Some history and some corrections....

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by N2EY, Mar 13, 2018.

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  1. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    In another thread, @KA0GKT wrote a pretty good summary of US licensing history.....but left out a few important facts. So here's that post, with some additions/corrections.

    KA0GKT: There aren't many of us left in the Amateur community who remember pre-incentive licensing. Back in the "Good Ol' Days", it was something like this:

    Under authority of the Radio Act of 1912, the Department of Commerce issued Amateur First Grade and Amateur Second Grade operator licenses beginning in December of that year. Amateur First Grade required an essay-type examination and five (later ten) words per minute code examination before a Radio Inspector at one of the Department's field offices. This class of license was renamed Amateur Class in 1927 and then Amateur First Class in 1932.

    At first, the Amateur Second Grade license required the applicant to certify that he or she was unable to appear at a field office but was nevertheless qualified to operate a station. Later, the applicant took brief written and code exams before a nearby existing licensee. This class of license was renamed Temporary Amateur in 1927.

    The Department of Commerce created a new top-level license in 1923, the Amateur Extra First Grade, that conveyed extra operating privileges. It required a more difficult written examination and a code test at twenty words per minute. In 1929, a special license endorsement for "unlimited radiotelephone privileges" became available in return for passing an examination on radiotelephone subjects. This allowed amateurs to upgrade and use reserved radiotelephone bands without having to pass a difficult code examination.

    From 1912 through 1932, amateur radio operator licenses consisted of large and ornate diploma-form certificates, similar to the Commercial radiotelegraph licenses of the day. Amateur station licenses were separately issued on plainer forms.

    All true. It should be noted that the Amateur Extra First Grade got very few takers. By contrast, the unlimited 'phone license was quite popular, even though the 'phone subbands at the time were very narrow and 'phone operation was considerably more expensive.

    KA0GKT: In 1933, the Federal Radio Commission reorganized amateur operator licenses into Classes A, B and C. Class A conveyed all amateur operating privileges, including certain reserved radiotelephone bands. Amateur Extra First Grade licensees and Amateur First Class licensees with "unlimited radiotelephone" endorsements were grandfathered into this class.

    Class B licensees did not have the right to operate on the reserved radiotelephone bands. Amateur First Class licensees were grandfathered into this class.

    Class C licensees had the same privileges as Class B licensees, but took their examinations from other licensees rather than from Commission field offices. Because examination requirements were somewhat stiffened, Temporary Amateur licensees were not grandfathered into this class but had to be licensed anew.

    All correct, but there's a bit more. The amateur bands in the 1930s were 160, 80/75, 40, 20, 10, 5, 2-1/2 and 1-1/4 meters. 'Phone was authorized on all or parts of 160, 75, 20, 1o, 5, 2-1/2 and 1-1/4 meters. Using 'phone on 75 and 20 required a Class A; all licensees had full privileges everywhere else.

    The frequencies above 300 MHz were essentially unregulated, because there was not much that would work up there.

    Amateur Radio did not exist as a separate radio service, protected by treaty, until the 1927 World Radio Conference. Before that, Amateur Radio existed in those countries which permitted it, with their own requirements.

    The 1927 Conference brought about the 1929 regulations which dramatically decreased the width of some bands and required much cleaner signals than before.

    Only after WW2 did we get the bands above 300 MHz. 15 meters came about in the early 1950s, as a result of the 1947 World Radio Conference.

    KA0GKT: In 1951, the FCC moved to convert the existing three license classes (A, B, and C) into six named classes. Following the rule change, the classes were Novice, Technician, General, Conditional, Advanced, and Amateur Extra. Each license class required two exams, one on theory and one on Morse code, and each license was valid for five years (except Novice). Until the advent of incentive licensing in the 1960s, the Technician, Conditional and General classes shared the same written examination and the Conditional, General, Advanced and Amateur Extra classes shared the same operating privileges.

    No, they didn't. Most of the above is true, but not all of it.

    1) The Technician, Conditional and General shared the same written exam until 1987.

    2) The General, Advanced and Extra did not have the same operating privileges until Feb 1953.

    3) The Advanced did not require a code test. What it required was a year's experience as a General or Conditional, then another written test.

    4) The Extra was created to replace the Advanced as the top license class. No new Advanceds were issued after the end of 1952. The idea was that the full-privileges license should be more comprehensive than the Advanced. However, at the end of 1952, FCC suddenly changed its mind and gave Generals, Conditionals and Advanceds full privileges.

    KA0GKT: The Novice class created by the 1951 decision was the entry-level license; it remained the primary entry license until the Morse code requirement was eliminated for Technician licenses in 1990.

    Not really - license totals tell a different story. Also, the code test for Technician was eliminated in 1991.

    KA0GKT: On HF it permitted code transmissions only, with a maximum power of 75 watts, (input to the transmitter's final amplifier stage) on limited segments of the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands, and on VHF, both code and voice privileges on 145–147 MHz. Initially, they were also limited to crystal control of the transmitting frequency.

    The Technician license, newly created in the 1951 structure decision, was awarded to applicants who passed the General Class theory test, known as Element 3, but only required a 5 WPM code proficiency. It was initially intended for
    Radio Control of Model Aircraft, but at that time, usage of the band for such a purpose was rare. Technicians were granted all General Class privileges in the 50 MHz band and all bands above 220 MHz; on 2 meters they were limited to 145–147 MHz. In the '50s and '60s, an applicant was permitted to apply for and hold both Technician and Novice licenses simultaneously (for the first year) thus having two callsigns (WN 2x3 for the Novice and a WA or WB 2x3 for Technician).

    Not exactly. The Technician was intended for experimentation above 220; the original 1951 Tech did not have any privileges on 2 or 6 meters. Over time, starting in the mid 1950s, Technicians got first 6 and then 2 meters. Eventually, Technicians got Novice HF privileges, and Novices got some VHF and UHF privileges (1970s/80s)

    Novice license terms were increased to 2 years in 1967, and then, in a series of steps in the 1970s, the license became 5 year renewable. 2 meter privileges for Novices were lost in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, the power limit for Novices was increased to 250 watts input and the crystal control requirement eliminated.

    KA0GKT: The General class originally conveyed full privileges on all ham bands, having passed the Element 3 theory exam and 13 WPM Morse code test. Class B operators were assigned this license following the structure decision in 1951.

    Generals did NOT have full privileges until Feb 1953.

    KA0GKT: The Advanced class was earned after the General Class through passing the Element 4A theory exam. Class A operators were assigned this license following the 1951 structure decision.

    In addition, the Advanced required a year's experience, and time as a Tech or Novice did not count.

    KA0GKT: The Amateur Extra class was a new highest-level class created in the 1951 decision, and was reached by passing both the Element 4B theory exam and a 20 WPM Morse code test.

    The Extra written included all the content of the Advanced as well. It also require two years' experience as a General, Conditional or Advanced. It was meant to replace the Advanced.

    KA0GKT: It should be noted that until 1968, the only sub-bands were Novice and Technician, General, Advanced and Amateur Extra Class licensees shared the amateur bands. Getting your Extra Class license was bragging rights only, no additional spectrum, the same held for the General and Advanced Class Licenses.

    Again - not exactly. Full privileges were not given to Generals and Conditionals until Feb 1953. That state of affairs ended in November 1968.

    It was originally stated by FCC that if additional privileges were granted to US amateurs in the future (more power, new modes, new bands), only Extras would get them. However, in the event, this didn't happen.

    In 1967, the Advanced was reopened to new issues - but without the experience requirement. To make this happen, the existing Extra exam (then known as Element 4) was split into two elements, 4A and 4B. Advanced required a General and 4A, Extra required all written test elements plus 20 wpm code and 2 years experience.

    Until 1977, all licenses required both sending and receiving code tests. In 1977, the sending test was "waived", and only receiving was tested.

    The experience requirement for Extra was reduced to 1 year and then eliminated in the 1970s.

    Until 1954, all license tests for all license classes were given at FCC offices unless the applicant lived more than 125 miles from an FCC exam point or was a shut-in. Those who could qualify by distance or disability were permitted to take their exams "by mail" - but not Advanced/Class A or Extra. Also, if a licensee moved to within the distance or recovered, they had 90 days to retest at an FCC office.

    In 1954, the distance was reduced to 75 miles and the retesting requirement eliminated. Also, all routine Novice and Technician exams were given "by mail", regardless of distance. In 1964 or 65, the distance was increased to 175 miles.

    In the 1970s, the Conditional class was phased out by changing the license class to General upon renewal or modification - without any retesting.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
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  2. WU8Y

    WU8Y Ham Member QRZ Page

    Giveaways! Dumbing-down! They didn't earn that! The ARRL only did all that to destroy ham radio and sell more books & memberships! ;-)
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  3. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page


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  4. WU8Y

    WU8Y Ham Member QRZ Page

    I figured I'd get as many of the regular objections in as I could in one post. :-D
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  5. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page


    One thing about the history is that, when you look back, at practically every change there were folks saying EXACTLY that stuff!

    Novice and Tech licenses? Dumbing down.

    Generals and Conditionals getting all privileges? Giveaways they didn't earn.

    Any and all changes? ARRL is trying to make more money and kill off Amateur Radio in the process (which is a contradiction...)


    Just remember:

    "It's only a giveaway if someone else gets it"
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  6. WU8Y

    WU8Y Ham Member QRZ Page

    Exactly what I mean. As you've recommended, ARRL members should go back to the QST archive and look at the Letters to the Editor after each proposal...before Internet fora, that was how reactions got out...and one will see that the same old tired objections are brought up every time!
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  7. KK5JY

    KK5JY Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's good to see that the League itself has finally learned from the membership. After all, they learned that trick somewhere... :)
  8. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have to say that at this point, the "history" of AR is pretty much irrelevant. It is disregarded by the FCC, the ARRL, and most amateurs. It will play no part in future regulations. It's dead.
  9. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Just the opposite.

    The problem is that too many folks don't know the whole historical story.

    For example:

    1) The changes of the late 1960s known as "incentive licensing" caused many amateurs to lose full privileges - which did not sit well with them, because they felt that they were ENTITLED to FULL PRIVILEGES FOREVER.

    Not only do some folks hold a grudge over what happened 50 years ago, some who weren't even born at the time hold a grudge.

    Because of this, any proposal which results in existing licensees losing privileges is going to meet so much opposition that it's got little chance.

    2) At the same time, there are a some who feel that the requirements for a US amateur radio license have been "dumbed down" (DRINK!) since....whenever it was THEY got their license. 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000.....doesn't matter, it was "harder" then....even if they were beneficiaries of earlier "giveaways". Because of this, any proposal which results in existing licensees gaining privileges is going to meet so much opposition that it's got little chance.

    3) FCC knows the history just enough to use it to further their agenda of the past 35+ years - which is: reduce costs.

    Cost reduction is why we got the VE system - unpaid volunteers now do the work that had been done for decades by paid Federal employees.

    Cost reduction is why we got 10 year license terms - it cut the renewals by more than half.

    Cost reduction is why the FCC doesn't mail you a paper license unless you request it - and why what you get is not a fancy certificate.

    Cost reduction is why there's so little enforcement.

    Cost reduction is why the Novice, Advanced and Tech Plus license classes are/were being phased out.

    Because of this, any proposal which results in a cost increase for FCC is not going to get very far. FCC will find an historical reason to deny any such proposal.

    Still, the history matters - if for no other reason than that it's not good for us to be ignorant of how we got to where we are.

    Sadly, ignorance of Amateur Radio's history is not new. Back in the 1960s, there were plenty of hams with General licenses who thought that Generals had ALWAYS had full privileges.....even though that wasn't true at all.
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  10. WD4IGX

    WD4IGX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    One quibble - it wasn't just "field offices." The FCC sent exam teams out to "examination points" at various schedules, and to get the Conditional you had to live at least x miles from the nearest point where they did this at least 4 times per year. I lived way more than the required distance from the nearest field office, which would have been Atlanta, but not from the nearest 4x year exam point, which was in Knoxville, TN. I took my General and Advanced in Knoxville from the FCC then remained an Advanced for years and finally did the (20 wpm) Extra under the VE program.
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