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ARRL Letter


The ARRL Letter

Volume 19, Number 5
February 4, 2000


+Available on ARRL Audio News


The ARRL Board of Directors has approved the development and implementation of an initiative to promote self-education by radio amateurs. The new ARRL Certification Program will aim to inspire amateurs to continue acquiring technical knowledge and operating expertise beyond that required to become licensed and give them a chance to test their own limits. Following up on the "2010 Vision" discussions at last July's Board meeting, ARRL Executive Vice President David Sumner, K1ZZ, presented the broad strokes of the Certification Program during the Board's January 21-22 meeting in Memphis.

At this point, the Certification Program only exists as a concept, with the details to be worked out, but plans call for having the program in place by later this year. The first step in putting the program in place will be to solicit the ideas of ARRL members, via a Web-based message board, on appropriate topics to be included in the initial rollout. "The idea is to make this program what members want it to be, and not something imposed from 'on high,'" Sumner said.

"Many ARRL members believe there is a widening gap between what the FCC requires amateur licensees to know and what it takes to be truly knowledgeable about Amateur Radio," he continued. "Whether or not you agree, it's certainly true that those of us who took our FCC exams years ago have never had to demonstrate an understanding of current technology. We could use a new challenge."

The new Certification Program will offer participants an opportunity to earn credentials at various levels of depth and difficulty in different courses of study--perhaps in such areas as ionospheric propagation, receiver design, and Morse code proficiency. Sumner said the ARRL should and will continue to encourage the development of Morse code proficiency beyond the basic HF licensing requirements. He observed that the standards for ARRL certification could be more stringent and more uniform than those used for FCC exams.

Sumner said he sees the certification program not only as a welcome opportunity for individual self-development but a response to the perceived "dumbing down" of Amateur Radio qualifications--especially in the aftermath of the FCC's recently announced license restructuring plan. While the plan was not developed directly in response to restructuring, its timing could not be better, Sumner said, conceding that the restructuring debate "has moved it up the agenda."

As envisioned, the program would be largely self-supporting, but startup costs would be funded from the Exceptional Merit Stipend established by the late Ethel Smith, K4LMB. The Certification Program will be dedicated to her memory. Smith--who helped found the Young Ladies Radio League and served as its first president--died in 1997, leaving the bulk of her estate to the ARRL.

Sumner says a Web-based message board will be set up in a few weeks to gather input from members in terms of specific programs and areas of study or skills development they would like to see become part of the voluntary certification program. The League plans to seek outside expert input to assist in setting the knowledge or performance threshold at the optimal level.

The program likely will include some professional development aspects and could include the granting of Continuing Education Units--CEUs. The League also is seeking cooperative arrangements with related professional organizations. It already has a memorandum of understanding with the National Association of Radio-Television Engineers and has approached the Society of Broadcast Engineers for a similar agreement.

The voluntary certification program dovetails neatly with goals expressed by the League's new President Jim Haynie, W5JBP. Following his election January 21 in Memphis, Haynie said he favors even greater promotion of Amateur Radio, especially among youth and in schools, as well as programs to rekindle interest and activity among current licensees.


Citing complaints concerning the administration of Amateur Radio examinations, the FCC has expanded an audit of the W5YI-Volunteer Examiner Coordinator operated by Fred Maia, W5YI, in Dallas, Texas. In a February 2 letter, FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement Riley Hollingsworth said the complaints "allege the selling of both original licenses and upgrade licenses in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands" by W5YI-VEC volunteer examiners.

The eight-page FCC letter also cites an ongoing probe begun late last fall into three 1999 W5YI-VEC exam sessions in South Carolina and seeks additional details from Maia. At the South Carolina sessions, Hollingsworth said, VEs have filed statements claiming their names were forged on session documents by the W5YI session manager. The FCC says a session manager's license apparently was upgraded to Amateur Extra, an unannounced "sub session" was held after a regular VE session, and a General class session manager administered an Extra class examination.

Maia, who's been cooperating in the FCC's South Carolina probe, told the ARRL that he was surprised, confused, and "a little discouraged" to learn that the FCC had expanded its audit. He suggested that the FCC might be acting on the basis of "incorrect information" and said he's not aware that anyone ever paid for any licenses through a W5YI-VEC volunteer examiner.

In December, Maia conceded that there was reason to believe that W5YI-VEC paperwork may have been forged in South Carolina, that some volunteer examiners actually were impostors, and that one examiner also was an examinee.

In his letter, Hollingsworth noted that no Virgin Islands licensees originally tested by W5YI-VEC and later called in by the FCC for retesting have appeared for retesting. The FCC this week canceled licenses of five US Virgin Islands residents for failing to appear for retesting. Maia says the W5YI-VEC has not administered amateur exams in the US Virgin Islands since 1992, and he's looking into the situation. "I am totally in the dark on that one," Maia said of the Virgin Islands inquiry.

Of W5YI-VEC examinees recalled in Puerto Rico, the FCC said, only one showed up for retesting. Maia says he knows of only one situation in Puerto Rico that involved a VE who was disaccredited after being called in for retesting. Maia said he would contact Hollingsworth to get more specifics about the latest allegations of W5YI-VEC testing irregularities.

The FCC letter asks Maia if he's received complaints about the possible selling of licenses and upgrades by W5YI-VEs in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and South Carolina and, if so, how they've been handled. Among other things, the Commission also seeks details regarding screening and accreditation of W5YI-VEC volunteer examiners; examination materials and their handling and grading; how exam results are verified; and the names of VEs and the applicants they tested over the past three years. The FCC asked W5YI-VEC if VE sessions are announced publicly in advance, as required by Part 97, and if any have not been.

Hollingsworth's letter cited the 1983 Report and Order that established the volunteer examiner program. The R&O says that being a VE, "by its very nature, demands the highest degree of integrity." The FCC asked the W5YI-VEC to respond within 30 days.


The League says the FCC should deny a request by the Kenwood Communications Corporation to permit operation of its "Sky Command" system in the 2-meter band. In December, Kenwood asked the FCC either to declare that Sky Command complies with Commission rules or to waive applicable sections of the rules to make it legal. The ARRL filed comments on Kenwood's petition, DA 99-2805, on January 31.

Sky Command, which lets the user control a fixed HF station via a pair of dual-band transceivers, has been on the market for more than two years. The ARRL has declined to permit Sky Command advertisements in QST, however, because it maintains that the system is not legal to use as configured. Sky Command operates in full duplex, using a 70-cm frequency to transmit audio and control commands to a dualband transceiver at the remote station and a 2-meter frequency to transmit received audio via the remote station's Sky Command transceiver to the operator's transceiver.

The League maintains that Kenwood's use of a 2-meter frequency would cause amateurs using the system to violate Section 97.201(b), which limits auxiliary operation to certain frequencies above 222.15 MHz.

In its comments to the FCC, the League said the type of operation employed by the Sky Command System is "clearly auxiliary operation, and as such is not permitted in the 144-148 MHz band." Kenwood had asserted that the 2-meter link constitutes third-party communications. The League said Kenwood's reasoning flies in the face of the FCC rules, which restrict automatic retransmittal of other amateur stations to auxiliary, repeater, and space stations. "The question of whether third-party communications is involved is simply irrelevant," the League said.

The League called Kenwood's Sky Command System "a fine product" that would be of interest to many hams if designed for frequencies on which auxiliary operation is legally permitted. Carving out an exemption by waiving the rules for Kenwood's product, the League argued, would amount to "inappropriate favoritism."

The League suggested that Kenwood could remedy its problem by using its TH-89 transceiver, which operates in the 430 MHz and 1.2 GHz bands. "Auxiliary operation is permitted in both of these bands," the League said. "Kenwood markets the TH-89 in Japan but has chosen not to export it to the United States."

In 1986, the FCC turned down a petition by the QCWA to remove frequency restrictions on auxiliary operation. The ARRL said growth in the hobby since then makes 2 meters even less appropriate today--especially given the growth in the amateur population and the use of packet and APRS.

Comments on the Kenwood petition were due by January 31, 2000. Reply comments are due by February 14, 2000. Commenters should reference DA 99-2805. The full text of the ARRL comments are available at


Walt Ireland, WB7CSL, of the League's Technical Relations Office represented the ARRL on the US Delegation to an International Telecommunication Union meeting in Orlando, Florida, January 24-28. International Amateur Radio Union Technical Expert Ken Pulfer, VE3PU, attended on behalf of the IARU (Pulfer also is Radio Amateurs of Canada International Affairs Vice President).

The meeting of ITU Working Party 7C concerned Earth exploration satellites. ARRL's primary interest in this working party relates to threats to the Amateur Services in the 70-cm band from synthetic aperture radars--or SARs. ARRL, the Department of Defense, and Jet Propulsion Labs submitted a joint document showing the results of computer simulations indicating that SARs in the 420-450 MHz band would cause interference to amateurs and to military radars. A document outlining the status of studies conducted since 1998 and work that must be completed was prepared and approved at the meeting. This will cause the SAR proponents--namely the Netherlands--to conduct further sharing studies.

At WRC-2000, SAR proponents will try to have the 70-cm SAR issue placed on the agenda for WRC-2003, in an attempt to obtain an allocation at WRC-2003. The ARRL Technical Relations Office will continue to work with the US Air Force on sharing studies and computer simulations.


Herb Johnson, W6QKI--who founded Amateur Radio equipment manufacturer Swan Electronics in the 1960s--died February 1. Johnson, who lived in Cardiff, California, was 79 and had been in ill health for several years. According to Gary Smith, VE4YH (proprietor of the VE4YH Virtual Swan Museum,, Swan Electronics, then Swan Engineering, began during the winter of 1960-1961 as a one-man operation with Johnson, then W7GRA, building the first 10 Swan SSB rigs in a garage in Benson, Arizona.

Swan moved to California in 1962 and became a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation in 1967. Amateur equipment production continued until around 1979. In its heyday, Swan cranked out some 400 transceivers a month from its Oceanside, California, plant. Swan also manufactured station accessories.

Johnson subsequently formed Atlas Radio, which produced solid-state transceivers, including the popular Atlas 210. In 1995, a revived Atlas Radio promised to produce a new-generation Atlas 400X and even collected deposits and full payments for radios it ultimately failed to deliver or which failed to meet expectations. Johnson conceded in 1996 that he had "wandered into a mire of technical problems" in trying to design a new Atlas HF rig. He said he personally lost thousands of dollars on the revived Atlas Radio venture and estimated that as many as 250 hams had made deposits, while only a few ever saw their money again. Many hams complained to the ARRL, and a few sought legal action against Atlas Radio.

Other hams who invested in Atlas Radio also were left in the cold. In 1995, a company called O.M. Radio struck a deal to take over Atlas Radio's assets and manage the company. O.M. Radio also operated an Atlas Radio repair service and even promised to make good on delivering the new transceiver, but nothing ever came of the effort.


Ham moviegoers report seeing previews for the new movie Frequency, starring Dennis Quaid and directed by Gregory Hoblit, that's set for an April release. The ARRL was consulted in the interests of accuracy and came up with an unused W2 call sign for the movie's protagonist to use. The movie also recently got a plug on Entertainment Tonight.

Frequency is billed as a sci-fi thriller, but boatanchor fans may believe the movie was made just for them. The gist of it is that a long-dead father and his adult son meet up on the airwaves via ham radio (during the mother of all sunspot cycles), and the son tries to prevent his father's death by altering the past. Both also attempt to prevent a murder. It reportedly winds off into the ozone after that, but we don't want to spoil it for anyone.

According to someone who caught one of the trailers, the son (Quaid) uses an old Heathkit sans cabinet. "I guess the idea is to nail down the point that this is an old radio because you can see all the tubes glowing right out in the open," said Avery Comarow, W3AVE, who caught the preview. Information on Frequency is available at Visit the Internet Movie Database at for additional details and a look at the trailer.--thanks to Mark G Ewell, KC5IZN and Avery Comarow, W3AVE (via John Dilks, K2TQN)


Solar solon Tad Cook, K7VVV, Seattle, Washington, reports: Average solar flux and sunspot numbers were down over the past week, and geomagnetic indices were about the same as the week before. Average solar flux was down over 10 points to 138, and average sunspot numbers were off over 36 points to 99.

For this weekend, expect moderate planetary A indices of 7, 7 and 10 for Friday through Sunday, rising to 15 on Monday. Geomagnetic indices should stay moderate until February 23-26, when the planetary A index could reach 20.

Predicted solar flux for Friday through Sunday is 155, 170 and 180, rising to 190 on Monday, 195 on Tuesday, and peaking around 205 on February 11-12. Solar flux is expected to drop below 150 again after February 18, and bottom out around 130 from February 23-25.

Sunspot numbers for January 27 through February 2 were 110, 96, 81, 90, 82, 107 and 127 with a mean of 99. The 10.7-cm flux was 132.4, 152, 127.7, 132.7, 138.6, 138.1 and 144.4, with a mean of 138. The estimated planetary A indices were 12, 29, 25, 11, 6, 8 and 7, with a mean of 14.

In Brief:


The ARRL Letter

The ARRL Letter offers a weekly summary of essential news of interest to active amateurs that is available in advance of publication in QST, our official journal. The ARRL Letter strives to be timely, accurate, concise and readable.

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