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 #16    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

In our last installment, we saw how, when the FCC created the Technician class license back in 1951, their intention was to give it a separate and unique purpose. The Commission stated that the Technician class license was established expressly for serious minded experimenters who needed spectrum space in which to conduct their tests. It was not established as a communicators' service and was not to be a stepping stone between the Novice and General class licenses. The original Technician class operator only had privileges above 220 Mc. In 1955, they were given six meters and in 1959, the 145-147 Mc. segment of two meters. Getting additional frequencies for Technicians was difficult--the petitions could not mention "communications" as a reason, but rather had to show that there was a need for additional experimentation on the six and two meter bands. Because of the "experimental" nature of the license, Technicians were not allowed to become RACES stations. They also faced some discrimination by a few higher class amateurs--in fact, several proposals were made to the FCC to "punish" Technicians who used the airwaves to communicate, rather than to experiment.

In 1962, two events occurred. First, the FCC denied petitions to give Technicians the 29.5-29.7 Mc. segment of ten meters as well as full two meter privileges. In rejecting these petitions, the FCC said there was "considerable misunderstanding" about the role of the Technician class, and restated the "experimenter" policy they had issued in 1951.

Also that year, a new amateur publication hit the market- "VHF Horizons." Concentrating on six meters and above, this magazine was full of technical articles, construction projects, contest information, and VHF news. But it was the editorial content of "VHF Horizons" that broke new ground. For the first time, an amateur magazine called for a rewrite of FCC policy. They wanted Technicians to be considered full-fledged amateurs and not just experimenters. Naturally, this caused controversy in the amateur community. Technicians who considered themselves communicators flocked to this new publication, while some higher class amateurs condemned it and restated their position that "communicating" Technicians were violating FCC policy. Unfortunately, "VHF Horizons" was not able to turn a profit, and expired after only two years.

In 1967, the FCC instituted "incentive licensing". While the actual frequency loss by Technicians was minimal--just the first 100 kc. CW segment of six meters--the FCC still struck a blow to those wishing to remove the "experimenter" status from this license. The FCC once again turned aside requests to expand Technician privileges to the full two meter band. In addition, the FCC also removed two meter voice privileges for Novices and took away the right for an amateur to simultaneously hold a Novice and Technician license. According to the Commission, too many Novices were operating two meter voice, were not increasing their code speed, and were upgrading only to Technician instead of General when their Novice license expired. Once again, the 1951 policy was restated.

However, despite the FCC's position, thousands of Technicians were on the VHF bands as communicators. With the rise of two meter FM, new Technicians were taking to the airwaves every day, mostly with surplus wide-band commercial equipment. Recognizing that the role of this class of license had evolved, the ARRL Board of Directors met on November 1, 1969 and came to a decision. In an editorial in the December 1969 issue of "QST" entitled "Technicians as Communicators", the ARRL's new position was stated--Technicians were no longer just experimenters, but rather full fledged communicators. The ARRL proposed that they be given the full two meter band, the 29.5 to 29.7 Mc. segment of ten meters, and the ability to once again hold a Novice license simultaneously. The ARRL put these proposals before the FCC in a petition.

The FCC did not immediately respond to this petition, but rather, in 1971 issued an odd ruling in which they stated that a Technician class amateur could not use a repeater in which the input was in the Technician subband of 145-147 MHz, but the output was above 147. Nevertheless, since the repeater subband in the early 70's was 146-148 MHz and the Technician was not allowed above 147, the FCC was under pressure. On October 17, 1972, Technicians were given the 147-148 MHz segment of two meters. The FCC denied Technicians ten meters, Novices privileges, and the 144-145 MHz portion of two meters, but the door was opened.

With thousands of Technicians on two meter FM, the FCC then moved slowly towards full VHF privileges for them, realizing that the "experimenter" designation was obsolete. In 1975, Technicians were given Novice frequency privileges. When the new repeater subband was opened at 144.5-145.5 MHz, Technician privileges were expanded to 144.5-148. The FCC also realized that Technicians could no longer be excluded from RACES operation. In 1976, the FCC eliminated the "mail order" status of the Technician exam and required applicants to show up at an FCC examination point.

Finally, in 1978, Technicians received full two meter privileges. In the eyes of the FCC, they were full-fledged amateurs. In 1987, the exam was made easier by splitting element 3--the General written exam--into 3A for Technician and 3B for General. This is why those Technicians licensed before March 1987 only have to take the 13 WPM code test to upgrade to General. Also in 1987, Technicians received sideband privileges in the 28.3 to 28.5 MHz segment of ten meters. And, in a final act of "Technician Liberation" in 1991, 40 years after the license was established, the code-free Technician was created. So, if you meet a Technician who has been licensed since the 60's, treat him or her with dignity and respect, for they have suffered and endured years of being ostracized so that today's Technicians can enjoy full VHF/UHF privileges.

In our next installment, we will look at the development of repeaters and repeater regulations. I hope you will join me.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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