CW and the FCC

pr. Mark Gilstrap orthodoxhome at COX.NET
Sat Dec 16 14:11:45 EST 2006

> I passed 20WPM so it is not that the code stopped
> me but I know a young Ham who was jumping for joy
> today as he has a learning disability that was making
> code nearly impossible -- he said "I am going to do
> nothing but study the General non-stop until I pass!"
> For him this was a wonderful Christmas present, for
> others it is a change that comes across as a disappointment.

We are all handicapped to a certain extent - and we are all gifted as well,
but in different ways.  Thankfully schools began to address the different
learning styles and impediments some time ago, or we would still have
teachers making lefties write with their right hands or place the paper in
the same right-hand alignment as the rest of the class (as happened to my

Multimedia is a real boon to reaching everyone in an audience because some
are visual and some are aural,  and those in the middle benefit from both
(or even all "6" learning styles).  But the fact is that some people are
handicapped aurally and can't deal with Morse code,  yet they may have PhDs
in Electrical Engineering and be capable of huge innovations in the designs
of the radios and technology we use every day - if only they had a vested

The Morse code requirement has kept visual learners away from amateur radio
for generations.   That doesn't make code bad.  I love to hear it.  It is a
beautiful rhythm and heart-warming somehow - maybe because my grandfather
was a telegrapher and so I particularly miss hearing the clacker.   But I
struggled with code for almost 50 years (okay maybe I was lazy, because when
I really got down to it, I did finally pass the 5 wpm test), but unlike some
who really have to struggle to pass the written tests, all that was a snap
for me.

The high regard hams have for a Rag Chewer is maybe an expression of the
make-up of the ranks of hams skewed to the aural side of the spectrum by the
Code requirement.   Public service is facilitated by such, but is the
technical side keeping up with the possibilities?

Embracing diversity and leveling the playing field always appears as a loss
to someone.   The FCC has now filled in the pitfalls that many of us found
ourselves in. and kept us out of the game.  Unfortunately the FCC may have
bulldozed the high ground of radio theory achievement too much (no doubt
with the input of the ARRL) by reducing the difficulty of the theory
questions, and where they remain difficult still being better tests of
memory, not necessarily understanding.  Only the old-timer's licenses remain
as credentials of (test-time) theoretical excellence.  Why do we not hear
more lamentation about the loss of theoretical expertise which remains
absolutely relevant to the radio services.

I will not go on about the dumbing down of the theory requirements,  but
anyone who has seen a recent test will know what I mean.  I think I learned
more theory in the '50s (Cub Scouts) and '60s  (not studying to a known set
of test questions) than is present on the General Exam today.    Even though
that background made me think I was a whiz at electronics, I discovered
otherwise when I took a 5 hour graduate level course in analytical
instrumentation at Indiana University.  I planned on an "easy A" with all my
electronics knowledge,  but the professor covered *everything* I knew in the
very first lecture!   Day two was a whole new world!     I am guessing the
FCC commercial exams are where you might today get a glimpse of this level
of theory being a requirement.

Okay,   with all that as my intro,  here's my  metaphor for the way the code
test used to fit in (not very well thought out, so give me a break).

A kid starts out on a tricycle and because of the joy of it all,  naturally
works his way up to riding a bicycle.   When qualified at a minimal level
he's allowed to ride a motor scooter,  but until he passes a full driver's
exam he does not qualify to ride a rig with more horsepower.   Rider Safety
exams have also been added on to protect everyone.

Years later after much experience, a man goes down to the Honda dealer and
tries to buy a Gold Wing for a cross country excursion.

"Sir,  I'm sorry, but you need a special license proving your skills for
this privilege."

"No problem, I've been riding moto-cross for years and you will not find a
more knowledgeable mechanic than I.  Should be a snap... what's the test?"

"Well, sir, you must complete the Tour de France.  Your motorcycle handling
and repair skills have nothing to do with it - it is a privilege reserved
for those who have mastered the manual art of pedaling.  You don't have to
out-pedal Lance Armstrong,  but you do have to endure the race at a pace of
at least 20 mph."

end of fiction...   that's a metaphor for the way it was when my brother got
his 13 wpm General ticket in the '60s, and then the Advanced,  and finally
Amateur Extra.    He is quite the bike racer.   I could fix his bike,  and I
could marvel at the race,  but I myself couldn't even consider entering the

Well,  finally I found the motivation (coming from beyond radio purposes),
and persevered with the help of Gordon West.   When I finally got close to
being sufficiently proficient with code I started taking the written tests,
and here I am.   One of the lesser motivations - I'm kind of embarrassed to
admit - was that, as the grandson of a Frisco Lines telegrapher,  I didn't
want to be labeled as a "no-code" ham (such sinful pride), so I hurried to
finish up before the regulations changed.  I'm glad I did.  I wish my son
KE5KXX had also studied for the code test while he had the chance to take
it.    (He wears his no-code tee-shirt (from Dayton 199-something) to his
High School debate competitions - not sure what that means... )

I'm also glad I got my Ten-Tec station together before these predicted used
price hikes.  I may have to sell my partial Heathkit station if I can't
afford the final few pieces  but I am guessing I may eventually find a good
price on keys and keyers.

And another bonus,  just think of all the goodies that manufacturers will
put on new equipment to lure the masses of new customers!  Technical
innovation has a chance to shine.  Maybe they can even produce a rig that
sounds sonorous - like a boatanchor running AM.

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