December 15, 2006 will be remembered in history. It will be written about in newspapers over the next few days. I think the blogosphere will be abuzz about this for a while. No, not because it was my 37th birthday.
Yesterday marks the day that the FCC dropped all requirements [PDF] to know any Morse code to obtain an Amateur Radio license (Ham Radio). Though I am disappointed, I cannot say that I am at all surprised. It was just a matter of time.
There are valid arguments on both sides, for and against code requirements for licensing. I will give my take which will sound very wishy washy and will not solve any disputes. But here it is.
Those who oppose code argue that there is no need for it. The likelihood of catching a distress call over code is incredibly slim. This is because there are fewer people who know code today than there were 50 years ago. If you were in a boat that was lost at sea and you had a meager transmitter that could send out a CW signal better than voice, would you know how to do that? Sure you could send SOS because you heard it as a kid on TV, but what would you send after that? The argument goes that it is just not practically necessary to know.
They further argue that code is just one of the many operating modes. Why would the test requirements include code when it does not include testing for other specific modes? They say that the promoters of CW simply want to use code as a litmus test for gaining entrance to the club. If you don’t learn code then you are not worthy to join the ranks. They say that ham radio is dying as a hobby because of the code requirements. Old Timers whine and moan that the hobby is dying out with fewer people involved while the no-coders contend that it is the code that is the barrier to people joining (as if the code is much more difficult, or even impossible, to learn today than it was 10 or 50 years ago).
On the other side of the field are those of us who “earned” our tickets instead of paying a fee and getting a license. They say code is not used as a barrier to keep good people out, rather it is a proof of commitment to the hobby. And commitment to the rules and community is what the ham radio ranks takes pride in.
Morse code at 5 WPM (the highest current requirement until yesterday) can be learned by anyone the pro-coders say. If you can memorize the ABCs and can count, you can learn code at 5 WPM. It is so incredibly slow that there is no need to actually be able to “hear” the code, rather you simply need to be able to count.
My thoughts on both sides. For those who are against the code I would say that it really is not that hard to learn. And it is certainly no harder than it was 50 years ago. Take my wife for example. She learned it simply because I asked her to. Not because she has any great love for contesting and talking to the world. She learned the 5 WPM in two weeks. She then passed her 13 WPM test a couple of months later. This does not take years to learn. It takes a small commitment for a few weeks, at most, to learn the code. If you can’t learn it, it is because you don’t want to. I admit there are people with learning disabilities that may need an exception, but that is not the majority of the whiners out there.
And, yes, it is a barrier to keep just anyone becoming a ham. I am sorry that you have grown up in an educational system that says everyone is equal and no one should be held back because they are not able to perform on the same level as someone else. That whole philosophy is destroying our nation. Where does that stupidity end? I guess when everyone who wants to be an Olympic athlete gets a gold medal simply because they desire one will be the culmination of that philosophy. As it stands today, if you want a gold medal, you need to earn it. Until yesterday, if you want certain privileges in the ham radio spectrum, you had to earn it.
Who cares that it is just one mode? You actually are tested on other modes of operation. They just happen to be the easier modes, therefore you don’t mind. Aren’t there some things you can and cannot say on the air? Do you get tested on that? Well, then you are being tested on phone operation. So stop the argument that testing on a specific mode, CW, is unfair because you are tested on other modes as well.
To those on my side of fence–get over it. I hate hearing people complain that ham radio is going down the tubes and that people don’t want to join today. They don’t want to join because they don’t want to constantly hear you tell them how unworthy they are. We really don’t care that you had to sit in front of an FCC examiner and build a transmitter from the lint in your pockets. Now if you want to tell us that story because it is a great story, by all means, I would love to hear it. But if you are using that to say that I am unworthy and I am not a “real” ham, then go tell someone else. I am just not interested.
Yes, the numbers of participants in ham radio is falling. I believe it has little to do with the code requirements. We will see an initial insurgence of new hams, but that will wear off. I think there are two main contributers to the lack of interest in ham radio today.
One is that there are just way too many other distractions. My son and I were talking about the great chess players in the world. We made an observation. Most of them come from countries that do not have access to 200 TV channels, Internet broadband in every home that wants it, and, probably the most important, they do not even have reliable electricity. If you want good entertainment, you need to create it with things you can’t plug in. I may be terribly wrong on this, but chess in the US is far inferior to the great place the game holds in many other nations. That is not meant to slight the great US players, but that, in general, chess does not have the popularity it has in many places.
Ham radio and chess in the US are not dissimilar. Ham radio suffers from the fact that there are simply too many distractions.
The second barrier has to do with people. Take an honest look at your ham radio club. If you did not already know the folks involved and they were not already your friends, would you want to join them? The most vocal of them are the old guys making comments about how much they miss the golden days of radio. Of course they are complaining to the newbies who are still starry eyed about having earned their first ticket.
This does not mark the end of the Amateur Radio service. It is just a step. It can be a step to greater days, or a step to the grave. It depends, in large part, on the community as to which way they want to go. There is certainly a place to fight for the standards of Ham Radio. But that fight is not with the new Tech that just got licensed. That fight is with the lawmakers and the movers and shakers within the FCC and the ARRL. Beating up the kid with the new ticket does far more harm than it does good.
Stop sulking about the “glory days” and make today the best day in the Ham Radio service.
73 de KU4LL