UC Berkeley Trains, Tests Hundreds of New Hams


Ham radio-related courses taught at the University of California Berkeley Campus and a follow-on “Annual VE Mega-Session” may be one reason that California continues to lead the nation in the number of Amateur Radio licensees. A March 16 exam session yielded 50 new Technician licensees, as well as three new General class, and five new Amateur Extra class licensees. For the third year in a row, scores of mostly electrical engineering and computer science students capped their participation in one of two ham radio-related classes taught by UC Berkeley EE/CS Professor Michael “Miki” Lustig, KK6MRI. His lower-division “Hands-On Ham” course is for sophomores, while and his upper-division “Digital Signal Processing” course is aimed at juniors and seniors.

“These popular courses are filled quickly on registration day,” Lustig said. “Class members also include some majoring in mechanical, biological, and nuclear engineering.”

The entry-level course exposes newcomers to ham radio and introduces them to “hacking” and “making,” Lustig explained, while the advanced class “delves into the theoretical applications of digital signal processing, filter design, modulation/demodulation, decoding subcarriers, APRS audio interface techniques, and antenna design.” Both classes feature hands-on, practical projects that require them to transmit on radio frequencies, so students are motivated, as part of their courses, to become licensed Amateur Radio operators.”

The lower-division students are given inexpensive hand-held transceivers to keep, and are coached in radio protocols. The upper division students are issued higher-end hand-helds that they may keep if they pass the General or Amateur Extra class examination.

“They make satellite contacts, participate in on-campus Field Day-like activities, practice with small software-designed radio dongles, and, if already licensed, stay in touch with each other throughout the semester on a 2 meter simplex frequency,” Lustig told ARRL.

Lustig is quick to point out that the two courses would not be possible without the active support of the UC Berkeley W6BB club members, including Trustee Fritz Sommer K6EE/DL4TT, President, Jack Burris K6JEB, and others, as well as support from the EECS Department staff.

Sharon Primbsch, AA6XZ, is the master planner, organizer, coordinator, and captain of the annual VE Mega-Session, which requires recruiting at least 20 ARRL VEC-affiliated volunteer examiners to conduct the session. These come from the Marin Amateur Radio Society, the San Francisco Radio Club, the East Bay Amateur Radio Club, and others.

The lower-division students are primarily candidates for the Technician license and are in and out of the room within a half-hour or so. “Virtually all of them pass,” Primbsch said. “Most upper-division students at least take both the Technician and General exams, and a few opt to go all the way to Amateur Extra.”

In the latest VE session, 63 candidates took a total of 78 exam elements in a little more than 2 hours. Only one candidate left without a license.