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 #15    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

The Technician license is, by far, the most popular class of license now held in the amateur community. Most new hams start at the Technician level, to the extent that proposals have been made to eliminate the Novice license as unnecessary. The amateur community accepts the Technician, especially the Technician Plus, as an acceptable mainstream license, either as a steppingstone to a higher class license, or as an end in itself. But it wasn't always like this. For the first 25 years of the Technician class license's existence, it was an official outcast, set apart by the FCC as separate and distinct from the other amateur classes. Why were Technicians considered second class? To answer this question, we must go back to 1951.

On July 1, 1951, the FCC replaced the class A, B, and C licenses with the Advanced, General and Conditional classes and created three new licenses--the Extra, Technician, and Novice. The FCC was specific about the purpose of the Technician class license, as shown in the following quote: "This class was established expressly for serious minded experimenters who need spectrum space in which to air test their equipment. It was not established as a communications service and should not be regarded as a stepping stone between the Novice and General operator classes. The Technician class of amateur license has as its purpose the provision for serious amateur experimenters to explore the higher frequencies and otherwise contribute to the art".

Thus, the Technician was an experimenter, not a communicator. For this reason, the FCC initially allowed Technicians privileges only on frequencies above 220 Mc. The FCC did not intend for the Technician to engage in casual conversations on the air. Other than allowing a Technician to simultaneously hold a Novice license (which at that time was valid for only one year and non-renewable), it was expected that the Technician operator would stick to experimentation, not communication.

Although many of the early Technicians were indeed pure experimenters, many others obtained the license as a means to communicate without having to pass the 13 WPM code test. These "Technician communicators" became restless with the limited frequencies available above 220 Mc., and wanted access to the more mainstream VHF bands at six and two meters. They were joined by a small number of "Technician experimenters" who also wished access to 50 and 144 Mc., for the purpose of studying Sporadic E skip, building equipment for these bands, or even using their license for radio control.

Thus, in early 1955, a proposal was submitted to the FCC to allow Technicians access to six and two meters. Knowing that the FCC regarded the license as an experimental one, these proposals avoided mentioning "communication"--rather phrases such as "greater experimentation" were  used. The ARRL supported Technician access to six, but not two meters. In announcing their decision, the ARRL stated that six meters was far less occupied than two meters, and could use the influx of Technicians to study the band, and thus contribute to greater understanding of the unique characteristics of 50 Mc. The ARRL went on to say that permitting Technicians on two meters would appear to make the Technician license too attractive. Many amateurs also wrote the FCC on this--some said that Technicians should have full access to all frequencies above 50 Mc., while others opposed the move, citing the FCC's original intent for this license, and expressing fears that by allowing Technicians to use six and two meters, they would become mere communicators.

On April 12, 1955, the FCC amended Part 12 of the rules and regulations to give the Technician class operator six but not two meters.

The fears of those opposed to Technician communicators were amplified in 1958 when, at the peak of the sunspot cycle, thousands of Technicians used F layer skip on 50 Mc. to work vast amounts of DX--with some earning the W.A.S. award. Nevertheless, allowing Technicians on six meters had a beneficial effect--it helped populate a band that was underutilized, and it allowed a greater study of E and F layer skip. For this reason, early in 1959 another proposal was submitted to the FCC to allow Technicians full access to the 144 Mc. band. This time the ARRL agreed. They stated that things had changed since 1955 and Technicians on two meters would benefit not only the advancement of the radio art, but would also allow all classes of amateur licenses to share at least one voice band in common, as Novices had access to the 145-147 Mc. segment of two meters.

Despite the ARRL's support of Technicians on two meters, there was opposition. Again, the argument as to the purpose of the license was brought up. Many amateurs wrote to the FCC stating that a Technician was an experimenter, not a communicator, and that the license should not be used for the routine exchange of communications. One ham complained that Technicians were rag chewing and not experimenting. A few amateurs not only wanted Technicians kept off of 144 Mc., but asked the FCC to incorporate their statement as to the purpose of the license into Part 12, presumably so that Technicians caught "communicating" rather than "experimenting" could be fined or have their licenses suspended. Others, including the ARRL, did bring in valid "experimental" reasons to allow Technicians on two meters. Once again, the FCC compromised. They restated their official position that a Technician was an experimenter, not a communicator. However, they acknowledged that VHF studies could be made on two meters, and that it was beneficial to have one common meeting ground for all classes of license. Thus, on August 21, 1959, Part 12 was amended to allow Technicians access to the 145-147 Mc. segment of two meters--the same subband that Novices had.

And so Technicians entered the 1960s as a distinctly second class license. They were not eligible for RACES station authorizations. They could not hold many ARRL appointments. And, despite the ARRL support of full Technician access to all frequencies above 50 Mc., the FCC's official position had not changed. Although no Technician was ever actually fined or suffered a license suspension for the "crime" of communicating, many hams felt that Technicians were merely "glorified CBers" who were violating the spirit, if not the letter of the law.

In our next installment, we will see how a new, short lived VHF magazine, and an official change in the ARRL's viewpoint, helped bring about a gradual acceptance of Technicians as "real" amateurs. I hope to see you then.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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