Posts Tagged ‘Technician License’
We recently completed a Technician License class that produced a herd of new ham radio licensees. This always leads to a discussion of what radio should I get? Often, this is centered on the idea of getting a handheld VHF/UHF radio to get started. That is a good first move. However, for many new hams it is worth looking ahead a bit to potential future purchases.
Handheld Transceiver (HT)
Let’s start with an HT. Even if your ham radio future is going to be on the high-frequency bands, an HT is a useful tool to have. After all, FM VHF is the Utility Mode for ham radio. Many new hams opt for an inexpensive Chinese radio such as the Baofeng UV-5R. Recently, I’ve been steering them toward the slightly more expensive Yaesu FT-4XR (around $70).
It is a significantly better radio than the UV-5R but still affordable. Some new hams decide to spend more on an HT, which is also a good option. There are many radios to choose from in the $150 to $350 range.
For hams just interested in local (perhaps emergency) communications, this might be the only radio they get. If it meets your needs, that’s just fine.
FM VHF/UHF Base Station
Another option to consider is to set up a more capable station at your home, focused on FM VHF/UHF operating. This is probably going to be a dual-band radio that covers 2 meters and 70 centimeters, FM only. One way to do this is to use a mobile transceiver powered by a DC power supply and connected to an external antenna on the roof.
With higher power (50W typical) and a good antenna mounted in a high location, this type of station has better range than an HT. See A VHF FM Station at Home and Considering a VHF/UHF Antenna For Your Home. This could be your first radio but why not have an HT in your toolkit?
The All-Band Base Station
Many new hams have their eyes on working distant stations via the high-frequency bands. For many people, this is what ham radio is all about. (Honestly, you’re going to need your General license to really participate on these bands.)
The equipment manufacturers have developed the Do Everything Transceiver that covers 160m though 70 centimeters in one box. (Well, they do leave out the 1.25m band which is lightly used in North America.) The leader in this category is arguably the Yaesu FT-991A. This type of rig has the advantage of providing all modes on all bands, including SSB on 2 m and 70 cm. While most VHF/UHF activity is FM, SSB (and CW) can be a lot of fun.
Setting up operations on multiple bands will require some additional antennas. This can be a deep topic so take a look at this introductory article to understand it better: Antennas…How Many Do I Need?
Two-Radio Base Station
Another approach that many hams adopt is to build their home station around two radios: a 2m/70cm radio to cover local communications and a high frequency (HF) radio for the lower bands.
The 2m/70cm radio is the same idea as the FM VHF/UHF Base Station mentioned previously. It is really handy to be able to leave this radio on your favorite 2m frequency while still having another radio available to operate HF. Compare this to the All Band Transceiver approach which can normally only receive one frequency at a time.
A very popular HF radio these days is the ICOM IC-7300. Like many HF rigs, it covers the HF bands of 160m through 10m AND tosses in the 6m band, too. Recall that 6 meters is actually a VHF band but the general trend is to include this band in HF rigs.
The Mobile Station
Another popular operating style is to have a transceiver in your vehicle. Because our society is so mobile, this approach can be very compelling. This might just be an HT that you take with you when mobile. The rubber duck antenna might be sufficient but an external (magnetic mount?) antenna can really improve your signal.
Many hams install a VHF/UHF FM transceiver in their car. This provides a more capable station (more power, better antenna) when mobile and it’s always there for use. Again, this will probably be a 2m / 70cm radio that operates only FM, the most common mobile ham station.
Some folks set up their mobile station to include HF operating. This is one way to sidestep HF antenna restrictions at home and it fits into our mobile society. There are Do Everything Transceivers that come in a mobile-type form factor. The Yaesu FT-857D is a popular mobile radio that covers HF, 6m, 2m and 70cm in one rig.
You can see that there are some paths that hams tend to follow in terms of equipment. What you decide to do is going to depend on your interests and budget. Of course, when you are first starting out you may not know what part of ham radio is going to be your favorite and your approach may evolve as you gain experience.
A good first, affordable step is getting an HT. This puts you in touch on the air with the local amateur radio community. It is clearly a VHF/UHF FM play which aligns well with your Technician operating privileges. You can choose to expand on this general direction by adding in an FM VHF/UHF Base Station, an All-Band Base Station, or a Mobile Station.
If you are interested in using the HF bands, then think about either the All-Band Base Station or the Two-Radio Base Station. Again, obtaining a General class (or Extra class) license is going to be important for HF.
I’ve tried to keep this discussion focused on newly licensed hams. As you gain experience, you’ll find all kinds of other operating activities that are available to you. Sometimes these can be supported by the equipment described above…sometimes you’ll need to purchase additional gear. I’ve mentioned specific radio models that I have experience with but there are many others to choose from. Take a look at the eham.net product reviews to see how well other people like a particular radio.
73 Bob K0NR
A few years ago, the Baofeng UV-5R set a new price point for an entry-level handheld transceiver and quickly became the “easy choice” for a newly licensed Technician. It is a very impressive piece of technology for the money (about $30).
However, it is well known that the UV-5R struggles to meet the FCC Part 97 emission requirements. The ARRL lab has published the results of testing a large number of the Baofeng radios and many of them do not meet the FCC spec. Also, the receiver performance is not that great, primarily with respect to adjacent channel and out-of-band rejection. In other words, it is easily overloaded by strong radio signals.
In response, Yaesu created a low-cost radio using similar technology as the UV-5R but with (supposedly) higher quality. This radio escaped my attention when introduced but some recent reviews caught my eye. In particular, the QST review of the radio includes a detailed lab test report. (The ARRL does a good job with these test reports.) The review basically says that this radio performs well, especially considering its price class. The price of the radio is currently about $70, so it is more expensive than the UV-5R, but under $100.
Evaluating the FT-4XR
So I went ahead and purchased an FT-4XR to try it out for myself. The main question on my mind is should I recommend the FT-4XR as a good choice for a new radio amateur. I am a license class instructor for our radio club (W0TLM), so I often encounter new hams that are looking for advice on what radio to buy.
My general impression of the FT-4XR is that it looks and feels like a quality product, giving a better first impression than the Baofeng. It fits nicely in my hand and just felt good.
The usability of the FT-4XR is on par with the Baofeng, but a notch down from something like a Yaesu FT-60. In particular, the FT-4XR loads up the keys with multiple functions: press quickly for one function, press and hold for another function, use the “function shift” key for a third function. Yikes! None of this is labeled so you have to memorize all of this or carry a quick reference card with you. Not a huge problem because these are mostly features that are not used frequently or maybe not at all. This means that the FT-4XR is a radio that needs to be set up via programming software to get the desired memories in place. Then, you just choose the right memory / channel. Not any worse than the Baofeng and similar to many, many radios on the market these days.
The standard FT-4XR manual is adequate but not great. There is an “advanced manual” available on the Yaesu.com web site that may help. The USA version of the radio does not allow transmit outside of the ham bands. This is probably a good thing, especially for a new user. Some people may see this as a disadvantage compared to the Baofeng, which usually transmits over a wider range of frequencies.
I trust the ARRL lab tests but I wanted to measure the transmitter to see the harmonic performance up close and personal. The spectrum analyzer measurement below shows the transmitter with very clean harmonics on 2m, just as I would expect from Yaesu. If you look carefully, you can see a tiny third harmonic just poking up out of the noise floor. (Sorry about the poor graphics, I just took a quick photo of the screen using my phone.)
The 70 cm harmonic performance is also very solid, as shown below.
I also checked the power output, transmit frequency, FM deviation and receiver sensitivity on both bands. Very solid performance. Again, nice job, Yaesu!
One thing I found disappointing is that the radio operation and accessories are not consistent with other Yaesu radios. I’ve got a decent collection of Yaesu handhelds, speaker/microphones, antennas, programming cables, etc. None of these work with the FT-4XR. In particular, the FT-4XR uses the male SMA connector (same as Baofeng) and requires a new type of programming cable. However, for the first-time buyer, this doesn’t matter and it is no different than buying a Baofeng.
Some other reviews that you may want to consider:
Back to the main question:
Do I recommend the FT-4XR as a good choice for a new radio amateur?
The answer is YES, this is a better radio than the Baofeng UV-5R and it actually meets FCC Part 97 requirements. If you are considering the UV-5R, scrape up a few more bucks and get the FT-4XR.
If you want an even better radio, I’d suggest moving up to something like the tried and true Yaesu FT-60, about $160. It has a more robust receiver and is easier to use.
Black Forest, Colorado
Sat Feb 22 and 29
8 AM to 5 PM
Black Forest Fire Station
intersection Burgess Rd. & Teachout Rd.
The Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio, and the very best emergency communications capability available!
• Earn your ham radio Technician class radio privileges
• Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam right in class on the second day
• Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
• Live equipment demonstrations
• Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 Meters and higher
• Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado
• Find out how to participate in emergency communications
Registration fee: $30 adults, $20 under age 18
In addition, students must have the required study guide: HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course Third Edition, effective 2018 – 2022, $22.95 print, $19.99 Kindle
Advance registration is required (No later than one week before the first session, earlier is better, first-come sign-up basis until the class is full.)
To register for the class, contact:
Bob Witte KØNR
Email: [email protected] or Phone: 719/659-3727
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association
For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org
Download: Tech License Class Flyer – Feb 2020
It is my observation that by enabling someone a taste of what can be accomplished on HF (shortwave) spectrum, especially using one of the newer digital modes, that someone has an opportunity for inspiration, perhaps enough to catch the HF fever that is required to move that someone from entry-level to experienced, skilled expert. Right now, the regulations limit the Technician-level license holder to digital operation only on bands that barely propagate (if at all!) during the weak solar cycles. It is a far stretch to postulate that having privileges on dead bands will inspire exploration and tempt the operator to upgrade to a higher license class.
I believe that Technician-class priveledges should be expanded so that entry-level amateur radio operators can get a practical taste of effectively-propagating HF signals on lower frequencies than those frequencies currently available to them for digital operation. And, the allowed mode on these subbands should include digital modes. This “would encourage a sustained interest in Amateur Radio and encourage further development of knowledge and operating skills,” a concept already proven by General-class operators that get enough of a taste that they then pursue the Amateur Extra license.
Comments to me are below the following video section. I also include my response.
In the following video, I share my opinion regarding the ARRL asking the FCC to grant more operating privileges across the many amateur radio allocations on shortwave (HF, or, High Frequencies). The video is my brief takeaway of ARRL’s petition: What is the issue, as a whole, and what the ARRL is addressing–the lack of desire by most current Techs to upgrade. The logic of my perspective concludes that if you give them a taste of lower-shortwave propagation and excitement, then they will want to upgrade. This logic is already proven as applicable by the fact that the General class exists. All this proposal will do is allow the tech to experience what could be very attractive. Just like for the General.
The next two videos are addendums to the first video:
I made a few technical mistakes in the first video. The last video contains corrections and further comments.
Comments Received, and My Response
I have received many responses–some in opposition, some in support. Here are example contrarian responses along with my reply:
[Dear] Tomas David Hood[:] Something for absolutely nothing has never taught anyone anything good, but to want another free lunch. 35 multiple guess easy questions was all that was asked to get general class privileges, but that’s just too hard for the current class. Something for nothing is what sell today, and the ARRL, and probably half the country thinks socialism is the way to reach the new hams I guess. But the ARRL will never get another dime from me. You want a trophy or additional privileges, Get them as everyone else did,, Work for them, study, just a little is all that was asked. Remember, If it didn’t cost anything, it probably isn’t worth anything!
If they are not willing to take a simple test, and yet they want to upgrade, then yes they are the same as saying that we are asking too much, but would participate, you are suggesting, as long as it didn’t require any work or effort on their part, Its a shame.. And I am embarrassed on their behalf… Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could pass that test, but she would probably agree with you, that people are asking them to be smart and study, and that’s somehow probably racist and just over the line for you.
At this point the ARRL should just say, we are not protecting the spectrum, but about selling the ham radio spectrum to the highest bidders. In this case, they be;live that will be the techs who will purchase HF gear, and of course, the ARRL will benefit hugely from the equipment makers desire to market to the group.
My response is:
What the heck is wrong with selling radios?
But, seriously, which of the many Technicians say that they want to upgrade? That’s the point: the majority of Technician-class amateur radio operators are not upgrading. They get on VHF and above, and are stationary, with few realizing that there’s so much more than the aspect of the hobby evident in their local community.
With little to no exposure to other aspects of the hobby, the typical ham in the current ham-radio culture settles for what is presented by local mentors. Weather spotting, DMR, etc.
Because they have current HF privileges that have so little practical use (CW only on lower frequencies; voice on 10 meters which doesn’t propagate well during this period of no sunspot activity…), they see no incentive to delve into what appears like a waste of time.
The proposal is not giving away the farm. It simply adds a small slice on a limited set of HF bands (but where a signal has a better chance of propagation), allowing for Technician-class operators to get a real sense of the potential waiting for them if they pursue the General.
Then, once upgraded to General, they get even more exposure, and hopefully, see why it is great to be an Amateur Extra.
Tomas David Hood what’s wrong with selling radios. Nothing at all, but if I removed the test that drivers take to show they understand the rules and how to drive, then I can sell more cars and more insurance to poor drivers. Do you or anyone else think that’s a good idea. A few tech’s putting their hands on the plate of those high voltage amps, and maybe, just maybe, someone will believe me when I say some basic testing should be required for HF privileges. Now, all they will have is a cereal box license in my book, and in the opinion of many of my friends, so it;s not just me. If I am wrong, then there are a lot of people that are wrong like me, and they will fight for there hobby. I am a ARRL VE, but I will never test another Ham if this goes through, and I will spend the rest of my days making sure any newcomers realize what the ARRL did to what once was a good hobby, and how a few people didn’t seem to understand why giving away free privileges is always bad for our society, and always bad for our hobby.
Actually I have a real case study that is local,, and yes the guy doid put his hand on the plate, and yes he hit the floor.. and yes, after I found out he was ok,, I think it’s plenty funny,, Yes, they need to study more than that.
Your argument that Technician-class operators will kill themselves because the test is so easy that they will end up electrocuting themselves is yet another Red Herring. Technicians play with dangerous VHF, UHF, SHF equipment, with ominous dangerous aspects deserving respect. If you really think that the General test is the difference between life and death, why even worry? The number of technicians will be nicely reduced to a more acceptable, comfortable number.
I’ve seen Amateur Extra-class operators do the same sort of dangerous, life-threatening stunts.
The issue you are highlighting is a different problem that must be solved separately from the idea of creating a more practical incentive; all tests should be improved in such a way as to foster greater technical knowledge and awareness of all aspects of the hobby.
Better mentoring. Less us-vs-them. More education. More community. All of these should be explored and enhanced. Solve the problem, instead of ostracizing. And, realize that this proposed change is NOT a dumbing-down maneuver to give away the ham radio hobby to the unclean.
The FCC has invited public comments on two proposals to change the licensing requirements for amateur radio operators. Both of these proposals are aimed at attracting and retaining new amateur radio licensees.
The first one is the “Tyro” license proposal from Gary/AD0WU that creates a new license class with minimal licensing requirements and operating privileges on the 70 cm band. See the complete proposal on the FCC website.
I find this proposal severely flawed with way too many details that would need to be written into Part 97. For example, the proposal establishes 99 specific repeater/simplex channels in the 430 MHz portion of the band. Oh, and the repeaters use a non-standard 9 MHz offset. There’s lots more in the proposal that make it a non-starter.
Still there is a nugget of an idea in here: a GMRS-like entry-level amateur radio license that is super easy to get. This could be an easy-peasy gateway into ham radio for kids, spouses and family members. However, I expect the FCC to just dismiss this petition without serious consideration.
The second proposal is from the ARRL (see this ARRL news item):
The FCC has invited public comments on ARRL’s 2018 Petition for Rule Making, now designated as RM-11828, which asks the FCC to expand HF privileges for Technician licensees to include limited phone privileges on 75, 40, and 15 meters, plus RTTY and digital mode privileges on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters.
The proposal would “add limited High Frequency (HF) data and telephony privileges to those currently available to Technician Class Amateur licensees.” The objective is to sweeten the Technician privileges to both attract new licensees and to retain existing Technicians (and maybe get them interested in moving up to General). There is an assumption/belief/hope that providing some HF telephony and digital privileges will accomplish these goals.
I am disappointed in the lack of data-driven analysis in support of this proposal. The ARRL filing claims that they “studied the comparable entry level license class operating privileges of other countries” but provided no data. There are different licensing schemes around the world…maybe we should compare and learn something from them. The data they did provide was survey data of ARRL members…which is really just an opinion poll: what do you think we should do with the licensing structure? This is not a great way to create public policy.
What’s the Objective?
Let’s start with the objective, which the ARRL petition says is “developing improved operating capabilities, increasing emergency communications participation, improving technical self-training, and increasing growth overall in the Amateur Radio Service.” I think this is a reasonable goal.
For some reason, every time there is a concern about improving and growing amateur radio, the proposed solution is a change in the licensing structure (usually to make it easier to obtain operating privileges). If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. While the licensing structure should be improved over time, it should not be the first (or only) tool to apply. The ARRL needs to take a much more strategic approach to working towards the objective. Fortunately, I see positive signs they are moving in the right direction. See ARRL CEO Howard/WB2ITX Speaks.
Back To Licensing
There is a worthy idea in the ARRL proposal:
Change the entry level license (Technician) to provide a taste of HF phone and digital privileges, so it attracts more people to the hobby AND get them more deeply engaged. This might actually work.
I am not an unbiased observer because I have plenty of fun playing around with radios on frequencies above 50 MHz. I originally thought I would be a Technician for life but gradually got pulled into the fun below 30 MHz. So part of my brain says “Technicians just need to figure out how to have fun on VHF/UHF.” There is a lot to be said for having the entry level license be focused on VHF/UHF to learn basic radio operating. HF can come later.
Another part of my brain sees the excitement and growing popularity of the WSJT-X digital modes, especially FT8. Why do Technicians get to use CW on some of the HF bands but not other digital modes? That seems kind of silly in the year 2019. And making HF contacts with other states and countries on SSB is lots of fun, too.
Another question to ask is “what harm could be done by this proposal?” We could see a lot more activity in the portions of the HF bands Technicians are given. Maybe so much that those subbands get overrun with signals…seems like a potential problem. Some people have argued that giving Technicians these HF privileges will cause them to not upgrade to General. That seems like a low risk…if they get hooked on HF operating, they will upgrade to get access to additional spectrum.
There are really two assumptions in play here:
- Attract Assumption: More people will be attracted to ham radio due to the expanded Technician HF privileges.
- Retain Assumption: That Technicians will be more engaged in ham radio activity due to the expanded HF privileges (perhaps upgrading to higher license classes).
The distribution of US amateur radio licenses is roughly Amateur Extra (20%), General (23%) and Technician (50%), the remaining 7% are Novice and Advanced. So roughly half of US radio amateurs have decided to get their “VHF oriented” license while the other half have gone on to get an “HF privileged” license. Frankly, I don’t see the General license exam as a big barrier…I see people studying for it in our license classes and 90% of them are successful on the exam. But the exam is yet another thing to do, so it does represent an obstacle to overcome, just not a big one. What I do see them struggling with actually getting on the air with HF. See Getting On HF: The Fiddle Factor. Easier licensing is not going to address that problem.
Who Wants HF?
A lot of Technicians are just fine with the operating privileges they have. I even noted some Tech’s complaining they are tired of OF hams telling them they need to fall in love with HF. Interesting. I don’t have reliable data on what Technicians think but I see several types of Technicians that are quite happy with their existing privileges:
- Family/Friend Communicators – these folks are not hard core radio amateurs but they got their license to communicate with friends and family.
- Outdoor Enthusiasts – these folks use ham radio to augment their outdoor activities: hiking, biking, offroad driving, camping, fishing, etc.
- Emcomm and Public Service Volunteers – these hams are involved in local emergency response, support of served agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.) or providing communications support for marathons, parades, charity walks, etc.
- Technical Experimenters – many radio amateurs are into experimenting with technology and the bands above 50 MHz offer a lot of opportunity for that.
I don’t know what percentage of Technicians are unconcerned about HF privileges but it is significant (half of them? perhaps more?) Providing HF privileges to this group will not have much of an effect. It seems like the ARRL should have data on this before serving up a proposal to change the licensing structure.
What do I think? I think this proposal most likely will not make a significant difference with regard to attracting and retaining new radio hams. Something else is needed to do that, such as effective training programs, strong local clubs and mentors available to help newbies get started and build skills.
But it might just work. Maybe HF is the bright shiny object that will motivate people to pursue amateur radio.
So count me as agnostic on this proposal. I won’t be filing comments with the FCC. What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
(intersection of Burgess Rd. & Teachout Rd., Black Forest, Colorado)
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association
The FCC Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio, and the very best emergency communications capability available!
- Earn your ham radio Technician class radio privileges
- Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam right in class on the second day
- Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
- See live equipment demonstrations
- Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 Meters and higher
- Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado
- Find out how to participate in emergency communications
For more background on ham radio, see Getting Started in Ham Radio.
Registration fee: $30 adults, $20 under age 18
In addition, students must have the required study guide:
HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course
New Edition, effective 2018 – 2022, $22.95
Advance registration is required (No later than one week before the first session, earlier is better, first-come sign up basis until class is full.)
To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: [email protected]
Our radio club (Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association) offers a 2-day Technician license class which has resulted in over 300 new Technician licenses in past years. We also offer a number of activities to help new licensees get started in ham radio. Still, we wonder how many of our newly-minted Techs have actually gotten on the air and are actively using amateur radio.
To assess that, I surveyed 258 people that went through our Technician license class from 2010 to 2017. We’ve actually had more students than that get their license but I don’t have valid email addresses for all of them. To improve the response rate, I kept the survey short at 5 questions.
The response rate was 42% which is quite good for this type of survey. I suspect there is a response bias in that active ham radio folks are probably more likely to reply to this survey. People that have lost interest are less likely to reply. That’s just my opinion; I don’t have data to support that.
Almost half of our Technician class students upgraded to General but only a few went on to Extra. Overall, I see this as a good result but I expected to see a few more Extra class licensees.
Most of the respondents have been on air recently: 60% of them have made a radio contact in the past 6 months. On the other hand, that means about 40% of not made a contact in half a year. It is disappointing to see that 13% have never made a ham radio contact.
There is quite a range on how active the respondents are with 45% making 10 or fewer contacts in 6 months.
About one half of the survey respondents are members of our radio club. Some of them are also members of other radio clubs in the area. Some of our students travel a long distance, up to 100 miles, to attend this class so it makes sense that they find a radio club near their home.
Most of the respondents reported being active on 2m/70cm FM. About 18% of them are on HF Phone. The total for all forms of HF operating (CW, digital and phone) is not shown on the chart but it is roughly 20%. While roughly half of the respondents have their General or Extra class license, only 20% are actually using the resulting HF privileges.
My broad conclusion is that our radio club should continue to provide opportunities for our members to develop their operating skills and expand their radio operating. I filtered the responses to our club members only to see if our club member responses are any different from the larger group. Basically, our members indicate they are somewhat more active than the rest of the respondents but the overall story does not change.
Obviously, this is a small slice of data relevant to our local situation. It may not apply to other parts of the country.
What do you think?
73, Bob K0NR