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April 24, 2014
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W5YI News :

About half of all U.S. radioamateurs hold a Technician Class license. Judging by the sales of General Class study material, they are looking forward to getting on HF without the need to pass a Morse Code exam. Thousands of Element 3 study guides are been purchased! This week lets cover some questions and answers of special interest to the beginning Amateur Radio Class.

Q. I am a Novice Class operator. What’s in it for me?

A. The new rules greatly expanded the spectrum on which Novices (and Technicians with code credit) may use CW on the HF bands. The Novice 80 meter CW band now extends from 3525 to 3600 kHz. This is a gain of 25 kHz over the previous 80m (3675 to 3725 kHz) Novice segment. You may also operate on 40 meters from 7025 to 7125 (a gain of 50 kHz), on 15 meters from 21025 to 21200 kHz (a gain of 75 kHz) and from 20.0 to 28.5 MHz on the 10 meter band (a gain of 100 kHz.)

One downside is that Novices (and Technicians with code credit) can expect higher power competition from General and higher class operators since they are no longer restricted to 200 watts PEP on the above bands. They may radiate up to 1.5 kW PEP.

Although General and higher license class operators received additional phone (voice) spectrum on December 15, the Novice Class did not. The 28.3 to 28.5 MHz (10 meter SSB), 222-225 MHz (1.25 meter) and 1270 to 1295 MHz (23 cm) segments continue to be the only bands where Novices may operate in the voice mode. Novices are restricted to 200 watts PEP below 28.5 MHz, 25 watts on 222-225 MHz and 5 watts in the 1270-1295 MHz subbands. (Technicians may use power levels up to 1500 W on the 1.25 m and 23 cm band but are also limited to 200 W on ten meters.)

Q. I am confused. Can you spell out exactly how Technician Class operators benefitted from WT Docket 04-140 and WT Docket 05-235.

A. WT Docket 04-140 did not have a big impact on the Technician Class. It essentially allocated more spectrum to General, Advanced and Extra Class voice (phone) operations. The frequencies were made available by switching around (“refarming”) what was previously Novice spectrum. The effective date of this change was December 15, 2006.

The frequency bands available to the Technician Class (those without code credit) were not affected. Techs still have all frequency privileges at 6 meters and higher. And Techs with code credit still have access to the HF bands that was available to Novice and Tech Plus operators although the exact frequencies have been changed and expanded.

WT Docket 05-235 essentially eliminated Morse code testing in the US Amateur Service for all license classes. The entry level into US ham radio continues to be the Technician Class which is achieved by passing the 35 question Element 2 multiple choice written exam. When this rulemaking becomes effective (30 days after publishing in the Federal Register ...about February 15) Technicians may upgrade to the General Class by simply passing the 35 question Element 3 examination. By the same token, existing General and Advanced Class operators may upgrade to Amateur Extra by passing the 50 question Element 4.

The greatest benefit to Technician Class operators is that once the new rules are in effect, all Technician licensees - whether or not they have passed a Morse code examination - will have "Tech Plus" operating privileges. This means that in addition to all VHF/UHF and above frequencies, Technicians will have access to the Novice/Technician Plus frequencies on HF. You can bet that the 10 meter (28.3 to 28.5 MHz) phone segment will become super congested very quickly!

Q. There are six Amateur Classes in existence today: Novice, Technician, Tech Plus, General, Advanced and Amateur Extra. What element credit is given for holding a specific license when upgrading.

A. Agreed this can be confusing. In one case, examination credit depends on when the applicant passed his/her Technician Class exam. An examinee is considered to be currently licensed if their license is still within the 2 year grace period for renewal.

(1.) Novice Class operators do not receive any examination credit towards the Technician, General or Extra Class license. Novices must pass Element 2 to become a Technician Class licensee; Element 2 and 3 to become General ....and 2, 3 and 4 to upgrade to the Extra Class.

(2.) All currently licensed Technicians (including Tech Plus and Technicians with code credit) get examination credit for Element 2 and must pass Element 3 to upgrade to General (and 3 and 4 to obtain Amateur Extra.) But there is an exception to this.

(2A.) A Technician Class operator with a current or expired license document dated before March 21, 1987, receives Element 3 credit and may be upgraded by a local VE team on the spot without further testing. If an applicant does not have a copy of an old license, other documentary proof - such as a photocopied page from an old call book - will suffice. All license class upgrades in the Amateur Service may only occur at a test session. So it follows that these so-called “paperwork only upgrades” must be initiated by a VE team.

The applicant simply completes an NCVEC Form 605 and gives it to the VE team along with the licensing evidence. The team will approve the upgrade and forward to their VEC. The upgrade application may not be sent directly to the VEC or FCC. Another test session fee is due on a “paperwork only upgrade” from the applicant even though the examinee is not actually tested.

The reason for giving Element 3 credit to an “old Tech” is that prior to March 21, 1987, passing both written Element 2 and 3 was a requirement for the Technician Class license. The only examination difference between the Technician and General Class license back then was the Morse code speed test. Technicians had to pass Element 1(A) - 5 wpm code, while General Class examinees were required to pass Element 1(B) 13 wpm. (The original Novice requirement back then was passing 5 wpm code and written Element 2.)

As part of the “1987 Novice Enhancement” proceeding, the FCC split the old Element 3 into two sections. Element 3(A) - a 25 question exam - contained the VHF-oriented questions and became a requirement for the Technician Class. General Class applicants had to pass the 25 question Element 3(B) test which covered HF operation.

As part of the “Amateur Service Restructuring” on April 15, 2000, Element 3(A) was essentially renumbered to 2 ...and 3(B) became Element 3. (The Novice and Advanced Class licenses were discontinued and some old questions and topics found their way into other question pools.)

(3.) Currently licensed General and Advanced Class operators receive examination credit for both written Element 2 and 3.

(4.) Certificates of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) are also valid for examination credit providing they were issued within the past 365 days. Many radioamateurs earned CSCEs awarding Element 3 credit when they took the General Class written exam in anticipation of the code being eliminated. (That is, after the NPRM proposing to end code testing was issued on July 19, 2005.) Several expired when the FCC didn’t issue the Order until more than a year had elapsed. These CSCEs are invalid, cannot be used for exam credit and the holders must retake Element 3.

If the Element 3 written exam credit is valid, the VE team will issue the candidate a CSCE for the upgrade to a General Class license and the holder may immediately begin using their new General Class privileges. As per Part 97, Section § 97.119(f)(2), these applicants must append their call signs with the “interim AG” designator until the FCC data base indicates the upgrade.

Q. I am going to take the General Class written exam at a local VE test session. Can I change my call sign at the same time?

A. Yes, you can but not to a Vanity call sign. A Vanity call sign is one where you pay a small fee to select the format and characters contained in your station call sign. It is issued for ten years after which time it must be renewed and another fee paid. Certain rules apply to which call signs you can select. Vanity call signs must be applied for separate from the VE test session.

If you check the box on the NCVEC Form 605 application that says “Change my call sign systematically” you will be issued the next available 2-by-3 format call sign. (There is no fee for a systematically changed call sign.) It will start with a “K” since all of the 1-by-3 “N” prefix call signs were assigned and those that have expired are not being picked up.

There is no advantage to obtaining a new systematically changed call sign since all new amateurs already have one that has an older format. As a Technician or General, you are eligible for a 1-by-3 call sign starting with K, N or W.

There are three ways to apply for a Vanity call sign and you do not have to wait until you upgrade to General to get a 1-by-3 format call sign since Technicians and Generals both qualify for a Group “C” call sign. You can file the Vanity call sign application yourself electronically (using your computer), you can file a paper document copy manually or you can have the W5YI Group handle everything for you. Since the filing procedure is somewhat confusing, thousands of radioamateurs have had us do the filing. You can determine available call signs by querying the FCC’s or other online databases. You can also call 800-669-9594 if you have any questions on the Vanity Call Sign System.

Q. I want to upgrade to General. I hear that there is going to be a newly revised question pool. What study material do I purchase?

A. The current General Class question pool will remain in effect for another 6 months ...until July 1, 2007. On that date, the new revision must be used in all Element 3 (General Class) examinations. You should be able to upgrade with as little as a week or two of reviewing the questions and answers. The new rules should be in effect by the time you finish your study. W5YI exam locations and ARRL testing opportunities are widely available.

The W5YI Group distributes the Gordon West line of study aids. You can purchase them online with product delivery within 3 or 4 days. The GWGM General Class study manual is $17.95 plus shipping. You can also order by telephoning (toll free) to 1-800-669-9594. The new Element 3 question pool will cover essentially the same things as the current pool, but the questions and multiple choices will be substantially different. Study manuals for the newly revised Element 3 pool should be available about May 2007. The Technician (Element 2) question pool was revised last year (2006) and remains valid until July 1, 2010.

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