WHY AMATEUR RADIO?
By CDR Bob Bruninga, USN (ret) / WB4APR
1. In support of the W3ADO Amateur Radio Club at USNA, one thing that may not be well understood is that there is nothing any more amateur about Amateur Radio than a private pilots license, or a drivers license. In fact, an Amateur Radio License is probably one of the most valuable "professional" licenses offered by the Federal Government. What makes it amateur is that licensees are prohibited from operating any "commercial" services in the broad spectrum allocated to them.
2. An Amateur Radio license is the only license awarded by the Federal Communications Commission to individuals that permits broad experimentation in the radio art. No one else in the Government, Military, Commercial nor civilian can experiment to the extent of a duly licensed Amateur Radio Licensee. To get such a license, an individual must take a comprehensive test demonstrating specific knowledge of all aspects of the radio art. It includes FCC rules, international regulations, propagation, receivers, transmitters, antenna systems, modulations, digital techniques, and networks to name a few. Only after studying and demonstrating proficiency in these subjects and being duly licensed with the FCC can an individual operate an RF transmitter of any kind with the freedom offered in the Amateur Radio bands.
3. Although the popularity of "wireless" technology seems to give any consumer access to the radio spectrum, these are all fixed frequency, fixed application, fixed range, off-the-shelf appliances. The individual cannot experiment, learn, improve, modify, nor invent anything that emits RF without being licensed by the FCC. Almost every aspect of "WIRELESS" was invented or developed on Amateur Radio; AM, FM, TV, Single Sideband, Slow-scan TV, Facsimile, Wireless LAN's, packet data networks, Ethernet, Radio Control and so forth. Once they became commercially viable, they could not be operated in the amateur spectrum and had to be moved to commercial bands under strict regulation by the FCC.
4. Think of Amateur Radio as the National Parks of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. It is the only pristine spectrum remaining that has not been sold off to the highest bidder for specific commercial exploitation. Once commercialized, systems may only operate on fixed frequencies at fixed ranges under total regulation by the FCC. For example, a few channels for Marine VHF, 14 Channels for Family Radio, a few channels for VHF Aircraft, 600 channels for Cellular Phones, a dozen or so channels for Marine HF, etc. Only the Amateur Radio bands permit relatively unlimited operation over many bands and propagation modes and allowing experimentation by individuals in pursuit of knowledge of the radio art. As a comparison, there are hundreds of thousands of frequencies in over
20 Amateur Bands from HF to Microwaves for two way communications under all conditions, ranges and modes.
5. As a military officer, there is no better way to learn every aspect of communications than with an Amateur Radio License. Junior Officers are frequently assigned the duty of Comm. Officer on board their first or second ship. There is no other way to gain the experience and practical knowledge of radio communications under varying conditions than in Amateur Radio. Among Radio Professionals, you will find a majority have their Amateur Radio License, and they will agree that there is no other access to the electromagnetic spectrum that offers as much to their careers than Amateur Radio. It is well known, that Radio Amateurs are always the first on the air after a disaster. Unfettered by bureaucracies and institutionalized communications which have no flexibility, amateur radio operators can always find a way to get the message out or piece together a transmitter from parts available.
6. The Amateur Radio Club, W3ADO, at the Naval Academy is the oldest ECA,
founded in 1928, before the FCC even began regulating the Electromagnetic Spectrum. At that point, it required all individual radio operators to get a license and demonstrate proficiency in the radio art. It has been in continuous operation ever since. No other ECA offers as much to the professional career of a Naval Officer, or Communications Officer or Combat System Engineer.