The State of Ham Radio

In life you sometimes have to accept some difficult facts whether you want to or not.  I often want to think the most of my home town as a growing and great place to live.  This is very true in most ways but in the world of Ham Radio, we are beyond hillbillies.  We have a CB culture in Oklahoma and with the FCC continuing their downward trend it will certainly get worse.  The amateur radio world use to be a world of respect and on the cutting edge of technical discoveries.  I have only had an amateur radio license since 1983 and I have seen a lot of changes.  To get a full picture of what I am talking about, I must explain the differences between CB and amateur radio.

The citizens band (CB) radio service was created to be just that, a band where normal citizens could communicate through type accepted radios that were commercially made.  The only licensing that was required in the beginning was to educate users how to operated within the guidelines.  There was no technical expertise required because the radios were commercially made.  Eventually due to lack of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforcement the darker side of humanity began to rule the citizens band.  Since these relatively cheap radios were available anywhere, the FCC eventually washed their hands of the citizens band and removed the licensing requirement.  The days of citizens band radio being a civil means of communications were over.  The culture on CB consisted of profanity, rudeness, interruptions, and illegal power.  The use of citizens band was and forever will be a wasteland not suitable for children.

Amateur Radio (Ham) was always different in that it was an experimental band that was designed for people of a technical background.  The amateur radio bands contrary to their name was meant to be reserved for the use of normal citizens who had the technical know-how to build radios and antennas for the purpose of national emergencies whether natural or man made.  These bands were designed to have citizens trained in a skill that could protect Americans in the event that ordinary means of communications failed during an emergency.  Since a certain level of skill was required to use amateur radio, the FCC required a strenuous testing system to ensure that users were capable of operating and building equipment under emergency conditions.  The testing traditionally consisted of both a morse code examination and an electronic skills examination.  These tests were in a progressively more technical level based on the privileges authorized to the user.

Looking at these two bands, you can see they were meant for different purposes and therefore had different requirements to operate.  The FCC was right in requiring these skill levels.  In my opinion the purpose of the examinations were two fold.  One was to ensure the required skill level and two was to ensure the value of this privilege.   It is well know that when something has value, then people desire it and value it and its meaning.  When something is of no value it is thrown to the street to be trampled upon. I will discuss the values later in this document.  Unfortunately the amateur radio band has lost its value because of a chain of events by the very organization that was designed to protect its value.  This organization is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).  This is a private union that was organized back in the early days of amateur radio for the sole purpose to lobby the United States Congress to ensure the rights are protected for amateur radio operators.  As with most unions of today, they have strayed from their calling to protect individuals and have become greedy.  Their primary goals in recent years are both to have power and have money.  More members accomplishes both of these goals.

Without fail the ARRL in its typical union ways and its pursuit of more members (aka dues) lobbies the FCC to lower standards.  One thing that is common about unions is that there must be an enemy and the impending crisis this enemy is bringing on your group.  Sometimes this enemy is real and needs to be watched. Unfortunately most of the time this enemy is fabricated for the purpose of creating crisis.  When there is crisis the union can place themselves as savior to protect individuals from this enemy whether genuine, or fabricated, thus recruiting more dues paying members.  Over the years the ARRL has produce many enemies to ham radio, some real, and some fabricated.  A few examples of these are…

    1. The morse code requirement is antiquated and no longer has a purpose in amateur radio and it is making it difficult for people to join the hobby and causing our hobby to die.
    2. The Broad Band over Power Line for Internet service causes radio frequency interference (RFI) to amateur radio and should be stopped.
    3. The testing requirement is too extensive and preventing average people from getting into the hobby and therefore our hobby is dying.

They use the argument that our hobby is a dying hobby.  Some excuses are real but misplaced such as the price of equipment, or the Internet instead of testing.  The average amateur radio operator although technically smart seems ignorant of the ways of unions like the ARRL.  Most amateur radio operators put the ARRL in high regard as a protector of our hobby but then fail to see the ARRL has become self indulgent and put self motivation above their calling.  They have successfully convinced the FCC and worse yet  the average amateur radio operator that our hobby is dying and newer generations are put off by the strenuous examinations.  This is sad because most are failing to see the argument that I made earlier is that values matter.  When you lower standards to attract new members, you get a lower standard operator.  This is evident when listening to the 75 meter, and 2 meter bands and to a lesser extend on the other bands.

The FCC has bowed to the pressures of this ARRL union because its constituents are ignorant of the union ways.  The FCC has a history of doing this.  One example that I recall is my father studying hard to obtain his First Class Radio Telephone License when I was young.  I still remember the pride that he had walking out of that examiners office in Dallas, Texas.  Soon after that, he was notified the FCC would be doing away with the First, Second, and Third Class licenses and would be replaced by the General Radio Operator License.  All holders of First, Second, and Third Class licenses would be changed to a General Radio Operator License.  This devaluated his First Class license to lower than a Third Class license.   He was right to feel betrayed when he worked so hard for the prestige of this higher class license just to be devaluated.  Similarly those of the amateur radio licenses that worked so hard for theirs should feel betrayed for theirs to be devaluated to the newer non technical licenses.

Since I became an amateur radio operator in 1983, the FCC has lowered the examination standards at least three times that I can recall.  With each successive lowering of standards, the operating standards continue to drop.  This lowering of standards subsequently lowers the value of this band.  Remember above I spoke of value and what it means.  When something loses its value, it is thrown to the streets.  The once highly regarded amateur radio has almost but not quite reached the citizens band.  It is my opinion that we have already reached the point of no return and will eventually arrive at the value of the citizens band.  Once you had to be a person of high character and skill to obtain a license and now you have to have virtually no skill at all and can even be convicted of a felony to have a license.  I am not saying that a person cannot be rehabilitated when they make mistakes but history has shown that many felonies are carried out by people of low moral character.

This is why I feel that my amateur radio license holds little value.  Today there are people that have equal license privileges that have not had to endure what I have had.  One can make the argument that morse code is antiquated and serves no purpose in a modern day amateur radio but it missed the second purpose of the examination process in giving the hobby value. If saving our “supposedly dying hobby” means lowering standards to citizens band then it is not worth saving.  I think having a smaller high standards band is far better than having a crowded convict laden citizens band.  Call me cynical but if you are paying any attention at all you know I am right.

Paul L. McCord Jr., K5GLH

Oklahoma City, Ok

Technorati Tags: American Radio Relay League, ARRL, FCC, Federal Communications Commision, Amateur Radio, Ham Radio, Citizens Band Radio, Oklahoma City

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