“Ham Cram” and the Organization of Ham Radio

NOTE: This is a bit of a ramble, but stick with me on this.

This morning, a friend of mine e-mail me a letter that appeared in the May 25, 2011 ARRL ARES Letter. In the letter, N2RQ speaks out in favor of “ham cram” licensing classes. He says,

Our view is that getting the license is similar to what I used to hear about driving. Get the license and then learn to be a driver, or in this case an Amateur Radio operator.

He goes on to say,

We are exploring the idea of more traditional classes aimed at filling in the gaps that were glossed over during the pre-exam review sessions. The model that seems to be coming together would be open to all interested regardless of license held. There would be no pressure or anxiety about taking an exam at the end. Topics would be chosen from the various license manuals with sessions held prior to our regular monthly meetings.

I agree completely with N2RQ. Having separate classes, a “ham cram” class for getting students their licenses and other classes to teach the newly-licensed about various aspects of ham radio, is the way to go. There’s simply no way to teach everything in a single class.

The flip side of this is that you need a corps of devoted instructors. Teaching classes takes a lot of time, and finding teachers to teach a whole course of classes is difficult. Finding good teachers, I think, is even harder.┬áThe ARRL either doesn’t see this as a problem, or just doesn’t have the will or the resources to do anything about it. That’s a shame, too, as I think this is a real need. ┬áTraining is not only essential for newbies, but for us old farts as well.

What I’ve been advocating lately is that the sections should organize themselves more as a standalone nonprofit agency and less as a corps of volunteers. This nonprofit agency would have real funding sources and a core of paid staff. Relying on volunteers to do everything just isn’t getting the job done. As far as training goes, this agency would have a paid training coordinator, who would be responsible for developing classes to meet the needs of its “served agencies,” recruiting and training trainers, and scheduling classes. He or she might also teach classes. Depending on the situation, some of the trainers might also be paid for teaching classes.

I know this is kind of a pipe dream, but it’s my pipe dream, and I’m sticking to it. :)


  1. Mike, AL7MM says:

    I disagree with the whole “Ham-Cram” concept, particularly in support of EMCOMM. What amateur radio has traditionally provided was a pool of technically proficient operators who knew how to communicate in case of an emergency. I see a trend toward amateur radio becoming a pool of licensed, but technically unskilled operators who facilitate the use of amateur frequencies by various organizations. I think clubs should focus on teaching newcomers about radio, preferably with plenty of hands on training, instead of cranking out folks who have a license with no idea of how to use it.

  2. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

    Unfortunately, none of the “pool of proficient operators” were suddenly in that group just because they received a license. It takes practice and you need a license first and then you may practice. It’s the same in any profession. The degree or license only means you have studied the basics and are then allowed to practice and gain real skill by working around those with more experience. When I graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering, I had “no idea how to use it”, I could only learn that with practice. All I had to do to get that degree was answer a ton of questions correctly. It did not make me a good engineer. Same with the ham license. There’s no point trying to make a license more than it is: just answering some questions. Real growth only comes gradually with practice afterwards.

  3. Rich, KE4GNK says:

    I also tend to agree–you get a license, then you learn the practice. My history is kinda typical–wanted a license and was involved in Boy Scouts, who also have an emergency support mission.

    Crammed a bit, but also had electrical engineering experience, which I used to pass ALL the tests. At the time, anything beyond tech required code–we won’t beat that horse. SO I got ‘stuck’ at no-code tech.

    Now that I have a lot of VHF experience under my belt, including SKYWARN and real emergency commos in Alabama, I have made it to extra, so I can do long-haul communications with my family in emergencies, as well as local stuff. But, I will be very clear, I now have the tools, now I have to practice and learn to use them.

  4. Bob, KG6AF says:

    I’d like to see post-license-test classes held on the air. New hams could check into a VHF net every week, listen to someone talk about the topic du jour, and ask questions. As a bonus, participants would get a chance to learn and practice repeater and net procedures. If visual aids are needed, they could be distributed ahead of time over the web.

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