Sunday, April 15, 2012

As I have shown, the standards for entry and advancement into the Amateur Radio Service in the United States were needlessly "dumbed up" nearly a half-century ago.

But KEEPING those entrance requirements into our hobby "not so easy" LONG after that "dumbed up" approach had outlived ANY semblance of usefulness (while also keeping a stupid Morse test as a mandatory requirement for full access to the mainstream of our Service) well into the 21st Century has clearly been disastrous to our long-term health.

Sadly, I believe the seeds of our Service's ultimate destruction were largely sown back in the mid 1950s and 60s when the FCC (at the ARRL's behest) hatched their stupid "incentive licensing" foolishness…a licensing system that was developed with a plethora of built-in barriers that were specifically designed to keep the "wrong people" out of our Service.

While such official regulatory elitism may have arguably kept some of the "wrong" people out of our Service over the last half-century (but apparently not enough as Mr. Hollingsworth (the FCC's one-time amateur radio "enforcer") has attested), such systemically discriminatory FCC foolishness has ALSO now managed to keep far too many of the "right" people out as least in enough numbers to sustain our Service going forward.

Sadly, if they know anything about it at all, most non-Hams now view Amateur Radio in the United States as an elitist radio Service populated by an ever-aging cadre of crusty techno-bigots with an obsession for quaint, tube-type equipment and who demonstrate on a daily basis (in various public forums) that they are completely out of touch with social and technological reality.  As a result, our Service has now become increasingly unattractive to younger newcomers.

Thanks to the handiwork of these elitist snobs, I fear that our fate as a Service is now largely sealed.  And, ALL the endless blather about the "easiness" or "hardness" of our current exams becomes simply another exercise in "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." 

Unfortunately, whatever hope there MAY have been for our hobby to REALLY grow and flourish in the United States in the years ahead has long since been effectively dashed by the ongoing work of the "Morse testing and incentive licensing for ever" clowns and their willing accomplices in the ARRL and FCC.

As I've said, the good news is that these overly vocal Neanderthals are now dying in ever increasing numbers. The bad news is that, as a DIRECT result of their efforts, our wonderful hobby is now slowly shrinking right along with them. I fear that it will whither away and die unless action is taken NOW to stop that trend.

Thankfully, the FCC (along with many other such agencies in other countries) are now (finally) undoing what they (and their willing accomplices in the ARRL at the time) set in motion years ago… turning a basic competency test for a Ham Radio license into an unneeded series of "achievement tests". 

Over the years, this "achievement" oriented approach to government licensing has helped the ARRL and others sell a gazillion dollars worth of printed manuals, books and other such “upgrade” materials.  Unfortunately, perpetuating this fraud into the 21st Century has now all but institutionalized the concept of incentive licensing into our hobby in the United States.  

That is, not only have some of us forgotten that this is still supposed to be “amateur” radio; some of us have now forgotten that we have forgotten that it’s supposed to be “amateur” radio!

As I've said, many of the unwitting proponents of incentive licensing who also bought the FCC/ARRL’s fraudulent bill of goods years ago are STILL trying their level best to hang onto their dying dream.  This fact is evidenced by all the passionate comments expressed here and elsewhere about, for example, the horrible “dumbing down” of the FCC tests, bringing back CW tests for Extras (or even HAVING an “Extra Class” license in the first place)!  

As it has oft been said, requiring proficiency in the Morse Code in order to obtain a Ham Radio license these days is much like having to demonstrate how to shoe a horse in order to get a driver’s license.  And keeping that license requirement alive into the 21st Century is nothing more than a government-sponsored hazing ritual. 

And, speaking of a driver’s license, why is it that I STILL don’t need to know how the fuel injectors, transmission and brake lights all work on my car in order to obtain one?  

Maybe that’s because my personal driver’s license, along with many other government-issued, private licenses that I’ve carried in my pocket over the years all have licensing structures that are set up to simply measure basic competencies.  That is, they simply require me to demonstrate to a competent government authority that I won’t be a hazard (or a nuisance) to either myself or others while exercising the privileges of my license.  The real learning comes much later, usually with years and years of actual on the road or (in the case of Ham Radio) “hands on” experience.

I’ve always found it interesting that most of these other government license structures also don’t require that I go back and take yet another "achievement test" in order to drive my vehicle farther away from home, for example.  Granted, state and provincial driver license structures all require another series of tests if I want to drive a larger vehicle (or one for commercial purposes).  But, even here, the requirement for another test is for safety reasons…not just for increased knowledge for knowledge’s sake. 

Think about it!  Who has ever heard of an "Extra Class Driver’s License" to drive a passenger car?

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?  

In fact, it’s about as ludicrous as requiring that I have an Extra Class Amateur Radio License in order to have full privileges and operate anywhere I want to on the Ham Bands!

I think Rich Moseson, W2VU, in his “Zero Bias” editorial in the January, 2006 CQ Magazine illustrates this point quite clearly.  He talks about the “University of Ham Radio” as a college of sorts where learning is going on every single day.

However, in this “university” there are no grades, no tests, no papers, and no deadlines.  If a “course” doesn’t suit you, you can “drop” it at anytime without penalty.  If you want to declare a “major” you can do so, simply by delving into a particular aspect of Ham Radio with gusto, sometimes becoming a leading expert in the field.   Others (like me) choose to learn a little bit about a lot of things.  This, my friends, is where the real “learning” takes place in Amateur Radio.  It certainly doesn’t come from cramming for yet another stupid FCC test!

The truth is that those of us who REALLY want to learn more about electronics and RF theory are going to do so, regardless of the “easiness” or “hardness” of the test(s) we have to take to get our initial Amateur Radio licenses.  Which, in turn, makes the whole concept of “incentive licensing” something of an oxymoron.

I’ve often wondered how many of us who are, for example, overjoyed that drawing schematics has once again been made a requirement in the testing structure for amateur radio licenses in the USA are also the same ones who couldn’t now draw one from scratch to save their soul.  And how many more of us will admit that, even in the time of “incentive licensing”, we simply learned enough about electronics and RF theory to pass the test(s) and then promptly forgot it all?

While it is certainly true that Ham Radio has launched careers, I believe that those with a passionate interest in electronics and RF theory will always find a way to advance those interests regardless of what they are forced to learn to pass an FCC test.  That’s because, as Rich has so eloquently noted in his editorial, a passionate desire to learn and master such things ultimately has to come from within. 

That is, while an interest in Amateur Radio may have provided the initial spark for some of us to get up off our finals and get our noses in the books, the continued, passionate desire to learn all we can about such things doesn’t come simply by passing a series of ever more difficult achievement tests for the FCC.

Sadly, all incentive licensing has done for Amateur Radio been to create a “caste system” within the hobby, a system that, even to this day, is still chock full of meaningless government-sponsored hazing rituals and achievement tests that have absolutely nothing to do measuring our real learning.  That is, beyond the basic exams, all these “incentive” tests have ever measured is one’s innate ability to decipher a series of dots and dashes by ear, and/or how well someone can memorize ever more complicated formulas and information for an exam.  Period. 

Put another way, over the years, all that incentive licensing has really succeeded in doing has been to separate us from ourselves.

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