www.RogerWendell.com
Roger J. Wendell
Defending 3.8 Billion Years of Organic EvolutionSM
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WBØJNR
First licensed in 1970, Amateur Extra class license since 1982...
(I also hold a General Radio Telephone License)

  An Extra Class Lament...

Extra Class Amateur Radio License WB0JNR - 1982
  1982 Amateur Radio Extra Class License - WBØJNR

 

 

I created this "Amateur Extra" page in the late 90s, eventually transferring it to my own domain name in 2002. At first it was kind of a protest piece that received a moderate amount of attention in the amateur radio community. At the time there were a few curmudgeons, like me, who were lamenting the loosening of amateur radio license requirements, especially for the "top dog" - Extra Class. Us old-timers wrote letters to the FCC, complained on the local Monday night net, sent nasty emails over QRP-L (and other listservers), kicked the dog and yelled at our wives - all in hope that the FCC would at least, at a minimum, keep the amateur radio Extra Class license something worth earning and fighting for.

Well, all of my hand wringing and letter writing didn't do much good. By the time February 2007 rolled around the FCC had eliminated ANY requirement for Morse code and, of course, the so-called written examination had had its answer pool floating around for over two decades prior. So, the honest truth is that by 2007 anyone who wanted an amateur radio license could have one - and, about the only distinction between the classes of license were the additional questions you'd have to memorize answers for...

Who do I blame? First and foremost are the radio amateurs themselves! I can't count how many times I heard folks complain how difficult the test was or how they couldn't possibly learn "the code" for that next upgrade, etc. Typical human response to any difficulty but certainly disappointing in a hobby as disciplined and full of tradition as Amateur Radio! The second group that I blame are the equipment manufacturers. Although I'll probably never have any proof my suspicions are strong that these folks pressured the FCC, ARRL, and anyone else who would listen that more radio gear could be sold if there were only more radio amateurs to place orders! This pressure, of course, I attribute to one of the many failures of capitalism - that economic and financial pressure which can convince regulatory and elected officials to do almost anything.

Finally, I blame society, in general, for the disregard of tradition, professionalism, and common sense requirements. Seems like the 80s, 90s, and 2000s (I was born in the 50s...) became the "Me First" quarter century where all kinds of perceived barriers to leisure were challenged. If the last part of the 20th century allowed us to drive huge gas-guzzling Hummers and watch stadium-screen TVs while Africans starved to death we certainly weren't going to let the FCC get in the way of our desire to transmit a thousand watts on a CB channel or ham band!!

Anyway, enough whining as the war is over - Not only is the Morse requirement for a ham license gone but you can now ride your Off Road Vehicle over endangered turtles while your kids watch those 1,000 channels in the backseat!

So, although I'm not going to complain about it anymore I will do two other things:

  1. Keep this page up for historical (and hysterical!) purposes.
  2. Continue to use and enjoy Morse code in the most professional manner possible on the amateur radio bands.

Despite my complaints I've always loved amateur radio and, especially, have had a deep love affair with Morse code - it's only such a love that can compel somebody to do so much writing on the subject as there's certainly no money in it! Anyway, I'm not giving up on Morse code or the ham bands as I hope to hear you on the air sometime soon!

- Roger J. Wendell
WBØJNR - March 24, 2007
Golden, Colorado USA

 

(Click on any of this page's "Thumbnail" images for a larger view)

Yellow Arrow Pointing Right Click Here for my tribute to Morse telegraphy!

 

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Extra Class Amateur Radio License WB0JNR I tested for this license before an FCC examiner
at a government office near Golden, Colorado.
(You can click on it for a larger view...)

Years before me Extra examinees had it even tougher - they had to draw schematics in addition to sending AND receiving Morse code. Those boys (yes, the vast majority of them were male) knew their stuff!  Over the years amateur testing requirements have been watered down to almost nothing. In December '99 I offered this modest proposal to the avalanche of "dummying down" schemes for amateur radio:

I'm asking that everyone write both the ARRL and FCC to ask that the requirements for an Amateur Extra Class license be STRENGTHENED. Specifically, ask them to require that all existing, new and future Amateur Extra Class licensees be required to copy Morse code, in five letter coded groups, for a solid minute at 20 wpm.  SENDING Morse code must also be part of the exam. And, finally, the answers to the "written" portion of the examination can NOT be made available in any form to anybody other than those who grade the exams.

I'd also like to see the drawing of schematics an examination requirement for the Extra Class. However, this might prove an undue imposition on examiners in addition to leaving a lot of artwork open for interpretation. In general, strengthening examination requirements for the Amateur Extra will benefit our hobby in a number of ways. Most importantly, it will bring integrity and honor back to our ranks while giving Novices, Techs, Generals, and Advances something meaningful to work for...

Well, needless to say I received all kinds of passionate response, from both sides of the fence, when I posted this on QRP-L, CQC-L and some other ham radio sites and listservers. The saddest responses were from those who felt I was trying to prop-up some kind of barrier to entry - they insisted the airwaves should be free and open to all. In a way, the small amount of socialist in me agrees with them to some extent. However, I do believe with freedom (and I do believe in freedom) comes a lot of responsibility. In the case of amateur radio that responsibility includes acquiring sufficient skills to not only communicate effectively and efficiently (Morse code is one of the ways to do that!) but to also have enough technical skill and know-how so as to not create a safety hazard but also to not pollute (create interference) the airwaves or operate in such a manner as to bring discredit or dishonor to our great nation.

Okay, maybe a little grandiose but think about it for a moment - amateur radio operators are heard all over the planet , but, hopefully, not on the neighbor's stereo or across some scientist's SETI monitor! Anyway, over the years I received a lot of response to the aforementioned suggestion - some of it was supportive while others, obviously, was not...

- WBØJNR

 

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Sadness:

The ARRL ran this front page headline on its website in January, 2007:

"It's Official! Morse Code Requirement Ends Friday, February 23 (Jan 24, 2007 [REVISED Jan 26, 2007 14:15 ET]) -- Circle Friday, February 23, on your calendar. That's when the current 5 WPM Morse code requirement will officially disappear from the Amateur Radio Service Part 97 rules in accordance with the FCC's Report and Order (R&O) in the "Morse code proceeding," WT Docket 05-235. Beginning on that date, applicants for a General or Amateur Extra Class Amateur Radio license no longer will have to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code. They'll just have to pass the applicable written examination. Publication of the new rules in the January 24 Federal Register started a 30-day countdown for the new rules to become effective. Deletion of the Morse requirement -- still a matter of controversy within the amateur community -- is a landmark in Amateur Radio history."

 

The ARRL had this to say on page 9 of the February '07 edition of QST:

"Late in the day on Friday, December 15, 2006 the FCC took a step that had been long desired by some and long dreaded by other, but long expected by everyone who cared either way. An FCC news release issued that same evening announced the Commission's decision to eliminate the Morse code examination requirement for the General and Amateur Extra Class licenses." ARRL Chief Executive Office David Sumner, K1ZZ, wrote; "The best reason for developing Morse proficiency is that it makes Amateur Radio more rewarding and more fun. If one's sole motivation for learning Morse is to get past a 5-wpm exam, it's unlikely to be either rewarding or fun - or ever to result in real fluency. If on the other hand the driving force is a real desire to use CW on the air - a desire that those of us who love CW can supply - then that's a horse of a very differnt hue."

 

In the early 80s I saw it coming:
This letter was one of my earlier attempts at convincing the FCC to keep Morse code as an amateur radio requirement...
(Okay, it was 1983, I was young, full of myself, and typewriters didn't have grammar and spell checkers!)

My 1983 Letter to the FCC PR Docket Number 83-28
                                                        Aurora, Colorado 80015
                                                        21 March 1983
The Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554
 
Response to Proposed Rulemaking Docket Number 83-28:
         No consideration should be given to a "codeless amateur radio license. While Morse code is beneficial in providing an efficient, inexpensive form of communications throughout the radio spectrum, it remains an excellent method of expanding the mental processes of the person involved.

         In the United States the effects of lessening entry requirements have been all too evident in other fields. As a nation we remain extremely deficient in foreign language skills compared to world citizenry. While not a language in itself, Morse code, with the use of "Q" signals and other internationally recognized shorthand, can be used a vital link in bridging linguistic barriers on any frequency, while simultaneously enhancing the mental capacity of the operator who has taken time to learn the code. It is very similar to the calculus you learn in college, while not used on a daily basis after graduation, it has helped us all expand our thought processing capabilities.

         Therefore, will all of the vigor at our disposal, we should continue to uphold the high standards set for entry into the Amateur Radio Service. We've seen the damage done with the advent of citizens band radio - if an intelligent, disciplined person has the fortitude to meet the requirements for entry into the Amateur Radio Service, he can then make valuable contributions through his participation. If the amateur population declines in number due to our refusal to compromise standards, so be it. It is with a hard working, intelligent amateur population that contributions are made to the world community, not with the average American of this decade who attempts mediocrity by tearing down obstacles to his leisure.

[signed]
Roger J. Wendell
WBØJNR
Enclosure: 5 Copies

 

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Reader Response:
(posted here with permission!)

January 24, 2010:

I just got done reading your page on your sadness of the loss of Morse code! I agree with you that for an extra license that you should need to know code! As for the Tech, and General licenses maybe not so much. I believe if there was still a code requirement to become a HAM, amateur radio will die with your generation! People in my age group (18 - 35) are not really interested in anything that does call across country with the simple 10 digit number at most! So in the interest of keeping amateur radio alive we need to find new ways of attracting younger groups. I would love to learn code before I move from General to Extra. Something else I am finding being new to amateur radio is there is not many Elmer's who really want to help the newbie's! Don't get me wrong people are still helpful, but they won't take the time to meet with you and run through things with you!

Thanks,

Travis Balcome
Brighton, CO
KDØJJP

P.S. [from a subsequent email] For sure you can use my letter! I also belive before 1964 when they introduced Incentive licensing that everyone had free roam of all the bands! I think they should keep the extra special for people who earn it! I spent a year in Junction, being a Colorado native I lived in may parts of Colorado!

 

August 15, 2007:

Dear Roger [WBØJNR]:

Dear Fellow Extra Class friend:

I too lament the loss of the real Extra Class license. I have held the Extra Class license since mid 50s when I was an electronics instructor at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Miss. My call then was either W1TYG or K5AQF (I was born and raised in Maine and cannot remember if I modified my license before or after taking the test -- but I do know I took it was in that interim period when there were no additional privileges associated with having it and those of us who earned it were complaining that a slew of older amateurs were grand fathered in without having to take any exam.) We also began lobbying to have some additional privileges for earning it. Finally we were given the very low end of the HF bands for CW and a reserved section of the HF phone bands as well. With that compromise I was reasonably satisfied. Life goes on.

After leaving the military (and spending some time in Florida where I was WA4FRM) we settled in Washington State and I modified my license and received the call W7ESX which I continue to hold (A spent some time working in Canada and held for a few years the call VE6EEX). Since it became legal to hold a call with a different numerical designate I have seriously considered modifying my call to my original W1TYG which I held back in high school, but W7ESX has by now become so much a part of me that I hate to surrender it! I have never attempted a vanity call but now we have finally moved from Arkansas to Iowa to be near our daughter, I am again considering obtaining a 1X3 call like either W0TYG or W0ESX. I just renewed for another 10 years so i may just leave well enough alone and retain W7ESX. We now live in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Now to the purpose of my writing. Is it perhaps possible in some manner for us who are Extra Class holders to identify ourselves in some sort of special club? Or perhaps is there some such organization already extant? I appreciate your tireless, though unfruitful, efforts on behalf of the Extra Class license. I am proud of my achievement, as I know are you. I don't like bragging but I would like recognition as having obtained my ticket when it held real meaning.

73

Harrison Harnden
W7ESX

 

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Yellow Arrow Pointing Right Click Here for QRP and amateur radio!
Yellow Arrow Pointing Right Click Here for the International Morse code alphabet and phonetics
Yellow Arrow Pointing Right Click Here for "Q" and "Z" signals
Yellow Arrow Pointing Right Click Here for my tribute to Morse telegraphy

USCGC Chase
Braggin' Rights: Who holds the Coast Guard's record for receiving Morse code?  -  ME!

(I learned the code at age 14 by memorizing it out of a dictionary!)

Coast Guard 40 wpm certificate.
Armed Forces Day 25 wpm certificate.
ARRL 20 wpm certificate.

Hand Key  Click on this hand key to hear real Morse code! (227k .wav file)

Coast Guard Speed Key Certificate Front
Coast Guard Speed Key Certificate Back

 

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Links:

  1. Antennas!
  2. ARES - Amateur Radio Emergency Service and Wildland Firefighting
  3. Coast Guard
  4. Coast Guard Club and Amateur Radio Net
  5. CQC - Colorado QRP Club
  6. CWCom Morse code over the Internet
  7. FISTS The International Morse Preservation Society
  8. K9DE Learning and Using Morse code
  9. Maritme radio
  10. Memorizing Morse code by Wolf at 1728 Software Systems
  11. Morse Code - My tribute to Morse Telegraphy
  1. Morse Code Company
  2. Novice Historical Society by AC6C
  3. Q and Z signals
  4. QRP and Amateur Radio
  5. QSL Cards
  6. Spark Gap info by John S. Belrose
  7. Spark Gap Recording from 1921 by VK7RO
  8. Theodore Roosevelt McElroy World's Champion Radio Telegrapher
  9. Travel and Travel Two
  10. ZUT Coast Guard CW Operators Association

 

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