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.

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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.

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