It Seems to Us: Not an Emergency Radio Service?
The FCC raised a few eyebrows by including the following sentence in its Public Notice DA 09-2259 (see page 72, this issue): "While the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communications service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications, is one of the underlying principles of the amateur service, the amateur service is not an emergency radio service [emphasis added]."
We might take umbrage at that, but the fact is that you'd be hard pressed to find a definition for "emergency radio service" -- or any other radio service that would qualify as one. The ITU Radio Regulations make no use of the term; rather, the ITU defines "safety service" as "Any radiocommunication service used permanently or temporarily for the safeguarding of human life and property" and offers radionavigation and other safety services a bit of extra protection against harmful interference. The ITU recognizes that a wide variety of radio services including the amateur and amateur-satellite services play a role in public protection and disaster relief (PPDR).
Even the FCC itself no longer uses the term "emergency radio service." There was once a Special Emergency Radio Service (SERS) but it disappeared a decade ago in a consolidation of Private Land Mobile Radio services. SERS spectrum is now part of the Public Safety Pool.
So, let's not waste a lot of energy worrying about what the FCC thinks we are not. Like many other radio services, the amateur service sometimes provides emergency communications. That's not our day-in, day-out function, but neither is it the daily function of any other radio service that's defined in the FCC rules. The point that the FCC presumably was trying to make is that we are not just an emergency radio service. We have a much broader mission as "a voluntary, non-commercial communication service authorized for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by licensed persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest." Our "self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations" are what create our value to the public. That value doesn't come from our licenses; it comes from the knowledge we have acquired, the skills we have developed, and the stations we have constructed in pursuit of our "personal aims" in the field of radiocommunication.
The result is a radio service that is uniquely equipped to serve in emergencies. If we're not an "emergency radio service" it is only because we are so much more.
Watch the Band Edges!
Following the relocation of most broadcasting stations from the 7100-7200 kHz band there has been a significant increase in DX activity by US amateurs on 40 meter phone. Judging from what we're hearing and what others are reporting from around the country, a reminder about band edges is in order.
When in SSB mode, most transceivers display the frequency of the suppressed carrier. This can be a bit confusing, because ideally your station isn't emitting any energy at all on that frequency. All of your transmitter power is going into the voice passband that extends roughly from 300 to 3000 Hz on one side or the other of that frequency.
The bottom edge of the US phone band for Amateur Extra and Advanced licensees is 7125 kHz. Without getting into hair-splitting debates about how wide your SSB signal might be compared to others, if you're operating on lower sideband (LSB) with a carrier frequency below 7128 kHz you're out of the band because some of your transmitter power is below 7125 kHz. For General licensees the band edge is 7175 kHz, so the lowest carrier frequency a General can use on LSB is 7178 kHz. At the top edge, as long as you're on LSB the situation is different; if you're confident that your opposite sideband and carrier suppression are up to snuff you can snuggle up to the band edge of 7300 kHz.
Two other bands where "falling off the edge" is too common an occurrence are 20 and 17 meters, and here -- because upper sideband (USB) is the norm on these bands -- the problem occurs at the top end. Carrier frequencies above 14,347 kHz and 18,165 kHz respectively are verboten. On these bands the lower band edge is not generally a problem because on USB, the carrier and lower sideband are suppressed.
As station licensees and control operators we are responsible for the proper operation of our stations. If a DX Cluster spot lures us out of the US phone band that's our fault, not the spotter's. If a DX station is on 18,160 kHz and is listening "5 to 10 up" it's our fault, not his, if we go up more than 5. And as long as we're talking about 17 meters -- a great band, by the way -- US amateurs must remember that RTTY and data modes are not allowed above 18,110 kHz, even if a RTTY DX pileup extends above that frequency. And remember, too, that if you're generating a RTTY or data signal by injecting audio into an SSB transmitter your actual operating frequency is different from what's shown on your display. How much different? Only you and your software know for sure!