Hardly a week goes by without hearing of another successful Saturday licensing session resulting in new amateur radio licensees. These typically the result of a cram session where a neophyte can walk in the door having zero knowledge of the hobby, and walk out the door four hours later a brand new radio ham.
I frequently complain about these “puppy mills” and am just as frequently rebuffed by those who run them. I’m told that no amount of study and testing can create a radio amateur — only hand-on experience can do that so the notion is to get them licensed as quickly as possible and let nature run its course.
And you know what? I agree with them. But that sort of begs the question, then why don’t we do away with license testing altogether? If these tests are merely speed bumps to the entry of the hobby, let’s dump them.
Twenty years ago I would have rejected the notion of eliminating testing out of hand. Demonstrating proficiency in operating a transmitter was considered essential to preventing chaos on the bands. And a certain level of technical acumen was necessary to prevent unintentional interference.
Neither of these concerns are realistic to the amateur service in the 21st century. Transmitting equipment must be accepted by the FCC before it can be sold and those who still home brew gear are rare and obviously smart enough to know what they’re doing.
We seem to have reached a point where testing only perpetuates the business of testing. The sales of license study manuals and Volunteer Examiner puffery are the only real “winners” in this ongoing sham.
Incentive licensing was a worn-out concept in 1980. We have need of only one class of license that conveys all amateur privileges and it should be issued based on an application basis only – perhaps with a $100 fee that’s good for ten years.
If radio amateurs wanted to volunteer to administer the issuance of licenses and maintain that database, perhaps the fee could be used to help fund FCC enforcement?
Think about it. You can’t churn out qualified radio operators from a four-hour memorization session. Even the volunteers who promote this process agree. New hams will learn best from on the air time and actual practice. The testing process serves only to prop up the sales of study guides, memorization tricks, and to create a point of control for volunteer examiners.
That we’ve always done it that way is of no consequence, it’s time to move forward.
It would be a wonderful if local clubs facilitated the application process at the conclusion of an hour-long “get to know us better” club meet and greet. Having new licensees become acquainted with seasoned local operators provides tangible benefits – unlike the phony baloney memorization sessions.
1. Cleaning up the FCC database thru regular license fees.
2. Potentially creating a fund for continued FCC enforcement activity.
3. Removal of costs associated with testing aids and study materials.
4. Elimination of the work associated with creating testing pools, etc.
5. Putting new applicants in touch with local clubs.
6. Streamlined process where all licensees carry all amateur privileges.
Perhaps best reason of all would be reality.
We’ve been perpetuating a 20th century concept and pretending that it adds value to the amateur service. In reality, it’s a totem based on century old ideas about exclusivity and false hope that it elevates our service when in fact, it’s just a delusion to make us feel better about ourselves.
Am I wrong? Sound off in the comments below.