Nine new hams

Yesterday, I held yet another one-day Tech class. A dozen students showed up. I had only one no-show. He e-mailed me later that he had overslept.

I lost one student at the lunch break. I had noticed that he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open right from the start, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when he decided to pack it in.

The rest of them stuck it out until 3 pm and took the test. Of those, nine passed the test. Nine out of eleven isn’t bad, but I’m going to claim a 100% pass rate. The two that failed the test were teenagers who took the class to please their parents, and to be honest, I don’t think that they were all that interested in getting their tickets.

One of the students was a member of the local search and rescue team. She was geting her ticket so that she could use ham radio during the team’s exercises. Most folks who do this aren’t really interested in the technical/experimental aspects of the hobby, but this woman seemed to be. I’m going to encourage her to get into this part of the hobby, perhaps by building a simple kit. The search and rescue team does, after all, need a techie, don’t they?


  1. For teenagers, I recommend they skip reading the guides and questions and proceed directly to the familiar ‘video game’ approach of taking dozens of practice exams. They should take the same exam over and over, until they score 85% or better, then move on to the next. When they’ve done 20 or more different exams, they’ll have seen most of the question pool and will be ready to pass the real exam. Whenever they approach getting 85% consistently on new exams, they’ll know they’re ready. If you have Internet available at the exam site, have them take those practice exams right up to 3pm – or have them do that at home and come at 3pm just for the exam.

  2. Dave AD9DP says:

    Some are critical of public school teachers who “teach to the test” in order to meet federal mandates. They question the “quality” of the “learning” thus obtained. So what are we accomplishing by having a Technician question pool that for most candidates requires rote memorization? I believe we are discouraging volunteers who could and would make good use of Technician privileges for search-and-rescue and other local emergency situations but who feel the technical content is beyond their capabilities.

    It’s wonderful that Dan had a student who can be Elmered. I have known a few emergency service volunteers who admitted they passed by rote memorization to get tickets for use in emergency call-outs, then got “hooked” and went on to General class, but they were the exceptions.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I think comparing the ham radio exams to the exams for schoolkids is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

      Having said that, I don’t think that it’s too much to ask that people memorize some answers to get a Tech license. What would you do instead? Just hand them a Tech license? There are other radio services that these groups could use that don’t require a license.

      And, having said that, I’d also say that the technical knowledge required to pass a Tech test is pretty minimal. If it’s beyond the capability of someone, I’m not sure that they’d be all that good at the other aspects of search-and-rescue operations either.

  3. Dave AD9DP says:

    One thing that didn’t work was issuing FRS radios to 400 volunteers. The price was right, but with their FCC-limited power and no access to repeaters, they simply didn’t work well enough. This was proven in two severe weather call-outs that disabled the wire center and all but one cellular carrier (and that one was spotty.) The FRS-equipped volunteers found themselves isolated from an Incident Command that was less than a mile away.

    GMRS radios would have been cost effective, and we could have used our hams to maintain GMRS repeaters, (ironic, huh?) but our reading of the Rules was that every volunteer would need an $85 FCC license. We thought that too much to ask.

    “Professional” equipment for use in the licensed Public Safety Services by volunteers was completely out of the question, and we all know that it is increasingly infrastructure-dependent anyway.

    Those storm call-outs proved the value of the few hams among the volunteers who worked them, and that stoked a healthy interest in Amateur Radio. I had the privilege of teaching in four ARRL license classes for volunteers who were already serving on emergency response teams. Our classes had a near 100% pass rate, but the consistent feedback, virtually to the last a man or woman, was that they passed not by the ARRL License Course we taught them, but by memorization of the Q&As we provided as homework. They thanked us for the course nonetheless, although most said they had no idea how they would make use of much of it.

    That local ARES/RACES club had grown from fewer than ten actives to about 45 licensed hams by the time I moved away, so as you suggest, the memorization wasn’t too much to ask. On the other hand, many volunteers, including some doctors, nurses, EMTs, etc., (not stupid people) took one look at the License Manual and walked away.

    The class and study time of those who took the course could have been better spent. Once the Rules are thoroughly covered, the ability to select a UHF/VHF radio, to program it, to keep it powered up in a pinch from whatever is available, to select, connect, and properly orient an antenna, problem-solve, and to maintain net discipline in an emergency setting are more important than the ability to build or repair a radio. There will always be an interest in that, to which the General and Amateur Extra licenses attest.

    By no means do I suggest the technical content be reduced for the General class License, or not made more difficult for the Amateur Extra class. I do, however, suggest that the barriers to what should be our entry class, the Technician license, now nearly flat-lined, could be made more relevant to developing new hams who can communicate effectively, safely, and legally in local emergencies.

    Growth in the usage of our bands and our contributions to emergency services are our two best best arguments for defending our UHF/VHF allocations against challenges from services more auction-ready and spectrum-efficient than ours. If we fail to attend to that, traditions or no, we will eventually lose those allocations.


  4. Dan KB6NU says:

    A couple of comments:

    1. If $85 for a license was too much to ask of volunteers, then perhaps an alternate funding method could have been found. Maybe you could have gotten a local business or even a local Rotary club to fund the licenses.

    2. When I was an engineering student I had no idea how I would make use of the thermodynamics classes they made me take. After being in engineering for a while, I discovered that it was indeed useful. A lot of the material on the Tech test is like that. Knowing that stuff will make them better communicators and therefore more capable searchers, rescuers, and emergency responders.

    3. Memorizing is fine. A lot of the questions on the test you can only get right by memorizing. Hopefully, should a situation arise that they’ll need some of that knowledge, they will remember the answer and then do the right thing, whatever that is and whether or not they really understand the technical underpinnings.

    4. A lot of the questions on the test are aimed at giving people the knowledge they need to “select a UHF/VHF radio, to program it, to keep it powered up in a pinch from whatever is available, to select, connect, and properly orient an antenna, [and] problem-solve.” Now, you can argue that perhaps the volunteer question pool committee hasn’t done the best job at drafting questions for the test, but making the Tech test less technical won’t improve the skills of new Techs in these areas.

    5. I honestly don’t think that the current Tech test is much of a barrier. It’s just not that hard, and I think the number of people that get their licenses every year prove my point. Yes, it does take some effort, but I’d guess that it takes the average person less than 20 hours to prepare for the test. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

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