Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Handiham World for 10 January 2007

transceiverIn this issue you will find:

  • Ham radio tests in 1967
  • Morse code watch
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Three
  • General and Extra pool revisions posted
  • We start programming radios for California Radio Camp
  • First Handiham Daisy format book in the testing phase
  • In RekkyTec: A nifty online power calculator
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Last week, we talked about whether ham radio and the Courage Handiham System were still relevant. Today, we look back to 1967, when the Handiham System started, and find out what life in the world of radio was like. What were the licensing requirements, and how do they compare to today's?

I find it convenient to talk about 1967, because that is the year that I got my Novice Amateur Radio license -- just as Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, was enlisting the help of several Franciscan sisters in Rochester, Minnesota to help teach people with disabilities how to get their first licenses.

One of the really big differences between then and now was that there was no published question pool. Although we have a hard time imagining what that was like today, prior to the FCC's decision to publish all of the questions and answers in the public domain, prospective amateur radio operators in 1967 had to study from a book that covered material likely to be on the exam. Exact questions and answers were not given in the study materials, but by and large all of the material that would be in the exam was covered. The exams themselves were multiple-choice, as they are today. A Novice examination could be given by any amateur radio operator with a General license, and the honor system was used, since no other persons were required to be present during the examination; just the test-taker and the General Class operator administering the exam. In 1967, there was no such thing as a "VE team". All examinations other than Novice and Conditional were given at an FCC office. There were FCC districts around the country, and the offices were only in major cities -- 1 office per district. A district would encompass multiple states, so a person taking an amateur radio exam would have to travel quite a long distance. That is why there was an exception for the Novice Class. It was deemed too expensive and troublesome for beginners to travel long distances for a test that could easily be administered by a General Class amateur radio operator in their area. Incidentally, the Conditional Class was available as an upgrade with General Class privileges, but only to those who lived hundreds of miles from the nearest FCC district office, such as citizens serving overseas in the military, or people living in isolated areas in the United States.

Although the Novice Class was designed to be a relatively easy beginner's license, it did include a mandatory five word per minute Morse code exam. The Morse code exam was always given first, before the written test. If the test-taker failed the Morse code exam, he or she was sent home to study. The written exam would not be administered until the Morse code part of the test had been successfully completed.

Of course this meant that the entire process of getting started in amateur radio was very different than it is today. Without a published question pool, and with a mandatory five word per minute code requirement, studying for the exam meant learning the code by listening and hands-on practice, and studying the written material in a completely different way, keeping one's mind open to the fact that a question about an electronics concept or an FCC rule might be asked several different ways. Some people argue that this really worked better to help people learn and understand concepts! For the written exam, ARRL produced a simple study guide. That's the one I used, and I had no trouble passing the written exam. All of the concepts, rules and regulations, and operating concepts were covered, and the test seemed easy. Obviously the license manual had been written by someone who knew what was very likely to appear on the test itself. Morse code study was another matter. The only way one could learn the code was to memorize the characters and listen to code practice on a shortwave radio, from a long playing record album made especially for code practice, or by practicing one-on-one with another ham. Then, as now, it was commonly accepted that one learn the code by listening and not by looking at a page showing printed dots and dashes.

All of this meant that studying for the beginner license was not something that could be accomplished in a day or weekend. Learning the code and studying the license manual would take most people at least a month, maybe longer. It was a far cry from today's weekend Technician Class licensing classes! However, the Novice Class license was quite a bit different in its purpose than today's Technician beginner license. New Novices were expected to spend their time on the HF bands, using Morse code, not phone. The license was good for a year, during which time the Novice built up code speed and studied the much-thicker General Class license manual. If the Novice operator didn't get on the air, there was really no way to build up the skill needed for that all-important General. It was in this atmosphere of strict licensing requirements that new Handiham members had to study and learn. No wonder Ned felt that people with disabilities needed a bit of help!

Next week: Passing Novice and studying for General.