Exploring Trends in Amateur Radio Licensing

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by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

Last evening, our club hosted the first of several VE exams for the year, and we had a great turnout. Not only were there quite a few upgrades, but also several newcomers who earned their first licenses. And this has been a steady trend since we began hosting these exams in 2010. It started me wondering what the national trends might be, so I began to research it.

Joe Speroni AH0A, makes this research pretty simple. He has compiled data for each U.S. license class in the U.S. dating back to the late 1990’s, and the numbers show that amateur radio is not just doing well, but thriving! Total licenses have increased by 11.42% since 1997, reaching an all-time high of 755,952 in January 2019, but that only tells part of the story.

So where are the biggest changes taking place? Let’s take a closer look. The Technician Class has seen an increase of 22% over the same period, from 314,532 licenses in 1997 to 384,509 in 2019. General Class went up by 50%, from 116,629 in 1997 to 176,089 in 2019, and Extra went up by a staggering 100.1%! In 1997 there were only 73,737 licensed Extras in the U.S., but by 2019 that number grew to 147,560.

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It would be natural to say that these increases were a direct result of the Morse code requirement being dropped by the FCC in 2007, after the ITU ratified changes to the Radio Regulations to allow each country to determine whether it would require a person seeking an amateur radio license to demonstrate the ability to send and receive Morse code. General class licenses increased by over 5,000 between December 2006 and March 2007, which can most likely be attributed to the Morse code requirement change but, except for a jump during that period, the trend is much more gradual. Surprisingly, General Class licenses actually decreased between December 2006 and January 2007, possibly suggesting that some folks waited to upgrade until the new regulations came into effect, which also skewed the results somewhat. Extra class licenses show a steady increase over time, with one notable increase between April 2000 and June 2000, where it jumped from 77,530 to 90,451. Technician also shows a steady increase over time, but dropped between February and March 2007, around the same time that the Morse Code requirement was changed.

The Advanced and Novice license classes have seen a steady decline since license restructuring began in April 2000. From that point forward, no new Advanced, Tech Plus, or Novice licenses were issued, and many of these hams have since upgraded to one or the other license classes. Many Advanced have upgraded to Extra, Tech Plus was absorbed into the Technician Class, which also gained privileges on 10 meters and CW portions of 40 and 80 meters, and Novices have upgraded to either Technician or above. It is surprising to see, however, that although its been 20 years since that change took place, there are still many Advanced and Novice licenses active.

These trends are a good sign that the hobby is healthy and continuously growing. We see it on the local level, and its good to see that the same is happening nationwide.

Looking at some other countries, Germany’s ham population dropped between 2004 and 2005, but has steadily increased since, with over 81,000 licensed hams in in the most recent year of record. Japan’s numbers are all across the board. They saw the largest increases in new licenses between 1987 and 1996, with over 100,000 new licenses per year, but that decreased to a low of 15,896 in 2004, and it’s been increasing steadily since. In the United Kingdom, new licenses have been on a steady rise since 2005, going from 6,948 per year in 2005, to 21,791 in 2016, which is a 213.6% increase.

There are obviously many different factors that have played a role in shaping these figures, and it would take a lot of time to explore all of them, but a few come to mind right away. The FCC and ARRL have done a great job over the past two decades to simplify the licensing structure, which has attracted many newcomers to the hobby, and encourages existing hams to pursue upgrades. Ham radio gear has also become more accessible and affordable than ever. An entry level HT costs $30 today, compared with $150-$200 when I first got started in the hobby in 2001. New digital modes such as FT8, DMR, D-STAR, Fusion, and others, open the hobby up to new people, and the QRP movement combines experimenters, kit builders, and outdoor enthusiasts, who enjoy operating portable from mountaintops, parks, and more, adding a whole new element to the hobby.

Ham radio is also more accessible now than ever before. When I first became interested in the hobby, in the early 1990’s, it wasn’t easy to find even basic information about it. The Berkshire Athenaeum, our local library, had books about it from the 1970’s, that were great for learning about radio theory, but they didn’t answer simple questions, like “how do I get a license?..” “Where do I get a radio?…” “How do I find out more?” It wasn’t until our household got the internet that I could research that information. There’s a lot of folks these days that say that the computer and the internet are “killing ham radio,” but my experience is very much the opposite. Who can imagine a radio room without a computer? We use it to look up call signs, check DX spots, examine the propagation, and so much more! And we use tools like electronic logging, software defined radios, and rig control every day. In many ways these advances are the best thing to happen to amateur radio.

If you’re interested in learning more about the trends in amateur radio licensing, click here to visit Joe Speroni’s FCC license data table.

And, as always, please share your thoughts and comments.


Works Cited:

“Total FCC Licenses, by month, by class.” Joe Speroni, AH0A:  http://www.ah0a.org/FCC/Licenses.html

“Ham Licenses Each Class.” 02/21/2020. Web Image: http://www.clearskyinstitute.com/ham/stats/index.html

“Ham Licenses Total.” 02/21/2020. Web Image: http://www.clearskyinstitute.com/ham/stats/index.html

The Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge is Saturday, March 28th

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CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT

Saturday, March 28th, from 12PM – 4PM

The 2020 Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge takes place Saturday, March 28th, for 4 hours, beginning at 12pm local time!

Getting started is easy!

Choose a power level from: QRP (5 watts or less), Medium (Greater than 5, but less than 100 watts), or High (100 watts or more), and decide whether to operate as Fixed or Mobile.

The Exchange is 3 items: your call sign, the name of the city, village, town, or township you are operating from, and your power level.

For example, if your call sign is W1ZZ, and you’re operating from your home station in Gorham, and running 50 watts, you’d say: “Please copy, Whiskey One Zulu Zulu, Gorham, Medium Power”.

Suggested frequencies: 146.475, 146.490, 146.505, 146.550, 146.565, 146.580, 147.420, 147.435, 147.450, 147.465, 147.480, 147.495, 147.510, 147.525, 147.540, 147.555, 147.570.

Contacts with an EOC, SKYWARN, Red Cross, or other served agency station are worth 2 points each! Check out the official rules for more details.

Now, get on the air, and have fun!

Click here for complete rules and details.

The Maine Bicentennial Special Event take place March 16-22

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The Maine Bicentennial Special Event, an amateur radio activity celebrating the 200th anniversary of Maine statehood, will take place between March 16th and March 22nd, 2020.

Twelve special event call signs will be active, each representing one of Maine’s nine original counties, plus three special locations that have historical significance. These include the city of Boston (K1B), which was capital of the District of Maine while it was still part of Massachusetts, Jameson Tavern, in Freeport (K1J), where the papers were signed that separated Maine from Massachusetts, and Portland (K1P), which was Maine’s first capital. The original nine counties will be represented by the following call signs during the event: Cumberland (W1C), Hancock (W1H), Kennebec (W1K), Lincoln (W1L), Oxford (W1O), Penobscot (W1P), Somerset (W1S), Washington (W1W), and York (W1Y).

Maine became the nation’s 23rd state on March 15, 1820, following an election in the District of Maine, and passage of the Missouri Compromise in Washington. Although the idea of separation from Massachusetts was a controversial one, 70% of Maine voters eventually chose statehood.

The ham radio special event will coincide with several other celebrations during Maine’s Bicentennial year. Amateur radio operators from across Maine and Massachusetts, will operate from both portable and home stations. On-air activities will begin at 0000 UTC on March 16th, and continue through 2359 UTC on March 22nd.

Certificates will be awarded to hams who contact special event stations, with endorsements available for bands, modes, and a clean sweep for contacts with each of the Maine 200 Special Event call signs.

Please visit: https://maine200specialevent.com/ for more information and announcements leading up to this special on-air activity.

ATTENTION MAINE HAMS: If you’re interested in operating during the Maine 200 Special Event, please send an email to: mainehamradio@gmail.com

 

ARISS SSTV Special Event

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On the weekend of August 3-4, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) conducted a special event commemorating the life of Owen Garriott, W5LFL, who was the first astronaut to utilize amateur radio in space. Many of us were fortunate enough to make contact with him as the Space Shuttle(s) he orbited around the globe.

The crew aboard the ISS transmitted a series of photos using Slow-Scan-Television (SSTV) on their standard ham radio downlink frequency.  One of our founding members, Frank Krizan KR1ZAN, was able to capture 5 good photos and 3 partials (keep in mind that the ISS is only visible about 10 minutes each pass and each SSTV photo takes 2 minutes to transmit). A number of photos he received were also duplicates of previous ones.

The ARISS Team has provided a place to upload the photos for posterity. Click here to view the images. In the Call Sign block, enter the call KR1ZAN, and you’ll see the 5 photos that Frank received.

2019 Maine QSO Party is September 28-29

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The 7th annual Maine QSO Party will take place the weekend of September 28-29, from 1200 UTC on the 28th, through 1200 UTC on the 29th. Last year’s overall winner was Joe Blinick K1JB, of Portland.

The contest is designed to encourage Maine stations to expand their knowledge of DX propagation on the HF and MF bands, and improve their operating skills, and station capability by participating a competition in which W/VE, and DX stations have the incentive to work Maine.

The contest takes place on the 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meter bands, and allows for phone and CW for modes.

For an exchange, stations in Maine send signal report and county, while stations outside of Maine, but within either the United States or Canada, send signal report and state/province. DX stations send signal report and “DX.”

For scoring, contacts with stations in Maine are worth 2 points. Contacts with stations outside Maine are worth 1 point. Multipliers are the same for all participants: Use Maine counties (16), States (50), Canadian Provinces (14), and DXCC entities as multipliers. You may work any station once on each of the two modes, on each of the six contest bands.

The Maine QSO Party is a fun contest that offers categories for operators of all skill levels and station capability. Also similar to DX contests like the Canada Day contest or YODX, its open to all contacts as long as the proper information is exchanged. Stations outside of Maine are not required to work only Maine stations for credit, as is the case with most QSO parties. This being said, its important that as many Maine stations as possible are active, and it would be really nice to have participation from all 16 counties. So far, the competition has seen most Maine participation from the more populated southern counties. Help get the word out and share this on contest blogs and social sites!

For more information, including complete rules, click here.

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2019 ILLW at Rockland Breakwater Light

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Eric Emery KC1HJK attaches a mast to a railing to mount the 40m SOTA Beams dipole

On Saturday, August 17th, the WS1SM team activated Rockland Breakwater Light, in Rockland Harbor, ME, for International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend (ILLW). Club members operated from 10am-5pm, using call sign WS1SM.

2019 marked the ninth year that WSSM has participated in ILLW, which sees over 500 light houses and lightships activated in over 40 countries. The international event helps promote the preservation of lighthouses and lightships, and at the same time gives the community an opportunity to experience Amateur Radio first hand.

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Tim KB1HNZ, Pete KC1DFO, and Brad KC1JMH about to take on the breakwater

The morning started out with breakfast at Moody’s Diner, in Waldoboro, before the team met up at the parking lot for the lighthouse. Ahead of them was task of carrying the radio equipment across the 7/8-mile long breakwater. This wasn’t easy, as one of the heavisest items, a marine battery, had to be brought out in a cart that wasn’t well suited to the rough surface of the rocks that made up the breakwater. It required two to three people at any given time to help it along. Once at the lighthouse, however, the setting was a beautiful place to spend the day on the radio.

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L-R: CJ W1CJC, Tim KB1HNZ, and Pete KC1DFO setting up antennas

The WS1SM team operated 2 stations full time from the front porch of the lighthouse, which overlooks the breakwater, including a Yaesu FT-857d with a 40m dipole, and an Icom IC-706 MKIIG connected to a BuddiPole (for 6-20m) antenna. Both stations operated on battery power, with solar assistance. 40 meter conditions were excellent and contacts were plenty there. Band conditions were a little more difficult on 20 meters, but it improved later in the day to even include a few DX contacts.

Particpants included Eric Emery KC1HJK, CJ Carlsson W1CJC, Tim Watson KB1HNZ, Brad Brown, Jr. KC1JMH, and Peter Warren KC1DFO.

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Tim KB1HNZ operates 40 meters

“This year’s ILLW has been a lot of fun,” said Tim Watson KB1HNZ. “It was fun working all the other lighthouses on the bands and also demonstrating ham radio to the public. We even met some other hams in person, who stopped by to say hi.”

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Lifting the cart over the cracks in the breakwater on the way back

Brad Brown KC1JMH said afterwards, “We’d really like to thank the folks from Massachusetts who helped us carry the cart back,” referring to a gentleman and his two grandsons who saw Brad, Tim, CJ, and Pete struggling with it and helped carry it to the mainland. “The extra help meant a lot at the end of a long day.” Earlier, Eric KC1HJK, brought the battery back on his kayak, so it was a little easier than it could’ve been.

Click here to see more photos from this and previous lighthouse events.