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W5YI News :
October 17, 2011Amateur Radio in the U.S. ...and Japan

Amateur radio operators/stations in the U.S. and Japan

The census statistics can be a little confusing!

The ARRL recently did a piece on how Amateur Radio is growing here in the United States entitled "US Amateurs Now 700,000 Strong!." The story said "In the past 40 years, the number of Amateur Radio operators in the US has grown at a remarkable rate." Adding that "For the first time, there are more than 700,000 radio amateurs in the US. ...an all-time high."

"The numbers of the three current license classes -- Technician, General and Amateur Extra – are impressive," the League said. "The number of Technicians peaked in March 2011 at 342,572, while in September 2011, we saw both Generals and Extras peak at 159,861 and 125,661...These high numbers mean that hams are upgrading and renewing in larger numbers and staying interested in the hobby."

The ARRL said their VEC program has increased from 55 exam sessions administered back in the 1980's to approximately 150 exam sessions each week today. Calling the statistics "compelling" the League added "In the past 40 years, the number of Amateur Radio operators in the US has grown at a remarkable rate." From a year-end total of 285,000 in 1971, to 433,000 in 1981, 494,000 in 1991, 683,000 in 2001 and 700,221 as of September 2011." The figures are accurate.

Even though a ham license expires after ten years, the FCC considers an amateur to have an active call sign for twelve years. The extra two years includes the "grace period" during which a license may be renewed without penalty.

There are about 743,000 "active" call signs. One half of all these call signs are held by a Technician Class licensee. Roughly 25% are General Class call signs, 8% Advanced and 17% are Extra Class. The same percentages apply to the 700,000 unexpired ham tickets.

Twenty years ago (prior to 1991's No-Code Technician license) approximately 60% of all amateurs held a General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class ticket. So the trend seems to be towards VHF/UHF operation and away from HF.

Approximately six percent (about 43,000) of all active call signs have expired. What is not known is how many people with a call sign are actually on the amateur airwaves and there are all sorts of estimates. The League said "A recent survey of ARRL members indicates that more than 80 percent of those responding are active." Since ARRL members (who pay a membership fee) are more likely to be active on the ham bands, we believe the figure is closer to 50%.

As far as whether the Amateur Radio Service is growing or not: the answer is "Yes." But at about a very slow less than 3% rate over the past decade. The bad news is that the U.S. population has grown at an annual rate of 9.7% over the past ten years.

Japanese ham radio

Ham radio is a popular hobby in countries all over the world. Only the governments of Yemen and North Korea prohibit their citizens from becoming amateur radio operators. Japan is often regarded as having the most ham operators in the world. Just how many is really open to a wide misunderstanding and speculation.

Theoretically Japan has more than 3.3 million licensed ham operators. At least that is what the Tokyo-based Japanese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) says. But 3 million (more than 90%) hold the so-called 10 watt output "phone" license which permits operation on 40, 80 and 15 meters and 20 watts on VHF and UHF. But are there really that many? The answer is "No!."

The Japanese telephony class license was introduced in the late 1950's. Defying international amateur radio law, it was the first HF Amateur Radio license issued anywhere in the world that did not require any Morse Code test. By ITU law, operating HF without code proficiency was not legal until 2003.

Japan got around the International radio rules requiring Morse code proficiency by taking the position that 10 watts only allowed domestic operation which, of course, is not the case. The Japanese telephone class was later renamed as the Amateur Fourth-Class Radio Operator license. There are four license classes in Japan. While 1st and 2nd class operators must pass a government exam; 3rd and 4th class operators only need to take and pass a simple JARL (Japan Amateur Radio League) approved training seminar.

Adding to the confusion about the number of ham operators in Japan is the fact that all Japanese ham operator licenses are issued for lifetime. As well as an operator license, Japanese Amateurs need a separate station license to run their own station. The station license is quite expensive ...reportedly costing the US equivalent of $120 and then $28 on every 5 year renewal.

Many Japanese operators are counted twice in the statistics. A holder of a higher class license can also appear in the statistics of all the lower classes. And there is no mechanism to ever discontinue an operator license. Since MPT has no way of tracking status of licensees, the data published really states the cumulative total of all operator licenses that have ever been issued.

As a result there are approximately four times as many amateurs with operating ham licenses in Japan as in the U.S., with a population of about one third. So the 3 million figure represents all Japanese phone class tickets issued during the past 50 years.

Since Japanese station licensees have to pay a fee, the number of station licenses is a more accurate indication of just how many active radioamateurs there are in Japan. There were more than a million Japanese station licenses in existence a decade ago. But that figure has been going down steadily every year.

The Internet and cell phones have caught the attention of the younger generation. Today there are about 450,000 amateur station licenses in Japan, less than half. Only about 25,000 are for the top of the line Japanese first class ham ticket. Needless to say, this decline is also reflected in JARL membership.

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