US exams at Wyong

About midway through January, I heard via a Sunday morning WIA broadcast that a group of ARRL Volunteer Examiners was offering to hold exam sessions at the Wyong Field Day at the end of February.

I passed my original amateur license exam here in Australia almost 40 years ago. My AOCP (Amateur Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency) says I passed a test on 21st November 1978. (That was probably the date of my second or third attempt to pass the morse at 10 wpm test.)

For the exam, I also had to answer questions about radio regulations and to demonstrate “a knowledge of wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony and electrical principles”, I had to write a number of essays about things like neutralizing a valve (tube) power amplifier or how a superheterodyne receiver works. A lot has changed since then. New technology like software defined radio and the internet.

After I heard that local hams were conducting US license exams here, my first resolution of the year was to pass the US exams for all three levels.

I was surprised that I was able to do this. All the FCC required was an online registration of an FRN (an FCC Registration Number) using a US address which was easy enough to obtain without having to pay a monthly fee. Also for the US, there is no license fee and licenses have a term of ten years.

With just on six weeks to prepare I planned to work sequentially through the three levels, spending more time on the hardest level, Extra. With no time to spare I ordered Kindle versions of the license manuals for all three levels. I also downloaded copies of the freely available complete question pools for each level. The exams are objective tests based on random selections from every part of all of the ten main exam topics – 35 questions for Technician and General, and 50 for Extra.

The license manuals essentially re-arrange the hundreds of disparate questions into a more or less flowing narrative about how to be a modern ham radio operator.

As I worked my way through the manuals I would mark up the questions and answers in my copies of the question pools and make notes if necessary to explain the answer.

The information in the manuals was very well presented and manageable and digestible. I loved the way liberal amounts of ham radio wisdom about operating practice was added to the mix. It was really like having your own personal Elmer guiding you through the intricacies of aspects of the hobby that previously were unclear or were new to me.

Best of all for me the study process demystified a lot of the mathematics of electronics and set me on a path to better understand what after all is the basis of the ‘magic’ of radio. I love the fact that the Scottish mathematician Maxwell concluded radio waves must exist, just from the maths, many years before they were actually discovered or produced by Hertz and others.

The ARRL web pages supporting the license manuals has links to a range of other resources including a page of references that pointed me to a really brilliant site which sets out to systematically (and enjoyably) explain the advanced maths to those whose school maths didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights, like me. It’s highly recommended if you want to delve deeper.

I’m happy to say I passed all three exams. I received an email from the FC about two weeks after the tests. There was no real need to do it, but it was a personal challenge – a little like voluntarily doing a driving test again, times three. It also turned out to be a convenient way to calibrate and update my ham radio knowledge.

The session was well organised and afterward, one of the VEs demonstrated how he uses his US call by connecting via remoteham.com on his iPad to a contest-grade station high in the hills in New York state. Amazing and fast! At rates around a US$ a minute, this must be a good way to turn a remote location into a source of revenue to be earned from the hordes of hams living in cities with a high level of local electrical noise.

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