Control Operator

The control operator is an important concept in ham radio.  There are many license exam questions involving the control operator so we want to spend a bit of time on the subject.  While legally specific to USA radio amateurs, some of these rules may apply in other countries as well.

A ham radio station control operator is the licensed amateur who is operating a station’s transmit function.   Any unlicensed person or even your cat can manipulate station controls with respect to receiving but when it comes to transmission of any signals, there must be a licensed operator in control of the transmitter.  This is a fundamental rule of the FCC to regulate ham radio transmissions in the US.

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Savvy readers might wonder how this applies to repeaters and more sophisticated stations operated remotely.  Control operators are still required for all amateur transmissions.  Always a control operator.

With repeaters it is done automatically through a sophisticated repeater controller that follows the rules.  However, the repeater station licensee is still responsible and is considered the control operator while using automatic control.

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With remote control the control operator is simply using some method to indirectly control radio settings, including the transmit function.  They are still responsible for transmitter operation even if they are not physically near the radio.

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Even if the radio control point is remote from the transmitter, a licensed control operator must be present.

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The control operator need not be the one speaking into the mic, using a Morse key or typing a digital message; as long as they are in direct control of the transmitter, someone else can be doing the communicating. That means your friend or relative can do the talking as long as you, the control operator, can intervene if something goes wrong.

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When you get an amateur radio grant in the US, you actually receive two licenses:  One is your operator license and the other is the station license.  Both are associated with your unique call sign.

More commonly, when a ham is transmitting, the operator and station are one and the same, as when KF5ZFD makes a 20m SSB contact in another state from their home location using their own transceiver and antenna.

So why do American hams have two separate licenses?  We’ll try to explain here.

Firstly, there are three basic types of FCC-issued Amateur station licenses.  Only  the familiar operator/primary station license is for individuals.  The other two—club and military recreation licenses—are stations intended to be used by licensed individuals.

This means that a ham would use their operator license to be a legitimate control operator of a club or military recreation station.  In this case the applicable call sign would normally be the station’s, not the operator’s.

Secondly, hams are not restricted to their own station equipment (radio, antenna, accessories).  You might visit another ham’s shack and operate their transceiver.  In this case, the applicable call sign could be Continue reading

License Expiration and Renewal

Relevant to American hams only:  US amateur radio licenses are valid for ten years (10 year grant term).  License term or renewal rules are likely different in other countries.

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So a newly-licensed ham doesn’t have to worry about renewal for a long time to come. Various organizations will nag you via email, postal mail, and on QRZ when your license expiration is on the horizon (“This license expires soon.  Renew Now!”).  So if you intend to keep your license you should have plenty of warning and opportunity to renew.   You can renew within 90 days of expiration but no sooner.

If, for any reason, you let your license expire, you have a two year grace period during which you may file for reinstatement.

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However, you may not operate (transmit) whatsoever once your license has expired.

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Renewal or re-instatement (within the grace period) is simple and straight-forward.  No cost and no re-testing required.  Unlike the old days, you do not need to prove activity for renewal (showing log entries).  Make renewal application on the FCC ULS website.  If you have trouble navigating the process, there are renewal services eager to do the work for you (for a reasonable fee).

Direct renewal via ULS should be very fast.  Your status with new expiration date should show up on the ULS database shortly after processing.  If previously expired, do not transmit until you see a new expiration date a decade away (much like your original license experience).

After the 2 year grace period has passed, the FCC will cancel your license and make it available for reissue. If your license gets canceled, your call sign is lost and you must pass an exam again to get re-licensed. After you have obtained a new license and call sign, you may apply for your old call sign as a vanity call, if it is still available.

Not all new hams are brand new to the game.  Sometimes hams let their license expire due to neglect or lack of interest.  More commonly a ham will find that a career and family interrupt their interest in amateur radio and they just let it slide.  Then years— perhaps decades—later they catch the bug again and want to get back into ham radio.  In some ways they are a new ham because many things have changed (rules&regs, technology).  On the other hand, the basics are familiar so they aren’t totally green.

There is good news for previous holders of General, Advanced or Extra Class licenses.  If you can show Continue reading

Change of Address

Have you moved since you got your amateur radio license?  This is a common concern for renters or apartment-dwelling hams and revocation or suspension of your license is the ultimate consequence of failing to notify the FCC.

If you have relocated your QTH from one place to another, or if you have otherwise changed your mailing address, you are obliged to update your postal address with the FCC in the United States.  The FCC needs to know where to reach you by mail for either operator or station license questions or issues.

It’s also common courtesy to other hams who want to send QSL cards or just to know where you are located based on your call sign.

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US Code of Federal Regulations 47 C.F.R Section 97.21 requires you to file timely for an update of the license as necessary to show your correct mailing address, name, club name, license trustee or custodian name. Revocation of your station license or suspension of your operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because you failed to provide the correct mailing address.

In the US you can update your address online (filing electronically) at Continue reading

License Training & Study

So you are interested in ham radio and want to get a license.  Thats’s great!  Now how should you study for the exam?

Let’s present some basic information first. Breathe a sigh of relief to know that Morse code is no longer required to be a licensed US amateur radio operator.  Also unlike the days of old, you no longer have to travel to a FCC office to be examined.  Many of us old timers recall having to demonstrate our skills at sending and receiving Morse and taking a tough written test at a FCC office in a large city.

License exams are now conducted by local hams who are accredited by an authorized organization to certify that examinees have passed the written exam.  These volunteer examiners then process the paperwork necessary to get passing candidates their license.  You can find the nearest exam dates and locations at the ARRL website.

License exam questions are all multiple-choice and are managed by the exam coordinator organizations.  There are question pools for each of the three license grades and these pools change somewhat every four years.  The question pool for the Technician class license consists of about 425 possible questions while the General exam has around 460.  The Tech and General exams both have  35 questions and a passing grade is 26 correct answers (74%, 9 wrong).  The Extra class license is much more extensive with over 700 questions in the pool and consists of 50 questions with a passing grade of 37 correct answers (74%, 13 wrong).  Each license class has questions about Rules/Regulations,  Operating Procedures, Radio Fundamentals, Practices, Electrical/Electronic Principles/Components, Equipment, Modes/Methods, Radio Wave Behavior, Antennas/Feedlines, and Safety.  As you might expect the questions become more involved and difficult as you progress from Technician to Extra license classes.  Every exam will have a certain number of questions from each of these general categories.

The Technician license exam is relatively easy to pass and is where most people start.  The General class exam is more challenging but is still doable for most people, being moderately or somewhat difficult to learn.  The Extra class exam is truly difficult and requires extensive learning and study to pass.  You can proceed from Technician to General and on to Extra in one exam session if you are really eager and prepared or just settle for Tech or General that day, as most people do.

Because you won’t know which questions will be on any given exam, you need to understand most (at least 75%) of the entire question pool for whichever exam you are attempting to pass.  So this requires some study in advance of taking the exam.

While it is possible for a reasonably intelligent and technically-minded person Continue reading