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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

“Only a Tech …”


*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

New Jersey Maker Day at Hack ‘n Craft NJ’s new makerspace in Montclair.

New Jersey Maker Day at Hack ‘n Craft NJ’s new makerspace in Montclair. My display of ham radio “maker” technology over multiple decades is at the right in this panoramic view.

Recently, a member of one of the many ham radio groups on Facebook posted a happy notice that he had passed his license exam, but pointed out that he was “only a Tech” (or something to that effect; as any Facebook user knows, once you have left a posting, it is nearly impossible to find it again!). The other members of the group were very welcoming, and many pointed out that a ham is a ham, regardless of license class. But his comment got me to thinking (something that’s always dangerous, HI!) … and that led me to ask myself a couple of questions:

1) Why is it that so many of us tend to look down on the newest members of our fraternity and on the work they need to do to earn their licenses, to the point where a brand new ham feels he has to apologize for “only” having an entry-class license? Were their tests easier than ours were? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they don’t write the exams; they only take them.

Besides, just what is it that we expect of newcomers? To be experts from the start? How many of us were experts on everything when we passed our first license exams? Passing a license exam does not make you an expert in anything. It means you know enough to (hopefully) not be a danger to yourself or anyone else while you learn more about whatever aspects of ham radio interest you. Just as passing a driver’s license exam doesn’t make you an expert driver, passing an FCC amateur license exam doesn’t make you an expert ham. It gives you permission to get out on the “road” and begin to really learn about this thing we call ham radio. 2) Since the Technician Class is widely viewed as a restricted-privilege, entry-level license what exactly are you allowed and not allowed to do on the radio with “only a Tech” license? Let’s take a look:

With “only a Tech” license, you are allowed to operate on all modes with up to full legal power on all amateur bands above 50 MHz; you are allowed to work with voice, digital, or Morse code on the best-DX portion of the 10-meter band; and you are allowed to operate CW on significant portions of the 80, 40, and 15-meter bands. You can build and operate a moonbounce station, work meteor scatter, build and operate amateur satellites, talk to astronauts on the International Space Station (most of whom hold “only a Tech” license themselves), help your community by performing emergency and public service communications, build and operate “off-thegrid” RF computer networks, build and operate repeaters, and learn the fine points of such exotic propagation modes as knife-edge diffraction, tropospheric ducting, aurora, and Sporadic-E. You can work DX on HF if you choose to learn CW or get on 10 meters when it’s open. And I’m sure I’m missing a whole lot more.

So what can’t you do with “only a Tech” license? Well, you have no privileges at all on a half-dozen HF bands and are limited to CW on all but one of them (although the ARRL is currently considering asking the FCC to give Techs digital privileges on portions of 80, 40, and 15 meters), and … and … well, that’s about it. A General Class license unlocks those six other bands (at least partially), and earning your Extra gives you access to the remaining portions of those remaining bands (generally in 25-kHz chunks).

In other words, when it comes to operating privileges, the “only a Tech” license gives you roughly 85 percent of everything that’s available to the most experienced Extra, perhaps more. If having the flexibility to “follow the DX” to any frequency or mode in order to make contact is important to you — as it is to many of us — then upgrading to General or Extra is certainly worthwhile. But the bottom line is that there is very little more that you can do on the air with an Extra Class license than you can do with “only a Tech.” So let’s keep that in mind, stop berating our newest operators and start encouraging them instead. And let’s start before they even take their license exams so that they don’t feel that the first thing they need to do as hams is apologize for being “only a Tech.”

“Key” Attraction on Maker Day

Back in March, maker groups throughout New Jersey banded together for a statewide Maker Day, in which I had the privilege to participate with my local maker group, Hack ‘n Craft NJ. The group has just gotten its first “makerspace” (see photo), which is in a great location but — unfortunately for radio — is in a basement with little to no access to outside for running antenna feedlines. So my display — of more than a half-century of “maker” technology through ham radio — had to be a static one. Nonetheless, there was considerable interest among the 100 or so people who came through the makerspace during the course of the day, and the “tractor beam” that pulled them in when they approached my display was a century-old combination telegraph key and sounder. Everybody wanted to tap on the key, and loved it when I offered to spell out their names in Morse code.

There continues to be something very special about being able to connect a radio to a battery and a wire in a tree, and use a language consisting of only two characters to communicate — around the corner or around the world. We don’t need the Internet; we don’t need the cell phone network; we need a wire, a battery, a radio and a way to make dits and dahs in order to keep in contact with the world. That’s one of the reasons ham radio gets through when nothing else will, and it’s something we need to keep near the top of our public relations “toolkits” when we interact with the community. Oh, and if you’re one of the 13% of readers responding to our January/February survey (complete results on page 59) who said you’ve never sent Morse code, consider this as just one of many reasons it’s a good idea to learn and use CW as part of your communications toolkit. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and practice it on the air … even if you’re “only a Tech.” – 73, W2VU

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