Code vs. No Code (New Technician Class Privileges)

It still happens to be a highly controversial topic within the Amateur Radio community, of which parties on both sides of the issue hold extremely strong views.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion and as ham operators, we should do our very best to respect each other's views and opinions, regardless of which side of the issue you favor.

In the early years, all Ham operators were required to exhibit a specific level of proficiency using Morse Code.  This rule served a unique purpose for creating a single common bond between all hams, and for what it's worth, helped keep a substantial amount of "riff-raff" off the Ham bands.  However, it is not, nor has it ever been the only common bond all amateur radio operators share.

One common bond all Ham radio people share, regardless of license classification, is that Ham Radio Operators are considered "Public Servants" within our communities.  We are ready and prepared to offer aid and assistance through emergency radio communications using our federally allocated spectrums.  Yes, we Ham operators do hold a certain amount of 'clout' within our communities.  Sadly, some local municipalities still have a hard time understanding the importance of our status and community contribution.  Fortunately, there are some states that hit the nail right on the head.  But that's a different topic altogether.

The FCC's official "Report and Order" (R&O) in the "Morse Code Proceeding", WT Docket 05-235, published in the Federal Register, makes the effective date of the "code-free" rules February 23, 2007.  Many Hams view this ruling as detrimental to our hobby, while others openly applauded the FCC's decision to drop Morse Code.  But wait a minute, there's more!  Was code completely dropped?  No.  Can anyone who takes the Technician no code class test operate phone in the all the bands all inclusive? NO.  Now, let's take a look at the big picture.

The "new" technician (no code) class privileges now allow new hams to operate in the 80 meters band between 3.525 and 3.600 mhz CW only.  But wait a minute! CW? Isn't that a code area? Yes.  So, technician class hams who do not know Morse code cannot use phone there? Correct.  Ok, what about 180 meters? Absolutely No.  60 meters? No.  40 meters? Yes, between 7.025 and 7.125 mhz on, you guessed it, CW only!  Hmmm.  Now, the frustration starts.  How about 30 meters? No.  20 and 17 meters? No and no.  15 meters? Yes!  Between 21.025 and 21.200 mhz, again only on CW.  12 meters?  No.  10 meters?? Yes!  Technicians get the chance to talk on 10 meters!  They get a whopping 200 mhz between 28.300 and 28.500 mhz to communicate using phone, provided the frequency is not already being used by other hams using Morse code.  They can also use 28.000 to 28.300 for CW, RTTY and Data, but have to stay out of the 28.501 to 29.700, exclusively reserved for General, Advanced and Extra's.  So, there you have it!      

Meanwhile, the ARRL (American Radio Relay League), continues to announce an alarmingly sharp drop in new ham memberships.  The biggest reason is blamed on home computers and cell phone texting.  The ever increasing speed of the Internet makes it easy to communicate on a world wide scale with no studying or testing required.  Want to talk to your friend?  Text them.  These are the main reasons less people bother to get a ham license.  Why bother to learn something that's considered 'antiquated' by today's advanced digital standards.  Yes, I'm talking about Morse code.

To set the record straight, as a licensed ham, I personally have nothing against learning Morse code, especially if someone chooses to learn how to properly use it.  And, by no means should it be abolished from ham radio.  Morse Code has been a big part of our ham radio hobby since it's inception.  If people want to learn to use it, there's no logical reason not to have it.  However, using it to 'restrict' hams from operating in certain areas of the entire amateur radio spectrum, specifically in places that do not require knowing code, is questionable and detrimental to our hobby. 

Back in Washington DC, all the big cell phone and commercial radio 'giants' continue to lobby our government to force Hams to hand back more and more portions of our amateur bands.  The large drop in ARRL memberships only supports their lobbying efforts.  These cell phone 'giants' could care less about amateur radio folks.  In fact, they hope more and more hams drop the hobby altogether!  They already know the Ham population is steadily shrinking.  To them, it's a golden opportunity to get more spectrum out of us.  Case in point, we've already given back part of our 220Mhz band, and now the U.S. House of Representatives are looking at HR 607, which puts our 70CM band in jeopardy.  Analog TV signals are officially gone, replaced by digital (HDTV) signals in a completely different spectrum.  If anyone thinks for a moment that even a tiny portion of the old unused TV band might be re-allocated to us Hams by our highly generous members of congress, guess again!  Just read about HR 607!  So, the more bands we let slip through our fingers, the next generation of Hams will no doubt suffer.  It's a big problem that simply won't go away.

Getting back to the original question of 'Code or NO-Code', and how to preserve what spectrum we now have?  Although we no longer need code to get a Ham license, restricting hams from operating deeper into the HF bands has become bad policy for our hobby, especially in this day and age of home computers, texting on cell phones and digital communications.  If we expect younger generations to show any interest in our hobby, we'll need to completely retool the license challenge process, rather than force people to learn an antiquated skill.  A skill that's no longer being used by local, state or federal government agencies.

Learning Morse Code should be a "choice", not a requirement.  A single test given by the FCC should be sufficient to allow everyone the opportunity to become a Ham Radio Operator with phone privileges within all the bands designated for amateur use, including HF.  There should be a second 5 WPM minimum code test available for those who wish to work the code only portions of all the amateur radio spectrum.  This would open the doors very wide for a flood of new and interested prospective Hams.  It means higher ARRL membership enrollment.  Ham radio equipment manufactures also benefit from increased sales.  It gives our great hobby a chance to slowly start growing again.  It becomes a win-win situation for amateur radio.

Remember, this is about those who have a genuine desire to join our hobby and communicate, but feel discouraged by Morse code restrictions.  Why would anyone want to learn something they are never going to use, just for the privilege of spending tons of money on very expensive equipment to communicate, when all it takes is a I-Phone?  Time for a reality check.  If we as Hams want more people to join our hobby, while also filtering out most of the "riff-raff", we need to make the electronic theory portion of the amateur tests harder.  Much harder!  If a person wants to learn code and operate in the code only areas, go for it!  Lack of knowing code shouldn't keep them from joining our hobby while learning, experimenting and communicating on all the bands.  After all, isn't that really what our great hobby is all about in the first place?

Rick Hollwedel/N2TKB

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