A Busy Weekend

I suppose some of you have noticed I’ve not been following my usual five posts per week this summer. There’s been a number of reasons for my reduced output.

  • Burnout from politics and my growing dissatisfaction with the GOP at all levels.
  • My decision to upgrade my Ham radio antenna system. A tree had grown to envelope my old vertical antenna.
  • Building a backup HF antenna, a 40M OCF dipole.
  • Taking off for a trek through the backroads of most of the western states that lasted most of July.
  • Passing a kidney stone after we returned home from our trek.
  • Upgrading my ham ticket from Advanced to Extra.
  • Move and reinstall my vertical antenna.

I’ve completed all those tasks except for the last and I’m close to finishing that.

This last weekend, I knocked off that next to last bullet on the list. I’ve been an Advanced class Ham for over 40 years, since 1971. It was time to upgrade.


Gordon West’s Extra Class License Manual

The class was hectic. It wasn’t a “class” per sé. It was a crash-review of all 700+ questions in the Extra class question pool. I had been studying for the test, off and on, since last Spring. I had both the ARRL Extra Class license manual and the Gordon West manual.

It is much easier studying today than studying for a FCC exam in the 1970’s.

At that time, the questions weren’t published. The only “public knowledge” questions were those whom test-takers could remember after leaving the FCC office and some group collected.

This was the second time I had passed the Extra Class written test. When I took the test to upgrade from Novice, I, like all the other hams at that time, took the test at a FCC office under the eyes of one or more of the FCC engineers. In my case it was the Kansas City FCC office (apparently soon to be closed, I hear.)

There were two engineers giving the test that Saturday in 1971. I knew both of them, not that that helped me any. Instead, their expectations of me were much higher.

There was a large crowd of hams at the FCC office that Saturday. I don’t remember how many, now; more than twenty, I believe. The usual practice was to give the Morse code test first and then, if you passed the code test, you were given the written test. That Saturday, there were too many Hams to be tested to follow the normal test pattern (plus the FCC office closed at noon. We had to be finished by that time.)

We lined up and, like many of us did in the military, counted off by twos. The “Ones” filed off to take their code test. The “Twos” went into a classroom to take their written tests. I was a “Two.”

As a Novice, I had to take the General/Technician test first. Then if I passed, I could take the Advanced test and the Extra. The senior engineer belonged to the same ham club as did I. He gave me my test sheets and kept me under his eye.

I quickly finished the General test and passed it. There was still time available so he stuck the Advanced test under my nose and said, “Take this, too.” I did.

Looking back, I thought the Advanced test was easier than the General test. I still had some free time. The other group was still taking their code tests.

The Morse code tests started at 5wpm for those wanting a Tech license, followed by the 13wpm for those seeking a General and Advanced class license. There were a few going for Extra. They were still waiting to take their 20wpm test.

Rather than sit around in the classroom doing nothing or wandering around in the lobby and having passed the General and Advanced test, my FCC friend gave me an Extra class test and said, “Do this one, too.” I hadn’t studied for the Extra class license, but I found many of the questions were similar to those on the General and Advanced tests, just more so.

I passed it. I don’t know by how much. My friend wouldn’t say, so I suspect I was a squeaker. I do remember his firm handshake when I passed it.

By that time, the code group had finished and it was my turn. In the 1970s the code test was generated by a machine reading a paper tape. It was perfect code running exactly as the required speeds. It was also 5-letter code groups. In later years, the code test became a multiple-choice test. I wasn’t interested in a Tech license and no one in our half of the group did either. We started off directly at 13wpm.

To pass the test you had to correctly copy “x” numbers of characters in a row. I had been using the on-air ARRL code practice sessions and was confident that I could pass 13wpm. I did. Since I had passed the Extra class written test, I took the 20wpm code test. As I recall, I needed to copy 100 characters correctly in a row. I gave my copy sheet to the engineer giving the code tests. He had a template that he used to grade the test. He kept shifting it all over my code sheet looking for that magic 100 correct characters.

He could only find 98.

So, I didn’t get my Extra class license that day. I went home an Advanced class. I never tried to retest for Extra until this last weekend.

Sometime in the Spring, I saw on Larry’s List, a ham radio email list, that our local W5YI group was scheduling a class for Extra in August 2015. That class was held this last weekend. I attended and passed the Extra class test late yesterday.

My timing is perfect. My test will be sent to the W5YI coordinator for confirmation and processing and then sent to the FCC. Usually, it would take about ten days to two weeks for my upgrade to appear in the FCC database.

But, as I said, my timing is perfect. The FCC will be taking their database down next week for maintenance. No 10-14 day turn-around for me. No, I expect I’ll have to wait two to four weeks for the FCC to work through the backlog.

Regardless, I passed. After forty years.