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Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High 358

Posted by timothy
from the ok-everyone-call-bdale-garbee dept.
Velcroman1 writes "The newest trend in American communication isn't another smartphone from Apple or Google but one of the elder statesmen of communication: Ham radio licenses are at an all time high, with over 700,000 licenses in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Ham radio first took the nation by storm nearly a hundred years ago. Last month the FCC logged 700,314 licenses, with nearly 40,000 new ones in the last five years. Compare that with 2005, when only 662,600 people hammed it up and you'll see why the American Radio Relay League — the authority on all things ham — is calling it a 'golden age' for ham. 'Over the last five years we've had 20-25,000 new hams,' said Allen Pitts, a spokesman for the group."
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Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High

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  • Overstated (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:05PM (#38136456)

    This is great. Ameatur radio is probably the last great geeky hobby.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:08PM (#38136512)
    From FTA:

    While the number of licensees has grown considerably over the years, we realize that these numbers include some who are no longer active in Amateur Radio. A recent survey of ARRL members, however, indicates that more than 80 percent of those responding are active.

  • Re:Easier Entry (Score:5, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@@@cornell...edu> on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:09PM (#38136530) Homepage

    It's been possible to get a code-free Technician license for almost two decades.

    However, it likely has much more appeal now that you can get on the international HF bands without a code test. (Code-free Tech only had access to VHF/UHF and above)

  • by macwhizkid (864124) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:14PM (#38136608)

    It's neat that amateur radio still has a niche in today's world, even though these figures are less impressive when you consider (1) population growth in the US over the last four decades and (2) getting a radio license now is much easier than it used to be.

    These days, no Morse code knowledge is required for Tech level, and many clubs offer a "get your license in one day" class for cramming on the published question pool and then doing a brain dump into the exam before you forget everything.

    Really, if you have a free Saturday and you've ever thought for more than 10 seconds about getting your radio license, there's no reason not to do it. [arrl.org]

  • Sunspot Cycle (Score:5, Informative)

    by trolman (648780) * on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:15PM (#38136612) Journal
    It helps when the sunspot cycle is on the upswing. During the CQWW last month it was almost no effort to work Australia and Japan from Texas.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:20PM (#38136712)

    You have to look beyond the simple "communications" aspect and explore your inner geek. Ham radio is so much more than simple communications. There are facets to fascinate almost anyone with a bend towards things tech. Just the band options alone are huge. Everything from the traditional HF and huge antennas to microwaves and dishes. Learning how things work - learning what to use for what - and maybe even finding a new use for something, that's just a part of it all.

    For me, ham radio lead me to many years of working in networking and FOSS (it's how I found and learned Linux). From there, to commercial and public safety communications. Now - it's a big part of what I do 'outside work' to relax. Many things to many people. And enough options to be attractive to most.

    Basically, if you ask such a question like that - comparing ham radio to commercial services - those around you that had the opportunity to share the joy of Amateur Radio have not done such a good job.

    If all you want to do is exchange data from point A to B - well, yea, you can do that too in ham radio - but you're missing out on most of what's going on.

  • FPV (Score:5, Informative)

    by d3ac0n (715594) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:23PM (#38136746)

    I would imagine that FPV model plane flying has quite a bit to do with this. Most of the high-powered control systems you need to make FPV a reality require a HAM technician license. With the massive upswing in FPV flying I would expect to see a big boost in HAM license interest.

  • by RustNeverSleeps (846857) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:28PM (#38136836)

    With the internet, and cell phones, and all; what is the HAM radio attraction?

    People ask me this all the time. Ham radio is a big hobby with lots of areas to be explored, it's not simply about communicating. Some people are interested in building their own gear, some in preparing for emergencies, some in public service (communications for marathons, parades, etc). Some people are paper chasers, working to earn awards for contacting stations in as many different countries as possible, others like to operate in ham radio contests (like this one: http://www.cqww.com/ [cqww.com]). Some hams even bounce signals off the moon, using it as a giant reflector satellite.

    When people ask me why I like ham radio when I could just call someone on my cell phone, I like to compare it to fishing or hunting or any number of other hobbies. After all I can just buy fish to eat at the store. Fishing strictly as a means to obtain fish probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's not why people do it. Likewise, strictly communicating with other people isn't really why people do ham radio. There's a lot to learn in ham radio, and it can be a really fun, satisfying hobby.

  • Re:I Are One: KK4ETS (Score:5, Informative)

    by rwade (131726) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:33PM (#38136932)

    Now I just need to convince the wife to let me spend $2K - $20K on fancy radio gear so I can talk further than the nearby 2M/70cm repeaters...

    I hope you're kidding -- there is really no need to spend more than a few hundred bucks. From where I am on the West Coast, just last weekend I hit Japan and Hawaii with a cheap 10 meter dipole ($35 -- it would have been a third the cost if I built it myself) and a $650 used FT-897D.

  • by rwade (131726) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:37PM (#38136988)

    Keep in mind that technician class is limited to CW transmissions below 30MHz, so morse code is still somewhat required for shortwave.

    Well, that's not true. From this chart [arrl.org], technician licensees have phone (SSB) privileges in the 10-meter band at 28.3-28.5 MHz.

  • Re:Easier Entry (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheJediGeek (903350) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @12:46PM (#38137120)
    No-code tech has only been around for about 20 years or so. Before the elimination of the code requirement for all license classes, there were two tech classes. The "no code" tech and tech plus. There was also Novice class which has now gone away. Interestingly, Novice required 5 wpm CW yet would not grant voice privileges on 2M or 70cm.

    I think the increase in amateur radio licenses probably has more to do with more people expecting the S to HTF. There seems to be a growing expectation that a global collapse, nuclear holocaust, government collapse, zombie apocalypse are just around the corner. It's probably a combination between that and people wanting to be prepared for more local or regional disasters like blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

  • Re:"Other humans"? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:16PM (#38137650) Homepage

    As opposed to participating in machine-to-machine communications where the signals are not human-readable. I appreciate the joke. FYI, I have talked to non-terrestrials - one was on MIR and the other two were on the ISS. :-)

  • by inviolet (797804) <slashdotNO@SPAMideasmatter.org> on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:39PM (#38138068) Journal

    No doubt that there are some Hams who have gone silent key still on the rolls, but most of their registrations will expire after no more than 10 years. And the dead certainly don't account for many of the new registrations (except perhaps in Chicago).

    It doesn't work that way. A license expires after 10 years, but renewal is free and practically effortless, so everyone renews forever. The number of ham licenses will therefore always be "at an all time high" because of the ratchet effect created by free renewals.

    My father has been a ham since the 1960s, but hasn't touched a radio in three decades.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @01:49PM (#38138276) Homepage Journal

    A "summation box", or an antenna-phasing unit, is a device with two antenna inputs, and the ability to allow you to (a) vary the phase of one of the antennas, (b) adjust the amplitude of both of them, then (c) add them together before passing them along to the receiver. This allows you, with suitable choice of antennas, to either null out local noise, or interfering signals coming in from quite a distance. They work best with signals coming in groundwave, as skywave signals have a tendency to change phase rapidly and often.

    QRM is man made interference such as signals emitted from wall-wart switching power supplies. QRN is noise from natural sources, such as lightning crashes.

  • Re:I am. (Score:4, Informative)

    by rk (6314) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:34PM (#38139076) Journal

    Agreed. Dropping the code requirement helped me get to my extra last year. The irony is now that I have my license, and operating awhile on the HF bands I've learned the value of Morse (talk around the world with a 1 watt transmitter?) and am in the process of learning it.

  • Go with the FT-897 (Score:5, Informative)

    by rwade (131726) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:40PM (#38139178)

    Next step is I want to get something portable like an FT-857 or 817 and do some mountaintopping. Good times!

    Have to recommend the FT-897 [universal-radio.com] wholeheartedly. The FT-897 is electrically identical to the FT-857. The FT-857 is the FT-897 in a smaller package intended for use in a car. As such, the FT-857 has fewer external buttons and knobs than the FT-897 so navigating it while it's on your desk or on top of a boulder could be more challenging than with the FT-897.

    While the FT-817 is very popular among the mountain topping community, 5 watts is a frustratingly low level of power unless you're on CW. I'm not sure about the condition of your legs and back, but carrying a larger battery and a marginally heavier transceiver so that you can do 20 watts is probably worth the effort. Further, the FT-897 will do a better job on your desk than either the FT-817 or the FT-857 will do.

    I bought a 897 used on craigslist for about $650. Don't even bother with the retail price tag -- Yaesu and ICOM both build their gear to last.

  • Re:Overstated (Score:4, Informative)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:47PM (#38139278) Homepage Journal

    considerable [ebay.com] money [ebay.com]?

    2 meter stuff is pretty cheap. Same price range as dicking around witrh Arduinos, once you've included breadboards, power supplies, blah blah blah. Addmittedly, some hams don't think of 2 meter as 'ham', but it's cheap, a busy band, and if you get the urge to go SW you'll be able to sell off your stuff. Probably. Real hams never sell anything.

    Now, it does get more expensive for better stuff. But there are licenses today that don't seem to require as much tech as before. Learn up and you can buy some used stuff, it up, and be on the air.

    If you want a cheap hobby, try QRP [wikipedia.org]!. And be a *real* ham and build yer own [ebay.com].

    Oh, and antennas are the coolest part of all this, to me. Clever antenna designs make all the difference...

  • by rwade (131726) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:34PM (#38139900)

    The Icom 706 Mk II G is a decent mobile with much better DSP. You just need a PhD to be able to figure out how to operate it.

    Interesting point. There are indeed complaints about the sound quality of the FT-897D; personally, I think it sounds great.

    I'll concede that the 706mkiig is potentially the single most popular HF/VHF/UHF all-mode radio. It got that way for being a very solid performer both mobile (in a car) and sitting on your desk. If I were to install a transceiver in my car, the 706mkiig is the one I'd go with.

    However, there are hams that have studied [pinztrek.com] the relative power usage of the 706mkiig and the FT-897 and found that the 706mkiig tends to suck down quite a bit of power even while only receiving, making it a poor candidate for portable (extra-vehicular, shall we say?) activity, such as mountain topping:

    The FT-897 can be configured to use minimal current on RX by turning the dial light to automatic, and disabling the DSP. Using headphones helps as well. In this mode, you can get down to 550-600mA, which is much lower than counterparts like the IC-706. In fact, other than the dedicated manpacks like the F-817, VX-1210 and military equivilants, only a few rigs like the Elecraft are more frugal.

    Just looking at the specifications for the FT-897D [universal-radio.com] and for the IC-706mkiig [icomamerica.com]:

    FT-897D:

    Squelched: 600 mA (Approx.)
    Receive: 1 A

    IC-706MKIIG:

    Rx Standby: 1.8A
    Max Audio: 2.0 A

    I don't know what the OP means by mountain topping -- does he mean he's going to drive his truck to a mountain top and transmit from there or does he mean to toss everything he needs in a backpack and hoof it to a high point? The radio he chooses depends on that distinction. If he's backpacking, I would say the FT-897d is the best choice of the two.

  • Re:Value of CW (Score:4, Informative)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @05:33PM (#38141262)

    NOW, the rule explicitly defines the "mode" as "1A0", and explicitly says it has to be "plain text". It doesn't quite go as far as stipulating morse code, but I think I read a non-binding FCC opinion someplace where they basically said occasional adhoc prosigns are OK as long as they're published SOMEWHERE and your intent isn't to conceal what you're sending, but hex-encoded UTF8 and any kind of binary-encoded file is absolutely beyond the pale.

    You are quite incorrect.

    In the definitions: (1) CW. International Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, H, J or R as the first symbol; 1 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol; and emissions J2A and J2B.

    Nowhere does it say it has to be "plain text". There are restrictions on the code used (International Morse Code, 5 level Baudot, etc...), and restrictions on the content, but "plain text" is not one of them. Perhaps you are thinking of 97.113(a)(4) which prohibits: "(4) Music using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section; communications intended to facilitate a criminal act; messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein; obscene or indecent words or language; or false or deceptive messages, signals or identification; "?

    UUencoding is not an encoding for the purpose of obscuring the meaning of a message. If you encrypted those files before uuencoding, then you would be breaking the rules, but otherwise, no.

    As for sending binary files being "beyond the pale", sorry, still incorrect. There is an international network of packet and pactor based systems that do this on a regular basis, using an encoding that is much more obscure and complex than UUencoding. It's called Winlink 2000 [winlink.org]. It is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of email to ham radio, and you can send doc and pdf and all kinds of binary files as attachments to those email messages. There is no FCC rule prohibiting this.

    As for your recollection of the old rules, I recall nothing that would have been a hot-button issue for the FCC in sending files via computer-generated CW, as long as the control op was sitting there controlling it.

    In a way, I can see why they clamped down a bit. At the time I didn't have the RF or digital electronics background to know it, but I now know that turning a carrier on and off is neither instantaneous nor consequence-free, and when you do it fast enough, you're basically bit-banging de-facto AM via PWM and square-wave artifacts that's going to splatter over a MUCH wider chunk of spectrum than a carrier being slowly turned on and off by a straight key.

    What you call "splatter" is what we technical people call "bandwidth". Yes, a 200 wpm CW signal has a higher bandwidth than a 10 wpm signal, but I don't seem to find any limit to the CW speed being used. I do find a limit of 300 bauds for data, but I don't believe that applies to CW. There were, and probably still are, people who manage 60 to 80 wpm manually. There is a woman [qsl.net] who has a record more than 1700 wpm using software.

    As for how fast the carrier is turned on and off, that is a function of the TR switching in the transmitter. You can have bad key clicks at 5 wpm, too.

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