W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.0

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What Do Hams Really

Need to Know?

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. Why do I have to pass a test in order to get a ham call sign? 

A. Because Section 97.501 says: Each applicant must pass an examination for a new amateur operator license grant and for each change in operator class. Passing the examination results in the grant of a Section 97.5(b)(1) operator/primary station license. It is the station license that carries the call sign. It is to be used in the Section 97.119 station identification announcements whenever your station transmits. In doing so, it pinpoints you on the ULS as the Section 97.103 station licensee

Q. What is the exam all about?

A. Section 97.503 says that a written examination for a license grant must be such as to prove that the examinee possesses the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of an amateur service licensee. Possessing about 75% of those qualifications is the minimum acceptable for passing.

Q. Just who decides what those operational and technical qualifications are?

A. In places where the FCC is our regulator, our Section 97.507 preparing VEs are charged with doing that. It says: Each question on each VEC question pool must be prepared by a VE holding the required FCC-issued operator license. In other places, the qualifications are determined by the regulatory authority there.

Q. What are the credentials of those VE question writers?

A. Our Section 97.507 preparing VEs are VEC-accredited hams holding FCC expert Amateur Extra Class operator license grants. Section 97.507 also authorizes intermediate General and Advanced Class operators to prepare questions for certain examination elements.  

Q. Does it matter which 25% the examinee doesn’t know about operational and technical qualifications?

A. You might think that it should matter very much, but our Section 97.509 administering VEs apparently are unconcerned. They reportedly do not routinely take any action to remedy an examinee’s partial lack of correct knowledge.

Q. What do the international regulations say?

A. ITU-R M.1544 minimum qualifications of radio amateurs recommends:

   1. That administrations take such measures as they judge necessary to verify the operational and technical qualifications of any person wishing to operate an amateur station. In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, this work is outsourced to our VEs.

   2. That any person seeking a license to operate an amateur station should demonstrate theoretical (i.e., hypothetical, academic, notional, imaginary, conjectural, speculative, abstract) knowledge of: Radio Regulations (international, domestic); Methods of radio communication (radiotelephony, radio telegraphy, data and image); Radio system theory (transmitters, receivers, antennas and propagation, measurements); Radio emission safety, Electromagnetic compatibility; and Avoidance and resolution of radio frequency interference.

Q. Should our VEs implement ITU-R M. 1544.1?

A. They should incorporate its standards into our Element 2 because it contains the minimum qualifications to demonstrate by any person seeking an amateur service license. Passing Element 2 is common to every FCC amateur operator license grant.

Q. What does a ham really need to know? 

A. In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, the person should possess the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of a FCC-authorized amateur service licensee.

   There are technical terms that must be understood in order to make meaningful Part 97 Amateur Radio Service and the applicable Sections of:

   Part 0 Commission Organization;

   Part 1 Practice and Procedure;

   Part 2 Frequency Allocations and Radio Treaty Matters; General Rules and Regulations;

   Part 17 Construction, Marking, and Lighting of Antenna Structures, and

   Part 214 Procedures for the Use and Coordination of the Radio Spectrum During a Wartime Emergency.

   The person should possess the ability to determine whether or not an amateur station’s transmissions are compliant with the technical standards in Part 97 Subpart D Section 97.301 through Section 97.313.

   The person should possess the ability to assemble amateur stations composed of apparatus not necessarily FCC certificated. The FCC does not review amateur station transmitter types. The Section 97.103 station licensee, rather, is the person accountable for the amateur station being compliant with the pertinent technical standards.

   The person should possess and utilize the Section 97.101(a) good amateur practice protocols that are so essential to orderly spectrum usage. Engaging in self-policing is a bedrock necessity.

   In addition to having a solid working knowledge of the rules’ technical content, there should be three essential operational needs:    

   The first need should be for every ham to understand the possibilities for, and how to avoid, excessive RF radiation to themselves, their families, friends, neighbors, and the general population. 

  There should be the need for every ham to avoid causing any disruption to the intended reception of transmissions from stations in any legitimate radio services. 

   Lastly, there should be the need for every ham to cooperate in maintaining an orderly functioning of our own amateur service so as to promote efficient use of the radio spectrum and gain a net social benefit.

Q. I am very disappointed with the way the volunteer examiner system has matured and the way it is being carried out by our local VE teams. I volunteered to help out as an instructor. I intended to explain the background of each question and correct answer choice. I also intended to explain why the distractor answers were incorrect. I was told, however, to just point out the correct answers and move on. To my mind, this does not teach newcomers how to perform properly the duties of an FCC amateur service licensee.

A. You must be an elder ham. Things have changed. Examining has taken on a life of its own. So has teaching.

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May 1, 2017

Supersedes all prior versions