23 March 2024
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I've Had a Ham License for 65 Years

In the 65 years since I began my ham career, there have been changes. When I was a young person, amateur (ham) radio was a thing. Teenagers embraced the mystique and technology of radio communications, and obtained a license* from the Federal Communications Commission after studying electronic theory and demonstrating competence in 'talking' with our conspecifics in Morse code. Now we have the internet and, to a great extent, computers and social media have replaced hamming as a hobby.

There are still young hams, although our average age (according to the internet, that knows all) is now 68. I'm even older than that.

This is a thumbnail of my ham license issued in 1962. It was signed personally by the FCC examiner, printed on two-color paper, and sent to me by post. The license document has progressed over the years to a wallet card that you could cut out with a pair of scissors, and finally a link to a document on the internet.

The FCC, a federal agency in charge of issuing ham licenses, has made many changes during its history of issuing licenses. They have required, changed, and eventually eliminated the now-obsolete requirement of learning Morse code. They have created and deleted license "classes" which conferred different frequency privileges on those who attained them. There is a convenient compendium of these changes provided by ARRL, the national organization for amateur radio. But of interest today in this blogitem is one aspect of licensing that has afflicted me for all of my radio years. It's the need to "renew" my license.

Although I've never been reluctant to whine about what I view as gratuitous bureaucracy, I do recognize that periodic renewal is something of a necessity. There is a large, albeit somewhat limited. set of "call signs" available to any country. If license terms were forever, creating new ones would become unmanageable and eventually impossible. It used to be that one had to renew his** license every five years; in 1984 it was changed to every 10 years, a significant improvement. Assuming no random year-boundary issues, I have had to renew my license eight times, and hope to live long enough to hit ten***.

For Renewal Number Nine, My Time Is Up

The FCC's requirements for a license renewal is fairly minor, with only two aspects. The first is the licensee's continued existence. Reasonable, since dead people don't need one. The second, equally simple, but perhaps unreasonable, is that you must send money to the FCC. One's license is just a few bytes in a database; it's probably less effort to leave it in than to remove it. Because it's so simple, the FCC has a new procedure for renewal, demonstrated in an email I received from the FCC. Paraphrasing:

Dear Mr. Factor:

Your amateur radio license WA2IKL is set to expire within the next 90 days. Click here to pay the $35 fee and renew your license.

Yours truly,
Federal Communications Commission
Washington D.C.

Done! Glad to have that out of the way.

Did I Get Away With That?

I'd like to think my thousands of millireaders are wiser in the ways of government bureaucracy, but perhaps get away with it I did! If you believe what I wrote above, go back and re-read How A Bill Becomes Law as punishment. (Of course, no such bill as I requested ever became law.) Notwithstanding the fact that there are no qualifications for renewing ones license except being alive and paying a fee, there is definitely a process for doing so. Would you like to know the process?

No, you wouldn't. It's long and tedious, involves many steps, and may require "help" from technical support. If you really are curious, you can click on the instructions the FCC provides or read the letter sent to me from ARRL.

Here We Go...

Log in - create account - log out - log in somewhere else - update account - get transferred to bill pay - pay bill - be told I'll hear back in three days. I think I'm done. The whole process took about an hour. By contrast, on-line renewal of a motor vehicle registration in New Jersey or in Arizona, both of which require even more information, takes about 5 minutes. What about buying and paying for something on Amazon or any number of commercial sites? One minute, maybe less.


What a shocking waste of human life. I could have spent that hour making 60 purchases on Amazon. Or have registered 12 vehicles in New Jersey or Arizona. Or, more realistically, writing a blogitem.

Q: Richard! If your time is so precious, why are you wasting it by writing about this?
A: For the betterment of mankind.

* If you're curious as to why a license is even necessary, it's because radio uses the the electromagnetic spectrum, and if everyone could transmit with any amount of power on any frequency he desired, it would create chaos, not to mention interference.
** Almost all "his" with a few "her". 30:1 long ago, 7:1 nowadays.
*** Hoping for a lot more than that, actually. GO, Medical Science!

Richard Factor


"Born Cross Eyed"

Grateful Dead


Again, it's a coincidence that I mentioned the band Yes in yesterday's blog. This is a tour shirt from the Talk Tour in 1994. I'm not sure if it's an "official" shirt I got from a member of the crew or just something I picked up at the merch table.

Yes is one of my favorite bands. Did you know that Jon Anderson wrote a song that includes the lyric chorus Eventide Delay?

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