Passing the Government Examination for Amateur Operator's License
October 1931 QST

October 1953 QST

October 1953 QST Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Passing the Government Examination for Amateur Operator's License, October 1931 QST - RF CafeDid you know that the examinations for Amateur Radio Operator licenses were originally conducted by the Commerce Department, and not the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? The FCC was established with passage of the Communications Act of 1934, which abolished the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and replaced it with the FCC. The "Act" combined and organized federal regulation of telephone, telegraph, and radio communications. That's right, bureaucracies were renaming and reorganizing themselves even back then in order to expand and increase control and regulatory power. After all, the more segments of society you command, the more opportunities there are for accepting graft, payola, bribes, contributions to political campaigns, etc. But, I digress. When I first wrote this (2016), I was in the process of studying for the Amateur Extra license and am immersed in review of electronics principles, regulations, procedures, band plans, etc. Unlike in 1931, today you can buy a manual that has the entire pool of 700 verbatim exam questions that are used for the test, so in theory, if you can memorize all potential questions and answer 37 out of 50 of them correctly, you pass.

Passing the Government Examination for Amateur Operator's License

This article, originally published in the January and February, 1930, issues of QST, has proved so popular that our supply of copies of those two issues has been exhausted. The present print has been revised to include recent changes in the amateur regulations. - Editor.

Part I - In Two Parts*

Simple as it is, the examination given by the Department of Commerce to prospective amateurs is too frequently the down-fall of the radio neophyte. It is with the idea of indicating the type of questions asked during the government examination as well as aiding the prospective amateur over his first real difficulty that this article is written.

The examination for an amateur operator's license does not include all of the questions given in this article. Generally, the examination consists of but ten simple questions. This discussion of the subject is necessarily more extensive and complete, with enough additional material added to the essential questions to give some background to the minimum required amateur knowledge. The person who can send and receive the signals in the International Morse Code at a speed of ten words per minute (five letters to the word) and can answer the questions in this article should have no fear whatever of the government examination. The answers to the questions asked in the examination may be found in "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" as well as here.

The examination contains questions of two types; questions relative to the radio laws and regulations and those intended to disclose the candidate's technical proficiency. In this installment the first mentioned class of questions is discussed by the means of typical questions and answers.

Q: What is an amateur?

A. A radio amateur is an individual interested in the art of radio communication from a strictly personal point of view and without pecuniary interest. In radio regulation the term is applied to those who have licenses and operate their own private transmitting and receiving stations.


Q. Why are amateurs subject to federal regulations?

A. Some regulation of all radio communication is required - to prevent chaos. Signals emitted even by very low-power transmitters are not confined to the State in which the signal is originated, and since interstate communication is outside the jurisdiction of the various States, it naturally comes under federal jurisdiction.


Q. What is the regulation governing the location of amateur stations?

A. An amateur station may not be located upon premises controlled by an alien. (The holder of the station license also must be a U. S. citizen.)


Q. Define" mobile" and "portable" stations. A. A mobile station is one permanently located upon a mobile unit and ordinarily used in motion. A portable station is one so constructed that it may be moved from place to place, and is in fact so moved from time to time, but which is not used ordinarily in motion.


Q. May amateur station licenses for mobile and portable stations be secured?

A. Amateur station licenses are not at present issued for mobile stations. A license for a portable station may be secured, but the licensee of such a station must give advance notice to the Supervisor of Radio in the district where the license was secured of all locations at which the station will be operated.


Q. What is the regulation concerning amateur station logs?

A. The licensee must keep an accurate log of all transmissions, the data to include the time of transmission, station called, input power to the last stage of the transmitter, and the frequency band used.


Q. Are amateur stations subject to state or municipal regulations?

A. No, except as the latter may exercise a legitimate police power in safeguarding health, enforcing electrical codes, and abating nuisances.


Q. What are "quiet hours"? Under what conditions are they imposed?

A. Quiet hours, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. local time and on Sundays during the broadcast of local church services, are imposed upon amateur stations which interfere with other radio services. No quiet hours need be observed at amateur stations operating without interference to other radio services.


Q. What is the Washington Convention of 1927?

A. The Washington - Convention is an international treaty on radio communication drafted at Washington, D. C., in 1927, which sets forth rules and regulations relative to modern radio communication. It was signed by almost every nation.


Q. Is the Washington Convention binding upon the United States?

A. Yes, the United States ratified the Convention, and in this country it has the power of law.


Q. What is the Federal Radio Commission?

A. The Federal Radio Commission is the regulating and licensing authority on matters dealing with radio communication in the United States. It is composed of five commissioners appointed by the President. Among its duties they: (a) classify radio stations; (b) prescribe the nature and service to be rendered; (c) assign bands of frequencies or wavelengths; (d) determine the power, operating hours and location, of each class of station. It is the Federal Radio Commission which issues station licenses. Operator's licenses, however, are issued by the Department of Commerce.


Q. What are the rules and regulations regarding the secrecy of radiograms?

A. See Section 27 of the Radio Act of 1927.

Briefly, the contents or meaning of an addressed message must not be divulged to other than the addressee or his agent, except to an authorized communication channel or upon the demand of a competent court; nor may a message be intercepted and divulged even to the addressee without the authority of the sender; nor may any person use the information in an addressed message for his own benefit. The law does not apply to information which has been broadcast for public use.


Q. What penalties may be imposed for violation of radio laws and regulations?

A. For violating any provision of the Radio Act of 1927, punishment may be by fine not exceeding $5000 or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both. For violating or failing to observe any rule contained in any international treaty ratified by the United States, or made by the licensing authority, the punishment is made by imposing a fine of not more than $500 for each offense. In addition, an operator who violates any law or regulation, willfully damages apparatus, transmits superfluous signals or profane or obscene language, or willfully or maliciously interferes, may have his license suspended for a period not to exceed two years.


Q. What class of radiograms holds precedence over all others?

A. Radiograms relative to distress calls hold precedence over all other classes of radiograms.


Q. What is the law regarding the transmission of fraudulent communications?

A. No one shall knowingly transmit any false or fraudulent signal of distress, or communication relating thereto.


Q. What are the international regulations relative to the maintenance of constant frequency and purity of signals?

A. The waves emitted must be as constant in frequency and as free from harmonics as the state of the art will permit.


Q. Give the meaning of the following signals; SOS, CQ, QRT.

A. SOS is the international distress signal. CQ is the general call to all stations and has two uses. It may be used as a signal of inquiry when desiring to communicate with any station within range, in which case the signal is terminated with the letter K, or as a preface to broadcasts to which no reply is expected. In the latter case the terminating letter K is omitted.

QRT means "stop sending."


Q. What is the law regarding the amount of power to be used to communicate over a given distance?

A. The minimum power required to insure satisfactory communication should be used at all times.


Q. What is the distress signal for radio-telephony?

A. "Mayday," from the French pronunciation of "M'aider" meaning "help me."


Q. What signal denotes the end of a message?

A. • — • — •


Q. What signal denotes the conclusion of communication between two stations?

A. • • • — • —


Q. What does the letter K mean at the end of a transmission?

A. It is the invitation to transmit meaning in effect, "go ahead."


Q. What persons may operate amateur stations?

A. Only holders of radio operator's licenses issued by the Department of Commerce are permitted to operate amateur stations.


Q. What are the restrictions placed upon amateur stations regarding the transmission of news, music, lectures, or any form of entertainment?

A. Amateur stations are not authorized to broadcast news, music, lectures, or any form of entertainment.


Q. What are the regulations concerning communication between amateur stations and government or commercial stations?

A. Amateur stations are not permitted to communicate with commercial or government stations unless authorized by the licensing authorities except in emergency or for testing purposes. This restriction does not apply to communication with pleasure craft such as yachts or motor boats which may have difficulty in establishing communication with commercial or government stations.


Q. What frequencies are assigned to amateurs by the International Radiotelegraph Convention which met at Washington, D. C., in 1927?

A. The following frequency bands are made available to amateur stations:

1715 kc. to      2000 kc.

3500 kc. to      4000 kc.

7000 kc. to      7300 kc.

14,000 kc. to 14,400 kc.

28,000 kc. to 30,000 kc.

56,000 kc. to 60,000 kc.

400,000 kc. to 401,000 kc.


Q. What frequencies may the amateur use for radiotelephony?

A. The following frequency bands may be used for amateur radiotelephony:

1715 kc. to 2000 kc.

3500 kc. to 3550 kc.

56,000 kc. to 60,000 kc.

In addition, specially qualified amateurs may obtain permission to operate 'phone transmitters in the band between 14,100 kc. and 14,300 kc.


Q. What frequency bands are assigned exclusively to amateurs?

A. The following frequency bands are assigned exclusively to amateurs by international agreement:

7000 kc. to 7300 kc.

14,000 kc. to 14,400 kc.


Q. What amateur bands are shared, and with whom?

A. The 1715-kc. to 2000-kc. and the 3500-kc. to 4000-kc. bands are internationally assigned as shared between fixed service, mobile service, and amateurs. In the United States these bands are assigned only to amateurs except for limited use of the 3500-kc. band by off-shore Naval aircraft. The 28,000-kc. and the 56,000-kc. bands are available for experimental as well as amateur uses.


Q. What is the maximum power allowed amateur stations?

A. A power input of up to one kilowatt on the last stage of the transmitter is authorized.


Q. How often must the call letters of an amateur station be transmitted during communication?

A. The call signal of the amateur station must be transmitted at the end of each transmission. If a single transmission is more than fifteen minutes long, the call signal must be transmitted at the end of each fifteen minute period.


Q. What vessels of the United States are obliged by law to carry radio equipment?

A. The following is quoted from the Wireless Ship Act of July 23, 1912: "... from and after October 1, 1912, it shall be unlawful for any steamer of the United States or of any foreign country navigating the oceans or the Great Lakes and licensed to carry, or carrying, 50 or more persons, including passengers or crew or both, to leave or attempt to leave any port of the United States unless such steamer shall be equipped with efficient apparatus for radio communication, in good working order, capable of transmitting and receiving messages over a distance of at least 100 miles day or night."


Q. What is the SOS frequency?

A. 500 kc. (600 meters).


Q. What is the priority of various classes of radio communication?

A. (1) Distress calls and communications relating thereto.

(2) Communications preceded by the urgent signal (XXX).

(3) Communications preceded by the safety signal (TTT).

(4) Communications relative to radio-compass bearings.

(5) Government radiotelegrams.

(6) Radiotelegrams relating to the navigation, movement, are requirements of ships, the safety and regularity of air-services, and radiotelegrams containing weather observations destined to an official meteorological service.

(7) Service radiotelegrams relative to the operation of the radio service or to the radiotelegrams previously exchanged.

(8) Public correspondence radiograms.


Q. What is meant by "superfluous signals?"

A. Superfluous signals are those which are not necessary in carrying out radio correspondence; their use is forbidden.


Q. What are the international regulations relative to the exchange of communications between amateur stations of different countries?

A. Such exchange is forbidden in cases where either country gives notice of its opposition to such communications between amateurs; otherwise it is permitted. Except where interested governments have made special agreements between themselves however, "the communications must be carried on in plain language and must be limited to messages bearing upon the experiments and to remarks of a private nature."

It is highly desirable that every prospective amateur become familiar with the provisions of the Washington Convention, the Act of 1927 regulating communication in the United States, and the regulations of the Federal Radio Commission and the Radio Division of the Department of Commerce. Much of this information has appeared in QST and the" Radio Amateur's Handbook."

* The second section of this article dealing with technical matters in the amateur examinations will appear in the next issue of QST.



Posted November 4, 2022
(updated from original post on 9/8/2016)