Number of Ham Radio Licenses to Reach 750,000 by 2017


The number of unexpired amateur radio licenses in the United States was 733,594 in November 2015, an annual growth rate of 1.05% and five year growth rate of 4.52%.

If this growth trend continues, the number of licensed amateur radio operators in the United States will reach 750,000 by 2017.

License Forecast (2016-2017)

Nearly half of all US licensees hold the Technician license (49.4%), followed by General (23.5%), Amateur Extra (19.0%), Advanced (6.6%), and Novice (1.5%). Despite the large number of Technician licensees, the Amateur Extra class license continues to have the fastest growth rate at a average of 2.54% per year since 2011. The number of Amateur Extra licenses increased 10.5% since 2011 to 139,515.

Extra Class Forecast (2016-2017

The FCC’s restructuring of license classes in 2000 continues to affect the number of Advanced and Novice class licenses.

Since 2011, Advanced class licenses dropped 16.7% to 48,272 from 57,989.

Novice class licenses have dropped 25.2% since 2011, down to 10,988 at the end of 2015. If the number of Novice licenses continues to drop at this rate, the number of unexpired Novice licenses will dip below 10,000 for the first time in late 2016 or early 2017.

Novice Class Licenses Annual Growth/(Decline)
2011 14,687
2012 13,850 (5.70 %)
2013 13,116 (5.30 %)
2014 12,112 (7.65 %)
2015 10,988 (9.28 %)
2016 (Predicted) 10,221 (6.98 %)
2017 (Predicted) 9,507 (6.98%)

Growth in amateur radio licenses remains strong since the elimination of the Morse code requirement in February 2007. Coupled with significant changes to the General class question pool that same year, the number of US licenses has increased 11.8% from its post-2000 low of 655,842 at the end of 2006.

An Open Letter to #HamRadio Manufacturers


Dear Ham Radio Manufacturer,

Once upon a time, companies like yours developed equipment for hams entering the hobby as Novice licensees. Your radios were fairly inexpensive, simple to build, easy to use, and treasured by the young men and women who owned them.

Hams of a certain age fondly recall their first QSOs on your gear. They were excited and nervous as they tuned up and tapped out their first CQ in Morse code.

Your rigs were a right of passage for generations who still enjoy the hobby today.

Most importantly, your radios were designed for them.

Novices. On their bands. At their experience level.

In 2000, the FCC eliminated the Novice, making the Technician the new entry level license. But except for a small patch of spectrum in the 10-meter band, the modern Technician isn’t much different from the Novice license they eliminated. It is fundamentally a Morse code license on HF.

When the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement seven years later, they did so without updating Technician operating privileges. Amateurs entering the hobby are restricted above 10-meters to using Morse code without having to know Morse code.

Unable to use most of their HF privileges for the lack of one skill, Technicians purchased your VHF and UHF radios in droves.

Companies like yours responded with Dual-Band, Tri-Band, and even Quad-Band radios.

For this generation of radio amateurs, FM repeaters have been the first (and maybe only) impression of on-the-air activity. Perhaps a few experiment with APRS, EchoLink or IRLP. Some may try Pico-Sats, but fundamentally, Ham Radio as a Technician is nothing more than GMRS with better repeater coverage.

Why haven’t companies like yours developed radios tailored for Technicians?

Why is it all FM when there are many more possibilities in the world above 50 MHz?

Where are the Dual-Mode radios, such as SSB/FM, on VHF and UHF?

Where are the sound card-ready interfaces? USB interfaces?

Why does it all look like Land Mobile Radio on Amateur Service frequencies?

Is there no imagination, innovation, or experimentation left in your Skunk Works?

Do you still have have a Skunk Works?

Please, let me be clear; this is not a call to bring Morse code back to the hobby.

When I look at your website through a Technician’s eyes, though, I see nothing that I couldn’t purchase at Wal-Mart for less money. Perhaps this is why the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese radios are so popular among entry-level licensees. They do the job their license allows them.

Perhaps you can inject new vigor into the hobby by designing something that takes them beyond a repeater.

Like a rig designed for Technicians of this generation.

Sincerely,

Brian McDaniel,
KC4LMD

UPDATE: Chris Wilson of Yeasu left the following comment. It is nice to know at least one of the Big Boys pays attention.  I’ve moved his comment up.  -KC4LMD

Hello Brian, I read your letter, It’s great to see proactive content being published by our valued customers! Yaesu USA is actively developing technology that incorporates exactly what you are saying. Radios such as the FT-991 have a multi-function USB port, integrated sound card, built in tuner and other features that appeal to the new radio operator as an “Shack in a box”. I have forwarded your letter to the Owner of the company, Mr. Jun Hasegawa and our operations director for review. I will be discussing your concerns with them this month, and you will continue to see progression from Yaesu that incorporate the features you are looking for.

Thank you once again for your wonderful letter.

Rufus Turner: Ham Radio’s First African American Operator


I ran across a Wikipedia entry about Rufus Turner recently. Rufus was an engineer who developed the 1N34A germanium diode in the 1946.

This particular diode is an old standby in electronics, widely used for detecting the rectifying efficiency of radio and television circuits.  You can build his “ambitious” four-transistor non-superheterodyne AM radio from his 1956 article in Popular Electronics.

Turner, while still a teenager, built what was then the world’s smallest radio set. Three years later, in 1928, Turner became the first African-American to earn an Amateur Radio License.

The Department of Commerce, which issued licenses then, assigned Turner the call sign W3LF. His station was licensed for 15 watts.

He left electronics to become an English professor after earning a PhD in literature.

Rufus Turner died in 1982. He was 74.

What Happened When I Added a Counterpoise to My HT


The problem of an electrically short antenna is familiar to anyone operating in medium-wave bands. One solution is the counterpoise ground system, which is a series of radial wires that act as a low-resistance ground connection.

Broadcast Engineers use counterpoise systems to improve AM radio station coverage. Coastal Maritime Stations with limited space use them in conjunction with capacitance hats as a tuning method. HF Backpackers even tie a long radial to their whip antenna to improve their own signal as they hike.

When I read an article about applying the concept to handhelds, I was intrigued.

The antenna on a typical handheld is a vertical monopole with the radio chassis serving as a ground plane. This configuration is terribly inefficient because the antenna is a fraction of a wavelength it should be. Your radio may be rated for 5 watts, but you’d be lucky to have a third of that power radiate from the antenna.

By adding a 1/4-wave counterpoise, you, in effect, turn the antenna into an off-center-fed, vertically polarized 1/2-wave dipole. The modification should improve antenna efficiency so more transmitter power radiates from the antenna than it would without a counterpoise.

Theoretically, it should work.

As an experiment, I added a half-wave counterpoise to my Yaesu VX-8DR during a recent Boy Scout camping trip.

The Communication Challenge

Our Scout Camp is a 700-acre facility on flat elevation. The archery range, fishing dam, and swimming beach are exceptions. They drop 30-35 feet below average terrain over short distances; and it is difficult reaching those sites with 5-watt radios, even though they are less than a mile from most camp sites.

First Test Result

My first test was to see if I could reach a local VHF repeater in nearby Morris, Illinois. Under most conditions, I am fully quiet into this repeater with 1 watt.

I talked with my wife back at our home over the repeater, and she confirmed that my signal was good both at 1-watt and 5-watts.

When I added the VHF counterpoise, I couldn’t kerchunck the repeater on full power.

I was very surprised because the VHF counterpoise, at 19-inches, was nearly as long as the stock VX-8DR antenna. It should behave like a center-fed, 1/2-wave dipole and be 60% to 70% efficient.

I checked my connection and tried again.

Nothing.

I move to a simplex frequency to make sure the counterpoise hadn’t shorted the antenna system.

It did work, but I was 20 feet from the receiver on high power.

Second Test Result

Armed with the knowledge that I had a signal, the next test was a short distance check of 175 yards between our campsite and the dining hall.

Nothing.

When I removed the counterpoise and tried again, the operator on the other end thought I was using the counterpoise and transmitting my test.

I reduced power to 1-watt and carried on the conversation without a problem.

We then tried a UHF counterpoise to see if the fault lay in the construction of the VHF counterpoise.

Again, no signal over the short distance.

Thoughts and Opinions

Without any test equipment, I can’t determine the reason for signal loss. Either the antenna was terribly out of tune and had a SWR greater than 3:1, or the counterpoise I built worked as a shunt away from the antenna. I don’t plan to spend any more time chasing this birdie down.

The antenna theory is logical, but didn’t work for me in practice.

I wouldn’t recommend using a counterpoise on an HT. If you want to improve your signal, construct a better antenna such as a Roll-Up J-Pole.

Experimenting with the #HamRadio Wilderness Protocol


After the Titanic sunk in 1914, nations of the world required ships at sea to maintain a mandatory safety watch on certain radio frequencies in the event of emergency or distress. The Silence Periods took place four times an hour, twice each for voice and Morse code.

Silence periods are no longer required because technology has produced alternative automatic watch-keeping systems.

Just as Morse code was fading in the mid-1990s, the American Radio Relay League proposed the Wilderness Protocol as a way for hikers and campers to call for help in remote areas before mobile cell phone coverage became ubiquitous.

The idea is good, but, as Bob Witte writes, “overly complex for practical use.”

On a recent hike of the Shabbona Trail here in Illinois, I gave the Wilderness Protocol a try. Rather than listen at specific times, as the ARRL recommends, I maintained a continuous watch on 52.525 MHz, 146.52 MHz, 223.5 MHz, and 446.0 MHz.

I also monitored two strong repeaters located in Morris, Illinois.

Before my hike, I announced on the Illinois Ham email reflector when I would be hiking and where I would have my radio tuned. I admitted my low power radio would make simplex communication difficult, but asked people to call me anyway.

I worked four stations using the Morris repeaters but no one on the Wilderness Protocol simplex frequencies during my six hour hike.

I called CQ at the top and bottom of the hour on 52.525 MHz and 146.52 MHz, the two frequencies with the best chance of a band opening during the morning hours.

Either no one heard me, or no one was monitoring.

David Coursey has a practical critique of the protocol that I agree with.

Coursey writes,

If we promote ham radio as an emergency resource, it must be a dependable resouce, no disappointment of the public or fellow hams allowed. Especially when lives are at stake.

And if lives are really at stake, buy a SPOT or similar device and everyone — you, friends, family, even me — will sleep more soundly knowing you aren’t depending on ham help that is unlikely to be there when needed.

Food for thought.

Ham Radio Circa 1975


My dad earned his amateur radio license in 1950 when he was 10 years old. His first station consisted of a Collins transmitter and receiver into a long wire antenna. From the QSL cards that survived, he worked the world with those radios. The hobby led him to being a radioman in the US Navy after high school.

During a recent trip home, I took possession of what is left of dad’s radio station, the one I remember as a small boy.

20150720_152629_resized

Now I am stepping back in time to see if I can get the station back on the air. There has been no power applied to anything since the late 1980s. The electrolytic capacitors probably are dry as bone. The tubes probably are tender too and will require a lot of TLC and a variac to get them going again.

Yaesu FT-101B HF Transceiver

20150720_153842

This is one rugged radio. Without an amplifier, it will drive 260 watts sideband voice, 180 watts Morse code, and 80 watts AM voice. I’ll have to re-learn how to tune this radio because nothing on the market today works the way these radios did.

Yaesu FL-2100B Linear Amplifier

20150720_153811

Probably an illegal power amplifier today only because it will operate on Citizens Band. For legal Amateur Radio use, it’s a 1,200 watt linear amplifier. It will generate 800 watts AM voice. Beast Mode.

Yaesu SP-101P “Landliner” Phone Patch and Speaker

20150720_154107

Before satellite carried phone conversations across the oceans, there was the phone patch. My dad used this one to connect soldiers in Vietnam to their families back state-side. A friend wondered how many guys talked to their loved ones for the final time across this radio.

Astatic Model G “Grip-to-Talk” Desk Stand Microphone

20150720_152714_resized

I just love this microphone. It’s nickname is the Lollipop, for obvious reasons.

There are a few missing items, a MFJ CWF-2 CW Filter, MFJ CMOS-400 Electronic Key, and Dad’s Hy-Gain 5BDQ Multiband Trip Doublet.

If I can get all of it on the air, it will be a party like it’s 1975.

Why Preppers Should Have a General Class Ham License


A trend among Preppers and Survivalists is to use amateur radio to communicate during a crisis. Given ham radio’s rich history of service during disasters, it’s a natural place for people to go when they want to prepare for the unexpected.

There are lots of articles encouraging people to get their license. And that is great. I think that the Prepper movement, and the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese hand-held radios, has contributed to the growth of licensees in the United States, especially with the entry-level Technician Class license being the most common.

If you’re studying for your Technician, go on and earn the General Class license.

Here’s why.

When you search for “Prepper Radio Frequency List,” you’ll run into this list that covers GMRS, CB, Ham, and even Marine Maritime and Search and Rescue.  This list is meant to be a standardized “watering hole” for Preppers during a crisis.  (I hope that you have licenses for all these services and can transmit legally, but that is a different topic.)

shtf_frequency_list_2013e_500

The ham radio section includes four HF frequencies used by the American Preparedness Radio Network (TAPRN), a group of preppers who meet on the air regularly to communicate and share information. But there is a problem.

If you don’t have a General Class Ham License, you can’t participate.

TAPRN frequencies are in the voice section of the HF band.  You must have a General Class license or above to transmit there and participate.

  • 3.818 MHz
  • 5.357 MHz
  • 7.242 MHz
  • 14.242 MHz

Also, every state has a state-wide communication net for emergencies. Most are located in the voice section of the 80-meter or 40-meter band. Again, you must have a General Class license to transmit and participate.

If all you want to do is communicate locally, the Technician is fine. You have local repeater coverage until a storm knocks out power. At that point, you’re no better off than if you had a bubble pack FRS radio from Wal-Mart.

With a General Class license, you can communicate locally or across the world. International Relief Agencies, the military, and ships at sea use shortwave to keep in touch. If it’s good enough for them during a disaster, it’s probably good enough for most Prepper scenarios.

Ham Radio Can Bring Morse Code Back to the High Seas


For more than a century, Morse code was the language of ships at sea. This simple code communicated messages ranging from the routine to the life-saving.

Morse code slipped under the seas in 1999, replaced by satellite communication. It’s demise left amateur radio operators as caretakers of an art form first demonstrated to Congress by Samuel Morse himself in 1844.

Recently, the FCC granted amateurs access to a portion of the historic maritime radio band where most Morse code communication took place. This grant means that people will once again communicate regularly using Morse code around maritime channels at 472, 476, and 478 kHz.

In a way, this makes amateur radio operators curators of a living museum on the air.

But Amateurs can do much more that be caretakers.

How? The FCC can still issue ship licenses with radiotelegraphy privileges.

Part 80 Rules defines a voluntary ship as “any ship which is not required by treaty or statute to be equipped with radio-telecommunications equipment.” Amateur radio operators who own documented vessels in the United States, such as a sloop or a yacht, can apply for a ship station license. And pursuant to 80.13(b), you can receive authorization for radiotelegraphy and narrow-band direct printing (fax).

With maximum power up to 2 kW.

Amateurs Have the Skills for the T License

To operate a ship station, amateur radio operators need to earn the FCC Radiotelegraph License, also known as the T License. This ticket gives you the authority to operate and maintain a radiotelegraph station on a ship or at a coast radio station, such as KPH near San Francisco.

Outside a few differences in the rules; the radio theory, antenna principles and operating practices are nearly identical to material most hams already know.

In fact, many amateurs already hold the General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) with Element 1 (Maritime Rules). By passing Element 6 (Advanced Radiotelegraph) and two Morse code exams at 16 and 20 words per minute, the FCC will issue you the commercial Radiotelegraph License.

Keeping Maritime Morse Code Alive

Every July, the historic RCA coast station KPH returns to the air in commemoration of the closing of commercial Morse code in the United States. The station communicates with other historic maritime stations and ships using Morse code. Unfortunately, there are just a few stations left…mostly museums themselves.

Many yacht-owning amateur radio operators already outfit their ships with radio equipment. By adding a ship license for radiotelegraphy, amateur radio operators have the opportunity to keep Morse code alive on the maritime bands.

Radio Buoys Operating in the 160 Meter Amateur Band


The Federal Communication Commission has elevated the Amateur Radio Service to primary user status between 1,900 kHz and 2,000 kHz.  In its decision, the Commission asked for comments about U.S. commercial fishing fleets who are using end-of-net radio buoys under the false assumption they are legal.

I filed comment on this question earlier this week, and it appeared in FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System today.  You can read my comment here.

Radio Buoys Operating in the 1,900 to 2,000 kHz Band (PDF)

Manpack 1.0: A Complete HF Station Under $1,000


On the way home from work, I overheard a conversation on a local repeater bemoaning the cost of radio equipment today. “Shacks in a Box” can be quite expensive, to be sure, but nothing more than the Collins KW-1 or the Gold Dust Twins of the 1950s.

To prove the point that amateur radio isn’t a rich man’s game, I designed a complete HF radio station that would cost less than $1,000. I wanted it to operate on all modes on as many bands as possible and have it be easy to use. Here is what I put together.

Transmitter: Yaesu FT-817ND

The FT-817ND is the world’s first self-contained, battery-powered, multi-mode, portable transceiver that covers the HF, VHF, and UHF amateur bands.

This rig is very popular among backpack and low-power enthusiasts. I like the FT-817ND because it includes an antenna connector on the face of the radio as well as the back of the radio. This is lets you attach a whip antenna to the radio while mounted inside a backpack.

  • Transmit (MHz): 1.8, 3.5, 5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50, 144, 440
  • Receive (MHz): 0.1-30, 50-54, 76-154, 420-450
  • Modes: AM, CW, FM, LSB, USB, Digital
  • Power: 5 Watts

Retail Price: $660

Antenna: MFJ 1899T

The MFJ-1899T multi-band antenna is an inexpensive HF whip antenna specifically designed for the FT-817ND. It covers all amateur bands between 3.5 MHz and 50 MHz. To transmit on 144 MHz or 440 MHz, you would use the whip antenna supplied with the FT-817ND.

  • Transmit (MHz): 3.5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50
  • Power Rating: 25 Watts

Retail Price: $80

Additional Equipment

I’ve included three other items for the station, a extra battery pack, a digital interface to connect the radio to a laptop, and the PowerPort World Pack backpack.

Total Retail Price of the station (excluding tax and shipping): $980

What do you think?