FCC will no longer charge a fee for vanity call sign!

May 21: The FCC has decided to drop the fee it currently charges for applying for (and renewing) a vanity call sign! In a recent notice the FCC explained that it is a simple question of economics: in short, it costs the FCC more to process the fees than the fees themselves bring in!

This is easier to understand when you consider that not only do they have to manage the fees, keep track of them, collect them, pay for processing, etc, they also have to refund fees for people who apply for a call sign and don’t get it.

The change will not go into effect until congressional notice is given, which will require at least 90 days.

For more information check out this in-depth coverage at arrl.org.

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Ham Radio License Exam Practice – other options

Edit: The ARRL has restored their previous page showing other study options! You can find it here: http://www.arrl.org/instruction-exam-practice-and-review

You may or may not know that HamStudy.org is more than just a website for studying; we are a small organization (official ham club with the call sign NT3ST) which is dedicated to improving and modernizing the state of Ham Radio exams and testing. We believe strongly that Ham Radio is a hobby (or sport, if you prefer) for all walks of life and all people.

We believe that all who have interest in the air waves for non-commercial interest should be welcome: HF code guys, HF voice rag chewers, 2m service buffs, preppers, RF aircraft hobbyists, appliance users, electronics hackers, and anyone else who wants to join. Ham Radio should be about cooperation, openness, and community.

This is why we were so disappointed this morning when we discovered that the ARRL has removed links to all other online systems for studying for an Amateur Radio license other than the one they released about a year ago which seems to be designed to help sell their books.

Update Nov 29, 2015: I just discovered that the ARRL does still have this information on their website, it’s just hidden on a page that not many people know about.

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“Hacking” the General and Extra exams (from N7SMI)

This was recently posted in the /amateurradio subreddit, and I thought it was worth reposting.

Thanks to N7SMI for writing it up and giving me permission to repost it here!


Here are 10 tips for hacking the amateur radio licensing exams. Now when I say ‘hacking’, I don’t mean cheating, but I am referring to strategies for passing the test while also learning the necessary material.

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Renewing or updating your license online — free!

Edit: This applies only to FCC-issued call signs, such as US call signs.  If you have information about how to do it in other countries, feel free to post in the comments!

My wife got a letter in the mail today.  I’m sure some of you have received similar letters. It informed her that her license is going to expire soon, and contained a self-addressed envelope, a 605 form, and instructions for how she can mail it in to get her license renewed, all for a low fee!


Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually have a lot of respect for the organization who sent the letter, and I don’t mean to criticize them — I am in favor of supporting them, and I appreciate the reminder letter. I do wonder how many people receive these letters and think it’s the only way to renew, though.

Edit: In response to some comments I’ve read about this post on various social media sites, let me clarify something. I have no problem with organizations helping to renew licenses, and I don’t have a problem with them doing it for a fee. In fact, some people have found the below process annoying enough that they’d prefer to do it that way. Others have indicated that they couldn’t manage to get logged in, with the same result. Also, these are great organizations who provide a valuable resource to hams without easy internet access or computers, and thus are worth supporting in their own right.

My main purpose in this blog post is not to keep people from supporting these organizations, but to make sure people are educated about the options and the fact that it can actually be done for free.

If you are having trouble with the below steps, or if you just want to support one of the great organizations who serve the Amateur Radio community, here are the ones that I am aware of that you can use to renew your license using such things as 605 forms, stamps, envelopes, etc =]

  • W5YI
  • ARRL (free for members)
  • QRZ (goes through W5YI, I think, but a great site to support)

Renewing online

In truth, it’s actually very easy to renew your license directly with the FCC — and it’s complete free!  The hardest part may be to figure out what your FRN password is, but worst case this may require a 15 minute phone call to the FCC (which I have done, and it is really painless).

So, as long as my wife’s license needed to be renewed anyway, I decided to create a walkthrough for you all, just to try to take the “mystery” out of the process.

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Posted in General ham radio | 29 Comments

2015 General question pool released!

The question pool committee has released the new General class license question pool, and it is now available on HamStudy.org!

Important! This pool will not take effect until July 1, 2015! If you are testing before then, study the previous pool.

What has changed:

  • Removed questions: 37
  • New questions: 44
  • Updated questions: 52
  • Previous Total questions: 456
  • Total questions: 464

As you can see from the stats about, the pool size is pretty close to the same (9 questions larger).  There are some new questions dealing with some of the newer digital modes and a lot of revisions.  Notably, section G6C has been removed and G8C was added.  All but one of the questions from G6C were moved into other parts of the pool.  A lot of other more subtle moves have taken place with questions retained but moved into a different part of the organization.

Visit HamStudy to see all of the changes.

Help needed

Any time we have a question pool there are new questions added; this means there are now questions that we don’t have explanations for on HamStudy.org!

The reason we do this detailed analysis of the question pool changes is to make sure we can move forward all of the explanations from the old questions to the new — otherwise we’d have a major task on our hands.  Nonetheless, we still have 44 new questions which need explanations to be added by HamStudy.org users.

See HamStudy’s General 2015 page for the progress bar (for the whole page) and a list of questions that haven’t been explained yet.

Screenshot 2015-01-17 16.22.54

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

This is the time of year that we at HamStudy.org celebrate the birth of our God.  Many of you don’t share those beliefs, but we all share a desire to learn, to help those around us, and to make the world a better place than it is.  Whatever you celebrate this season, may it be a good one, and my you find joy in your life, in this hobby that we all love, and in the family and friends around you. Continue reading

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D-Star Hotspot with the ID-5100

This blog is for a lot of things; one of them is that it gives me a place to drop information that took me some work to find but seems relevant to many people.  This is one of those posts =]

Using D-Star with non-Icom hardware

Many people who want to play with the full range of D-Star may not have (or may not always have) available an Icom D-Star enabled repeater to use.  There are also those who consider Icom’s equipment to be just a little bit too expensive and so have built homebrew repeaters that work with D-Star.

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Posted in D-Star Operation | 7 Comments

EmComm Anti-Patterns

I am a software developer. In software, we have what we call “Design patterns” which are software patterns that we can use to solve common programming problems in clean ways. There are a huge number of these patterns, but they all share a common theme: They are tested, widely used, and solve a particular class of problems in a solid way.

Similarly, sometimes we talk about anti-patterns.  An anti-pattern is a “common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive” (from Wikipedia).  In other words, it’s a response or solution to a recurring problem that seems reasonable but is actually problematic.

I am very much a process-oriented person. Whenever I spend a lot of time doing something, I can’t help but try to identify what went well, what went poorly, and how it could be improved. It’s of particular note that even very experienced hams often find themselves using anti-patterns such as these.

Here are some patterns and anti-patterns that I have observed in my area.  Perhaps they will help you!

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Posted in Emcomm practices | 14 Comments

FCC Registration Numbers

Whenever someone takes an exam from the VE team I work with, we require that they have an FRN — FCC Registration Number. Why? Simply put, without an FRN, we would have to collect your Social Security number.  This should probably worry you — it certainly worries us.

We require everyone to provide an FRN because we don’t want the responsibility of keeping your SSN safe.

EDIT: Some VEs have responded to this article asserting that their teams do not keep copies of the 605 form (the form your SSN goes on) and thus consider this to be unimportant for their applicants. They are missing the point; the SSN still goes through a lot of hands that aren’t known to the applicant, and in addition even if the VE team doesn’t keep copies of the 605 form, the VEC does.

I have spoken with the staff of several of the VEC companies, and I trust them as much as I would any corporation (more than almost any other, likely), but even the best intentioned make mistakes. That which isn’t in their archives cannot be lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised.

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FCC to allow expired General, Extra class operators to relicense by taking the Tech

Good news for anyone who previously held a General or Amateur Extra class license and allowed it to lapse! The ARRL has just announced that the FCC has approved a change to the rules for obtaining an Amateur Radio license allowing those who previously held a General or Amateur Extra class license but allowed it to lapse (2 years past the expiration date) to regain that level after only taking the Element 2 (Technician) license exam.

Previously if you allowed the two-year grace period to expire you would need to retake all exams and no free credit was given for the expired license.

The good

We see a lot of people who have been out of the hobby for awhile and decide they want to get back in.  This will make it a lot easier for those interested in HF or otherwise wanting to regain their higher license privileges! I’m sure there will be a lot of people who take advantage of this new ruling.

The bad

There is a possibly small but very vocal movement of people in the Amateur communities that feel strongly that the changes made to Amateur Radio licensing in the United States in the last ten to twenty years has lowered the overall technical competence of ham radio operators in the nation.

While I’m not sure that I agree with that (or perhaps I don’t see it as the same level of problem that they do) I certainly expect that this will fuel that perspective.

Time frame

While we don’t know the exact day that this will take place yet, the ARRL article states that “The new rules become effective 30 days after their publication in The Federal Register, which is expected to happen this week.

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