Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – April 2024 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

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Now without further ado…

Read the full edition at:

Jeff Kopcak – TC

Hey gang,

A couple months ago, the ARRL published news regarding the FCC amending Amateur Service rules. This change, which went into effect on December 7, 2023, removed the symbol rate (baud rate) restriction replacing it with a 2.8 kHz bandwidth limit on many HF bands. This change allows for greater flexibility, faster communication speeds, and greater options for digital modes on the low bands. Waivers are no longer needed in times of emergency temporarily granting faster communications such as later PACTOR modes.

Replacing the baud rate restriction with a bandwidth limitation on digital transmissions has brought more activity to the bands. More hams are experimenting with PACTOR. Winlink stations are utilizing the bandwidth to send in even more weekly net check-ins.

With the additional activity, there have been some unintended consequences. Stations are not checking to see if the frequency slice is available before transmitting. Other fly-by-night stations are not minding the volume level delivered to the radio leading to over modulated signals. To be fair, these have been happening for a long time and are not new challenges to efficient digital operators.

The problem with digital operation has gotten so bad the FCC is stepping in and considering a competency test for operating. Passing the test will result in issuance of digital endorsement for existing, valid, Ham Radio licensees. “This initiative will clean up the digital ham bands” according to Polly Ester at the FCC.

Winlink Wednesday check-ins (KW4SHP)

The proposed rulemaking will involve candidates completing a written exam – similar to licensing exams given for Technician, General, or Extra. A second portion will involve a lab demonstrating the candidate can operate a station within accepted limits.

Written exam is expected to be taken from a question pool of 255 questions. The randomly selected 25 question multiple choice exam can be taken at any existing VE test session. Lab portion will be administered through FCC contracted testing companies that will be able to accommodate their testing requirements.

Debate was had if the FCC was going to administer the lab on their own or contract that portion out. Prior to the VE program, exams were administered when the FCC came to town. Restarting that program was explored. However, it was decided testing centers will conduct the lab portion.

Lab portion consists of using different software, computers, and radios – demonstrating operating ability to configure popular software applications on Windows, MAC, and Linux machines. Radios by common vendors will be selected at random. Radios could be anything from modern SDR radios to boat anchors – with none of the common connectors for digital operation. Proficiencies demonstrated include: adjusting sound levels from the computer, checking audio and transmit levels using radio meters and indicators, listen and check for other signals nearby, what to do when another station does not check if the segment is clear, selecting power output appropriate for the radio and duty cycle. Finally, operating in a crowded band. Details have not been released by the NCVEC if software simulating these activities will be available for practice.

Licensed operators whom have passed the written and lab portion will receive their digital operating endorsement and can operate digital at legal limit. Operators will be required to re-test every three years to refresh skills and demonstrate proficiency.

Stations without the endorsement will be able to operate digital at a maximum of 5 watts ERP. A second option of 10 watts will be available provided the station pars with a “monitoring” station. The monitoring station provides timestamped screen shots showing the segment on the waterfall which the station was operating. This screenshot of the waterfall and textual output of the segment will show there is no monkey business at a place called shenanigans. This evidence will prove stations are who they say they are and are following regulations.

Fines for stations operating without an endorsement or those with an endorsement, but not following proper protocols, will be based on frequency. For example, operating on without an endorsement on 14.233 will be $14,233 in fines.

These new regulations should lead to less interference, more contacts, and not blowing up equipment because someone is running full power at 100% duty cycle.

Thanks for reading, April Fools, and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK