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 #19    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

In 1974, the amateur radio population was on the increase again, thanks to the popularity of 2 meter FM. Incentive Licensing had been in place for 5 years, and the anger and resentment over losing HF frequencies was beginning to fade.

However, trouble was brewing. The FCC had several petitions on their agenda, most from hams, and one from the Electronics Industry Association. In late 1974, two bombshells were dropped.

The first surprise was Docket #20282--the FCC's restructuring plan for amateur radio. Apparently oblivious to the upheaval that was caused in the 1960's with Incentive Licensing, the FCC was now proposing rules that would take away major privileges from Generals, eliminate the ability of 90% of Technicians to renew their license, and, horror of horrors, create a new "No Code" license. The proposal was somewhat complicated, so grab a pencil and some paper, and follow along.

The FCC, in essence, wanted to create a "dual ladder" incentive licensing system, with two routes available. The first, named Series A, covered the shortwave frequencies, while Series B encompassed the VHF-UHF allocations. The dividing line between Series A and Series B was not 50 MHz, as one would expect, but rather 29 MHz, or roughly the middle of the 10 meter band.

Series A contained familiar amateur classes--Novice, General, Advanced and Extra. Novices would get a power increase from 75 to 250 watts input, and would also gain a 5 year renewable license to replace the 2 year non-renewable one now in existence. Generals would lose big--the 29.0 to 29.7 MHz segment of 10 meters would be taken away; they would be limited to A1 (CW), A3 (AM & SSB), and F3 (FM) emissions only (in other words no more slow scan TV, RTTY, or radio control); power output would be reduced to 500 watts PEP; and they could no longer supervise mail examinations. Furthermore, they could no longer be the trustee of a club station or repeater. Generals who were already licensed if or when this proposal was adopted would also be "Grandfathered" into the Series B Technician Class license.

The Advanced class gained under Series A. They kept all of their privileges below 29 MHz, received a power increase to 2 kw PEP output, gained access to the Extra Class phone segments, and would be "Grandfathered" into the new "Experimenter" Class in Series B.

The Extra Class lost their exclusive phone bands, which would be shared with the Advanced license. However, they kept their CW subbands, and gained the 2 kw PEP output, as well as a lifetime operator license. Note that the Conditional Class license is not mentioned. That's because the FCC incorporated it into the General license. Conditionals would have the letter "C" after the word General, and their license would not be renewable.

On the Series B, or VHF-UHF side, the proposed changes were even more drastic.

The FCC, for the entry level license, would create a new "No Code" "Communicator" Class, which would allow operations above 144 MHz using F3 (FM) emissions only

Technicians would gain some frequencies--the 50.0-50.1 and 144-145 MHz segments--but otherwise, like the Generals, would lose big. They could only use A1, A3 and F3 emissions with 500 watts PEP output, and could not be the trustee of a club station or repeater. However, the worst news for Technicians was that those who had taken their exam via mail (about 90%) would not be allowed to renew. They, like the Conditionals, would have to pass the test again before their license expired.

One step above the Technician Class was another new license proposed by the FCC--the Experimenter Class. "Experimenters" would have all amateur privileges above 29 MHz, with 2 kw PEP output.

Above the Experimenter license was the Extra Class, which held the distinction of being at the top of the ladder for both Series A and B.

The FCC proposed adjusting the written exams to accommodate the different requirements of Series A and Series B. Element 2 (the old Novice written exam) would be rewritten into 2A (Novice) and 2B (Communicator). Novices would have to pass the 5 wpm code, as well as 2A, while Communicators only had to pass 2B. Likewise, the General Element 3 would be divided into 3A (General) and 3B (Technician). Generals and Technicians would still have to pass the 13 and 5 wpm code tests respectively. Advanced Class operators needed 13 wpm and the Element 4A written exam, while Experimenters had to pass a 5 wpm code test along with Element 4B. For the Advanced and Experimenter Classes, only the 20 wpm code test was needed to upgrade to Extra.

Since, except for the Extra, the Series A and Series B licenses did not overlap, the FCC would allow amateurs to hold one license in each Series. This created some interesting possibilities. As previously noted, a General could also hold a Technician, and an Advanced the Experimenter. Both Technicians and Experimenters could obtain a Novice, if they passed Element 2A. The "No Code" Communicator could also hold a Novice, if Element 2A and the 5 wpm tests were passed.

The FCC set a June 1975 deadline for comments on the restructuring proposal. The ARRL, still smarting from the Incentive Licensing conflicts, wasn't going to comment until they had taken the pulse of their members. What was the ARRL's response? And just what was "Class E CB", the other FCC proposal? How did it affect Amateur radio? In our next installment, the "Wayback Machine" will have the answers.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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