being a Tech in no way means your a poor operator, lazy or against Morse Code. There is so much to do in the Technician only segment of the spectrum that many people are content with it. It all boils down to where your area of intrest is. If people truly had an interest in HF, they would go for it like I did.

    I was suprised to learn that one of the best operators around my QTH was only a Tech! KW4USA is a very admirable and knowledgable operator. He is very adept at things like WinLink and APRS. He even gave an outstanding presentation on WinLink to the local club. An all around outstanding Ham, and yet only a Tech.

    "Almost all of the new blood comes from the 11-meter pool. In fact, I haven’t met a new ham in the last 15 years that didn’t spend time either as a freebander, truck driver, or both. There’s your new novice class."

    Whoever said this, they dont get out much or talk to the right people. Although some come from CB, not many are freebanders or 11 Meter Kilowatt Bandits. Most of those lawless kilowatt 11 meter operators ENJOY breaking the law and have no desire to become legal or switch to Ham. What sense does a 70kW mobile CB make??? If you ever question them about it, they threaten you. This is not a person who would become a Ham, or you would even want to become a Ham. If they show that little respect to the FCC rules, what would they do when it comes to Amateur Radio?

    Now I do want to say that not all CB'ers are bad. The good ones tend to become Hams when they grow up ;)

    It wasnt CB that brought me into Ham. It was GMRS. Either way, here I am.
  7. KU2US

    KU2US Ham Member QRZ Page

    I was licensed in 1979. I can remember that the Novice ticket was a Great incentive for me to up-Grade. 50 watts, crystal controlled and you got a year. As a novice I was treated like a new guest to ham radio with respect, because the "elmers" knew I had to acomplish what they did to up-grade, and they helped me. Incentive licensing from the 60's helped me. It acomplished what it said it would-It created INCENTIVE. What incentive do the new hams have Today? Study answers from a book, (Soon) laugh at CW, punch a keyboard, click a mic and be lazy. I was proud to be a Ham, NO MORE. I looked up to an advanced or Extra class, because I knew they had to really know their stuff. They kicked Butt to get where they were. I knew one guy that went from novice to Extra in 1.5 years. We thought he was a genius!! and he WAS!!.. Now you can do the same thing in 6 months or less with just reviewing answers, some $$$ and pass a 5 WPM code test a 10 year old can accomplish (Maybe most). One poster said that CB and Ham radio are getting to be the same? He is RIGHT. One poster said that he will promote ham radio as much as possibe as it stands now. I say bravo, but promote ham radio HOW? What would you say? Would you tell the "Newbie" that it is EASY?, that ham radio and the internet are ONE? (Echolink), That GMRS is ham radio TOO?, That CB and HR qso's are the SAME?, You can "Shoot skip" like on CB? That you can get the highest most prestigious Ham radio license in less than 6 months with no or little knowledge of radio?, That CW is an antique mode? I could go on and on. Anybody can hook up a rig-blaster, set a +/-600Khz offset, run split on HF, own 5 rice boxes and set up a G5RV!..Emergency comm. with high speed digital you say? No electricity-see ya..No phone lines-see ya, No cell towers-see ya, NO EXPERIENCE OR TRAINING-See ya-Good Buddy..Yes, we dont have to know how to build rigs anymore, we dont have to be profficient in CW anymore, we dont have to know and use basic electronic principles anymore, WE DONT HAVE TO KNOW ANYTHING ANYMORE, just talk into a mic, push those computer keys, and walk around with your head in a cloud because you are an Extra. Yes, Ham Radio will never die, the real ham radio as we KNEW it is DEAD. It is a ham radio of the newer appliance technology. Electronic progress prevails. Now it is just a hobby that is given, not earned. I was never a CBer, but a shortwave listener as a kid. I marveled at how ham radio ops could talk about technical stuff on the air. I marvel now also. I hear swear words, tune-ups on qso's, 1000 watts for a 200 mile qso, out of band transmissions, robot email stations, intentional interference, on and on..Yes, ham radio has changed, as such with the newer generations, the newer no experience needed technology, CB jargon, and STUPID baseless qso's about radio technology that is all WRONG because of lack of radio education. The Ham Radio of the new century-now just another toy. It is all our fault-we let it get this way. So enjoy what we have. Its a shame the newer folks could not experience what we HAD, to see the difference, then you would have an opinion like mine. I really wish my opinion was different, but I see nothing that would change it.
  8. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    That point is often forgotten. Here are some more:

    1) ARRL wasn't the only one pushing IL. After the
    initial 1963 ARRL proposal, FCC got a *flood* of
    comments and counter-proposals. At least 10 other
    proposals got RM numbers. The final resulting IL
    rules were a conglomeration of all those proposals,
    many of whose features came from non-ARRL sources.

    2) The initial 1963 ARRL proposal was very simple. It proposed that:

    - Advanced be reopened to new issues
    - 'Phone on 75, 40, 20 and 15 would require an Advanced or Extra

    And that's it. All existing Generals could get their lost 'phone privs back by passing the Advanced written, and *no* additional code test.

    It was the later proposals that complicated the scheme so much.

    The big deal, as I understand it, was that the Soviets kept coming up with surprises. They launched the first artificial earth satellite - took the first pictures of the far side of the moon - put the first animal and then the first human into space. All without advance notice or any apparent problems. Meanwhile, US rockets kept blowing up on the launch pads, or were delayed from launch by technical problems.

    Of course we know now that the Soviets had all kinds of trouble, but just didn't talk about it. But back then they looked unbeatable. And if they could put a human being into orbit and bring him back safely within a limited target area, they could certainly do the same thing with a nuclear weapon.

    That's true to a point, but at the same time ARRL pushed VHF/UHF and mobile operation, which were
    heavily 'phone oriented, had 'phone DXCC, 'phone versions of all major contests, extensive chapters on 'phone techniques and operation in the Handbooks, etc.

    For an organization that didn't like 'phone they sure put a lot of resources into those modes (AM, SSB, NBFM).

    You can find SSB mentioned in "200 Meters and Down" which came out in 1936. After WW2 there was a column called "On The Air with Single Sideband". There were even complaints that ARRL was forcing SSB on hams who didn't want it.

    I agree with your analysis of why hams didn't all go for SSB right away, but I'd add another: A lot of hams had serious investments of time, money and effort in their AM rigs and were in no hurry to change over to a mode that would make their rigs essentially obsolete.

    IMHO what really made SSB take over from AM was the
    introduction of the SSB transceiver and matched-pair transmitter/receivers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
    Such rigs cost only a little more than a good receiver, but they were a complete station-in-a-box. The difficulties of zerobeating were completely eliminated - when the receiver is tuned right, so is the transmitter.
    And the whole thing was small, easy to use, and less expensive than its AM counterpart.

    On top of that, grounded-grid table-top kilowatt amps put high-power 'phone within reach of many hams.

    By the early 1960s, a ham could spend less than $700 and build a Heathkit SB-100 xcvr with PS and speaker, SB-200 1200 W amplifier, mike, etc. - new!

    But there was one big downside to SSB that came to light about 1965: SWLs.

    When AM was king, we got a *lot* of new hams from the ranks of SWLs. Anybody with an SW receiver - and there were lots of folks with some sort of SW receiver - would come across hams using AM. More than a few SWLs would find out about ham radio, and become hams, as a result of that introduction.

    But most inexpensive SW receivers don't receive SSB well. Which means not at all in the hands of an inexperienced person. Some didn't even have BFOs! End result was a big loss of newcomers.

    There's a bit more to it than that.

    Before 1951, there was the old ABC license system. Class A had all privs, Class B and C had all privs except HF 'phone.

    The 1951 restructuring was FCC's effort to social-engineer ham radio. They added a "Basis and Purpose" section to the rules - none had existed before 1951. The new Novice was meant to make it easier for beginners to get started, and the Tech was meant to focus interest on developing UHF and above. They took a simple system and made it very complex.

    But the big noise was the Advanced/Extra change. The old Class A was renamed Advanced, and gave full priviliges. That license required a year as a General/Class B or Conditional/Class C, and one additional written exam - no additional code, and the Advanced written was mostly about 'phone techniques.

    Under the 1951 restructuring rules, no more new Advanceds would be issued after the end of 1952.
    The Advanced was to be replaced by the Extra, which
    had 20 wpm code and a much more comprehensive
    written including things like TV and microwaves.

    If you didn't get an Advanced before the end of '52,
    the step to full privs was made a *lot* bigger.

    ARRL *opposed* the creation of the Extra back then.
    But FCC went for it anyway.

    Then in late 1952 - almost exactly 53 years ago - FCC made a complete turnabout and gave all privs to Generals and Conditionals, effective Feb 1953. All of a sudden there was no need to go beyond General or Conditional at all.

    How would you feel if you'd spent a lot of time, effort and money to get the Advanced or Extra, (they could only be earned at FCC exam sessions) and then FCC just did an about-face with little or no warning or explanation?

    See above about SSB transceivers.

    I saw it very differently.

    I got my Novice in 1967 at age 13, and I was amazed at how much griping there was - from grown-ups! - about having to take another test or two. I moved up to Advanced at age 14 and Extra at age 16. I was no prodigy in any way, just a motivated kid who wanted all privileges.

    I saw that differently too.

    The congestion cited was on 'phone, not CW or RTTY. Any ham who really wanted to operate could switch modes.

    A lot of the used gear sales I saw were driven by hams going to SSB or more-modern gear, and selling off the old stuff.

    Then there were the sunspots. IIRC, 1968-69 was a peak, and then the spots disappeared as the cycle went around.

    But the most interesting part was what happened to the number of US hams. From the end of WW2 to about 1964 the growth was 8-10% per year, as US hamdom grew from 60K to about 250K. Then in the '60s the growth stopped for about 5 years.

    But once IL was in place, the growth started up again, and all through the '70s and '80s the number of US hams kept going up and up! Look at the numbers for 1970 and 1980.

    Or maybe use CW, RTTY, or VHF/UHF. There's more to ham radio than 'phone.

    One of the practices common back then, and repeatedly condemned in QST, was the use of HF 'phone on an open band for QSOs that could be done on VHF or a dead band. For example, you'd hear hams on 20 running high power to have a QSO across town - with the band wide open. They could have switched to 10 meters which was dead at the time, but no, was "their" frequency....

    I saw lots of younger hams with Advanced and Extra licenses. But I do agree on the cost issue.

    I think it happened a lot earlier - early 1960s. Look at the ultimate lowcost SSB rigs: the Heath singlebanders, costing only $100 or so and running ~100 W. They were early-1960s rigs. Lots of other examples.

    I don't think it was IL as much as the economic times. The 1970s were the time of energy crises, oil embargoes, high interest rates, inflation and unemployment, etc. Remember WIN buttons, stagflation, gas lines, and some of the truly awful cars produced back then?

    There was also the inrush of imports that displaced the older manufacturers.

    I disagree.

    In the old days it was Class A vs. B vs. C. Or Novices vs Techs vs. everybody else. Collins vs. Drake, phone vs. CW, SSB vs. AM, DX vs. traffic vs. ragchewing vs. contesting, tube vs. solidstate, homebrew vs. appliance, ad infinitum. Some folks will always look for a system of levels - it's the nature of the game.

    Don't forget that the 'phone subbands are much wider now than in the '60s, we have 30, 17 and 12 meters, the gear is less expensive (adjusted for inflation) and the license exams much more accessible.

    I think the real problem is lack of publicity for ham radio.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
  9. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I suppose it makes for interesting conversation to look back to incentive licensing and pontificate on it's impact, however, it is, at this point, so much water over the dam.

    I know of hams who quit the ARRL over it and others who took in stride.  In my case I had the opportunity to whine about it or upgrade, I chose the latter.

    It's an interesting twist, that in a contemporary society that emphasis sameness and lack of achievement that some see incentive licensing as a type of "caste system". Not unusual when the underachievers in society resent the overachievers and seek excuses to explain their lack of motivation.

    My choice would be the incentive route to move people to better themselves and increase their knowledge.  This is preferable to the liberal, socialists examples we see in our society today, such as, it's ok if little Johnny thinks that 2 plus 2 is 5 so long as he feels good about it.  We are not going to keep score in the kids ball game because it might offend one of the kids if he loses.  No, Johnny can't read his diploma, but we can't have him repeat the grade, it might stigmatize him. You get the picture and can likely add a few examples of your own.
  10. K5CO

    K5CO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Summers and the ARRL are full of beans. And the "incentive" in licensing is about like calling food stamps a reward for hard work. This is a give away that is on a par with the down grading of education. Lord knows we are seeing the results of that; I know college graduates that cannot spell their college 's name.
    The ARRL thinks that it will have a lot of new (paying ) members if they can get as many people into Ham as are using CB, FRS etc. and they really don't care about diminished quality; they are in it for the big dollars.
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