FCC Ends Morse Code Testing for Ham Radio

Today at one past midnight, a form of communication long used by both radio amateurs and communications pioneers slipped further into the annals of history.

The FCC formally removed the requirement for ham radio operators to learn Morse code back in January, however the ruling didn't take effect until Friday. Under the new policies, those who may have not had access to what are called the "HF bands" by hams would now gain access.

High frequency communications allow for worldwide communications with the right equipment and atmospheric conditions. But up until the rule change, radio amateurs had to prove they were proficient by passing a five-word-per-minute code test.


Although it is a point of contention within the ham radio community, it was commonly believed that this requirement prevented a large number of hams from using these worldwide frequencies. Many other countries agreed with this premise, and many have already dropped the requirement, some for longer than a year.

With the change, more than 200,000 individuals with a "Technician" license would gain immediate access to the 10-meter band (slightly below the Citizens Band frequencies, which are located on 11 meters). Additionally, they would receive morse code privileges in two other bands.

The upgrade path to the "General" and "Extra" classes licenses would be easier as well, offering full access to high-frequency bands for the nearly 650,000 hams across the United States, as long as they meet the proper requirements.

The American Radio Relay League, an organization of nearly 152,000 amateur radio operators, said the change is good for amateur radio, and is already showing benefits.

"Normally the ARRL handles the registrations for about 5,000 FCC testing sessions a year," spokesperson Allen Pitts, W1AGP said. "It's not even the end of February yet and we've handled over 4,600 already." Some 175 testing sessions have been registered for the February 23-25 period alone.

ARRL says that it is expecting an "avalanche" of paperwork due to the increased number of test sessions and applicants.

For those who may think that amateur radio may be a dying breed, Pitts disagreed, pointing out the hobby is still growing. "While Amateur Radio has not been growing as fast as it did during the 1950-1980 era, there is still over 650,000 hams in the USA - more than 4 times the numbers in the 50's. It also works when other systems don't - as in Katrina," he argued.

21 Responses to FCC Ends Morse Code Testing for Ham Radio

  1. DataWeasel says:

    I knew if I sat on my Technician license long enough (10 years) it would pay off! Now I just have to scrape together enough to buy some 10 meter gear.


    • eoswald says:

      Ha, I've had my technician license for four years in March. I had no interest in code at all. Planning to go for my General later this year using my free testing session offered by my club.

      Glad the US has followed the lead of other countries, hopefully this spurs interest in what is really a great hobby.

      • DitDah says:

        ...ok...so, lets lower the standards to become the general concensus. Why not...we're already in that downward spiral of complacency and catering to those who would not meet the challenge of minimum standards set forth to tempt others to accel. The "reward" of gaining access to exclusive rights will no long be something to strive for. Now, we don't have levels of profisciency...but one large ameoba of mediocrity. Yes...I am licenced...technician with code. So what. We are killing our young (and old)initiative and drive.

        Damn...too much coffee tonight >_

      • DitDah says:

        To zenarcher...I once investigated an old metal military locker...what was inside, to make it short...was a bunch of reel to reel machines with reels of paper which had square waves printed on the tapes. These were read on reel to reel machines which read the square waves with an optical lense/light. Then, all you had to do was adjust the speed of the thing to get your wpm up or down. Pretty nifty. The reels were driven by springs ha. Old stuff...I still have a couple of the old code keys and timers that I found in that locker. No point...but I too will miss the challenge...but more importantly, I think the younger generation will be missing out on a very reliable and trusty means of communications which is still well known for being able to reach far beyond most modern modes of RF communications today.

      • zenarcher says:

        Yes, I remember the old paper tape machines, as well. I had one of them. As I recall, I got it from my father, also a ham operator, who stirred my interest in the hobby. And, many of the old keys were a work of art. Even the old military ones, made of brass and available at any surplus store for less than a dollar.

        I guess I'm just happy I had an opportunity to sense the warmth of the "shack" on a cold winter night...thanks to those glowing old vacuum tubes....and the smell of old warm electronic components. A time when a capacitor blew out and you merely soldered in a replacement...unlike scrapping a circuit board today with surface mounted components.

        I love a lot of the technology we have today, but I'm just happy I didn't miss out on the days when we could truly sense the excitement radio pioneers felt in the beginning days of radio.

      • DitDah says:

        "Why teach something that is never used or needed..."
        Well, that is debatable...but past history has proven code and its uses. It's one of the most highly relieable forms of RF communications in existance ...still. I'm just a very strong advocate of HF technology...and code is just one of those.

        "Frankly, code does not make a good ham..."
        Never said it did...I would agree with you on that point. Just commenting on the removal of gates to mark accomplishments of motivated people who took the initiative to gain access to exclusive spectrum reserved for those who proved themselves knowledgeable and wanting to go that little extra step to obtain exclusivity. Nothing more.

        "Ham radio needs a kick in the pants, I think most of us can admit that, no matter what side of the morse code debate we come down on..."
        Absolutely agree. By the way, I noticed my reply to the topic was actually a reply to your original post. It was not intended that way. I was just commenting to the main article. I respect and appreciate everyones insight and opinions all the same.

      • pipdipchip says:

        "...ok...so, lets lower the standards to become the general concensus. Why not...we're already in that downward spiral of complacency and catering to those who would not meet the challenge of minimum standards set forth to tempt others to accel."

        Why teach something that is never used or needed? Why don't we throw in an Algebra test too? It might be needed one day, for some reason. Don't worry.... I don't think too many more people are going to flock to take the test because they dropped morse code testing. You're still part of the "exclusive" club. Just as much you're part of the "exclusive" driver's license club...

      • eoswald says:

        Frankly, code does not make a good ham.. I hear some 20wpm Extras who have absolutely horrible manners on the air. Code is just another operating mode, it does not mean anything to how good a ham can be.

        For example, when i first came on the air, I was complemented on how i sounded... some were surprised I only had my license for a matter of days. But you know what? I spent about 2 weeks listening to nets, QSOs, etc. That's the key, my friend.

        The thing is to LISTEN AND LEARN.. not learn a mode than some hams have no interest in learning.

        I'm glad we're moving past this. Ham radio needs a kick in the pants, I think most of us can admit that, no matter what side of the morse code debate we come down on.

    • DannyMan says:

      Been sitting on mine for 13 years now.

      No-Code Extra, here I come!

  2. zenarcher says:

    I've been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1967 and have held an Advanced Class license since the class was reinstated many years ago.

    Times and technology change, but I have to say I'm a bit saddened by the removal of the Morse code requirement. I'll just say it's age and nostalgia, for the most part, but I fondly remember the pride of learning the code to the tune of flash cards and 33 1/3 RPM phonograph records. Anyone remember those?:)

    No, it wasn't real easy to do, but it wasn't all that difficult either, if one applied themselves and it was just part of belonging to a "special" fraternity of people, in a sense.

    Technology advancement are great and I love them. But at the same time, when high tech fails, the simplicity of Morse code works...be it something as simple as the flashing of a light or tapping on a piece of pipe. Since amateur radio operators are part of our emergency communications network, knowledge of Morse code is just one of those benefits you never know when it will come in handy.

    Yeah, my Morse code is a bit rusty today, but I still listen extra close when I hear it in an old movie.

  3. dhjdhj says:

    Preparing for my Extra many years ago, I got to the point where I could handle 20 wpm a couple of days before my code test. After doing that test, I ignored code forever after and I doubt that I could even pass a 5wpm test anymore.
    And I don't miss it! If eliminating the code requirement results in an increase in new hams, then great!

  4. bsagnell says:

    Sad it is... I learned Morse at the age of 15, got my Swedish license at 16 (which I still have) and at the age of 76 I still react like a circus horse when I hear the lovely sound.
    So I have installed CQ as my mobile phone ring tone. Belive me, it cuts right through every ambient noise like a knife! But now that is the only time I hear Morse code...

  5. radio1 says:

    Sweet. I, too have been sitting on my Tech license for 14 years... I am just one of those guys who can't learn code-- I've tried the Shack tapes, some computer programs and never got that far.

    I think code is great thing to know and very valuable, but I should not be penalized, especially if that's not a mode I'll operate in...

  6. suzie321 says:

    My real first name is very unusual and can be either male or female. I had a lovely ongoing morse code conversation with a 16 year old young man a few years ago and I knew he thought I was a guy. I tried to frame the conversations so that he didn't know I was a 28 year old woman and we had a wonderful time discussing everything. About 2 months into this exchange he "blurted out" ARE YOU A GIRL? and I knew the jig was up. OSomeone else had told him and unfortunately from that point on he was very stilted in his conversations and they eventually ended. It was very refreshing and fun while it lasted. I loved Morse code. Shame on all who do not broaden their minds by learning something new, even if they think it is trite.

  7. Hollywood__ says:

    Now if we could just teach RPG fanboys how to properly type. U and R are not real words, just the sign of intellectually inferior apes who piss their lives away playing video games and working at the cell phone kiosk at the mall.

    I think making people learn morse code will weed out a lot of idiots.

  8. E=hf says:

    I hope there will always be a place set aside in Ham Radio for we "romantics" who think of the Carpathia receiving code from the Titanic; who love the glow and smell of vacuum tubes, condensers, slug-tuning, hand-wound pill bottles and crystals; a quick check of the reading on a sliderule, finding the "notch" and "zerobeat", all while Kate Smith fills the background. Sigh. Some of us remember....don't we?....sigh.....

  9. Seay says:

    Removing the code requirement for amateur radio operators may turn out to be a mistake-especially considering the fact that communication satellites can be jammed or shot down altogether-what would ships at sea do in this case-without any long range communicatons??

  10. bitsiphon says:

    As an Extra Class Ham I will miss the requirement as I always felt a certain pride in the doing. Now if we could just get the government to drop class and testing requirements so I could get my PHD.....

  11. sqstultz says:

    I suppose this ruling is progress, I just hope CW doesn't disappear altogether. I've been on 10m voice over the years, but my first love is CW. I guess I'm a bit nostalgic, and I keep my knee key tip-top. There's a lot of pride in learning the IRTC. -KA8QGN.

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