The History Of Amateur Radio

This portion of my website was prepared with the help of Bill Continelli, W2XOY. Bill has prepared several articles in a series he calls "The Wayback Machine", in the hope to expand the knowledge of fellow hams, about Amateur Radio's unique and unchallenged history.

THE WAYBACK MACHINE #14    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

In our last installment, we reviewed the events that took place between 1951 and 1953. In that two year period, the Class A, B, and C licenses had been renamed the Advanced, General and Conditional class respectively. Three new licenses had been created--the Extra, Technician and Novice class. Also during that period, 40 meters was finally opened to phone operation, after being a CW only band for years, we lost the top 50 kc of 20 meters, but gained our new 15 meter band, the Advanced class was closed to new applicants (although those holding this license could still renew), and, in a surprising decision, the FCC opened all phone bands to the General and Conditional class operators. Previously, holders of Class B and C licenses could only operate HF phone on 10 meters. Now all amateurs, Conditional to Extra class, had the same on-the-air operating privileges.

Many amateurs resented the fact that the Advanced and Extra class operators had no exclusive frequencies and that there was no incentive for a General or Conditional class licensee to upgrade. Some of these complaints filtered their way to the ARRL. And so, in the February 1963 issue of "QST," an editorial appeared in which the ARRL expressed regret over the abandonment of the incentive license structure, called the 1952 decision a step backward, and proposed a new incentive licensing system be implemented.

The idea of exclusive frequencies for Advanced and Extra class hams--at the expense of the Generals and Conditionals--drew volumes of mail in response. Some of the comments printed in "QST" included: "...absolutely outrageous...", "...ridiculous...", "Your editorial hits the nail on the head", "...thought provoking...", "Congratulations to the ARRL" and "To Hell with the ARRL." The responses in "QST" were about evenly split for and against. There were a few letters from Generals and Conditionals who supported the idea of incentive licensing, even though they would clearly lose under the proposal.

On May 3, 1963, the ARRL Board of Directors adopted their official position on incentive licensing. Their proposal would completely take away all General and Conditional class phone privileges on 75, 40, 20, and 15 meters in a two-year phase-in period. In other words, the ARRL's incentive licensing would only allow HF phone operation for Generals and Conditionals on 10 meters and on the small sliver of 160 meters that was available in the days of LORAN Radionavigation. The ARRL also suggested reopening the Advanced class license again to those who held a General or Conditional license for one year. Strangely, the ARRL did not suggest that Extras be given exclusive frequencies, nor did they propose exclusive CW frequencies. Rather, they just wanted exclusive access to the 75 through 15-meter phone segments for the Advanced and Extra class licenses.

Again, the mail poured in, pro and con. Many hams felt betrayed for, at this time, the ARRL was running a building fund drive to raise $250,000 to construct the headquarters that now stands at 225 Main Street in Newington, Connecticut. In effect, they believed that the ARRL was saying "Thanks for your donation, now say goodbye to your HF phone privileges." They were not happy.

On April 1, 1965, the FCC, in response to the ARRL proposal and proposals submitted by others, released their own version of incentive licensing. For Generals and Conditionals, the FCC proposal was not as bad as the League's--the FCC would take away about 50% of their phone frequencies on 75-15 meters, but they would still have access to half of each phone band. For the Advanced Class licensees (formerly Class A), it was a disaster. The FCC, instead of reopening the Advanced class, proposed creating a new "Amateur First Class License." This license would have a code speed of 16 WPM. Worse, the FCC would "bump" the present Advanced class operators down to General upon renewal.

Now it was the Advanced class licensees who were outraged. Prior to 1952, they had held the top license. Now, in effect, they would be demoted two grades and lose 50% of the 75-15 meter phone bands. The FCC also proposed extensive 50 kc CW subbands for Extra class licensees on 80-15 meters, small exclusive phone segments for Extras, and incentive restrictions on six and two meters. For the next two years, 1965-1967, the battle raged on. Hundreds of proposals and counter proposals were made. The ARRL opposed any incentive subbands on six and two, and worked to retain the Advanced class in lieu of the proposed "Amateur First Class License."

On August 24, 1967, the FCC announced its decision. There would not be a new "Amateur First Class" ticket, or a 16 WPM requirement. The Advanced class would not be demoted to General, but rather would be reopened as the intermediate step between general and Extra. In summary, the FCC rules established a three-step phase-in of incentive licensing, to begin on November 22, 1967. On that day, the Advanced class was reopened to new applicants after a 15 year freeze and Novices were given a two- year, non-renewal license, instead of the previous one-year, non- renewable term.

On November 22, 1968, Novices lost their 2-meter voice privileges. Generals, Conditionals and Technicians lost the first 100 kc of 6 meters. The first 25 kc of the 80-15 meter CW bands became Extra only and Generals and Conditionals lost about 25% of the 75-15 meter phone bands, which were given to the Advanced and Extra class hams. Comments and opinions still poured into the FCC and the ARRL, requesting anything from total abandonment of incentive licensing to even more restrictive allocations. Most of the comments suggested that the third phase, scheduled for implementation on November 22, 1969, was too severe. Upon review, the Commission agreed in part. Thus, on September 24, 1969, the FCC scaled back the scheduled changes. As a result, Technicians, Conditionals, and Generals did not lose the 50.1 through 50.25 Mc segment of six meters (where most of the sideband activity was) and the Extra class CW subbands were kept at 25 kc. After November 22, 1969, Generals and Conditionals had only 50% of the 75-15 meter phone bands, Advanced about 90%, and Extra class licensees retained 100% of their previous allocations.

On a final note, the FCC, in its Report & Order adopting incentive licensing, had refused to increase VHF operating privileges for Technicians and had taken away Novice voice operations on 2 meters. There was a reason for this. The FCC wanted Novices to bypass the Technician class license and go right to General. Why?

In our next installment, "The Wayback Machine" will journey back to the amateur world in the 1950s, '60s and early '70s to take a closer look at the Technician class license and the unique position it held. I hope you will be aboard.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

These columns were originally written for the Schenectady Museum Amateur Radio Club.