As a licensed Amateur Radio operator since about 1995 (now general class, KC7MEZ), and a volunteer examiner #1524 class G, I am constantly trying to increase the participation of the public in ham radio for safety and emergency communications for what we believe will be some really tough times in America in the very near future.
In the last few days I have run into something that really gets me fired up, and as usual it involves one of those alphabet soup federal agencies, the FCC. First I will tell you the story of how the FCC ruined the amateur 11 meter band, which is now known as the CB band.
The Amateur 11 meter band was one of our best long distance daytime ham bands, because during the daytime the sun drives the ionosphere close to the earth, and signals with a wavelength longer than about 10 meters in length will bounce back to earth. This is called propagation, and made it possible to talk around the world on 11 meters when the band was good. Then on September 11th 1958 the FCC took the 11 meter band away from ham radio and created the class D citizens band as a licensed 23 channel band in the 27 MHz frequency range, with the first 22 channels taken from the ham 11 meter band. The hams were vehemently opposed to this move. The amateur community told the FCC that those frequencies would never work for a licensed band for many reasons. The first reason is the propagation, which is the very thing that made 11 meters so valuable to hams. They reasoned that since CBers wanted to have dependable local communications for many personal reasons as well as for business, safety etc. there would be a problem with interference from people out of the local area that would stop local communications altogether, or make it very difficult to have a readable local conversation, or at the very least would cut down the range of those local communications to the point that the band would become unusable for any dependable local communications.
It didn't take long for exactly that to happen. I remember my own first involvement. My CB call sign was KPF4162, and my first radio was a Johnson Messenger III mobile. I had it mounted in my car, and in the early and middle 60s there were not many people to talk to, but by 1977 there were so many people using CB that the FCC expanded the band to 40 channels, and then later in the early 80s the FCC abandoned their license requirement entirely and threw the band open to license free operation. The main reason for this admission of failure is that with the propagation and large participation of people, many using large illegal power amplifiers, the band became mostly unusable for local business or safety communications because of interference from out of the local area. In short the FCC picked exactly the wrong frequencies to use for a local business and personal radio service. That is exactly what the hams told them would happen, but the FCC 'in their infinite wisdom' wouldn't listen as usual. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_band_radio
Today you might be talking to somebody a few blocks away and somebody in another state running hundreds of watts might key down and blow you right off the air. According to a Wikipedia article on this the FCC originally intended that this new CB band be a poor man's business-band radio service. Well, so much for business use on CB! So now we have a mess.
Here is the rub.
The FCC still wants us to follow all their other rules about CB including power maximums, but they have completely LOST CONTROL of the entire band. They now selectively prosecute a few grievous offenders that run lots of power and maliciously interfere with local television or other CBers or once in a while when they think they can levy a big fine, they cite someone for selling what they consider to be illegal CB equipment. In effect the FCC has created a whole bootleg black market for illegal power in the form of RF amplifiers that can legitimately do some of the ham bands, but also will amplify 11 meter signals far beyond the 4 watt AM or 12 SSB legal power levels. The same has happened with a whole class of radios that have come to be known as 10 meter "export" radios. These radios can all do legitimate ham frequencies including 10 meters, and some do 12 meters, but they all are easily modified to also go on the CB 11 meter band with very simple modifications like plugging in a jumper, or removing some diodes.
Now get this.
THESE RADIOS ARE STILL BEING LET INTO THE COUNTRY THROUGH CUSTOMS.
You would think US customs would follow what the FCC is telling them to let in, and what to block. There are literally hundreds of thousands of these 10 meter "export" radios being allowed into the country.
The FCC just looks the other way and shrugs. They put out guidelines and lists of "illegal radios" but then they never stop them from coming, and from being sold all around the country. They just refuse to enforce their own guidelines which creates the black market.
There are conflicting reports as to the legality of the importing of these radios, and we are currently involved in trying to get the cases sorted out, but it's a big blur as to what the FCC really has given, as to any kind of enforceable policy. It seems they want the blur and confusion. They want the gray area so they have some easy way to hang people they consider targets, or maybe where they think they can levy big fines.
Once again, a government agency has made a whole class of regulations that allows them to ignore enforcement unless they want to enforce it. They, in effect, have baited a trap, and are waiting for their prey. This creates problems for people who want to do things according to FCC regulations and who are licensed hams, or are ham radio dealers who want to play by the rules..
Hams, for example, can run legally on 10 meters, and 12 meters, and in the case of a tech class ham, which is the lowest license class in ham radio, they can legally run up to 200 watts of power on 10 meters between 28.3 and 28.5 Mhz. But in order to do that legally, according to the FCC, they have to buy an all band HF ham rig that would probably cost upwards of $700 to $1000 at a minimum, instead of a 10 meter only radio that may cost only$300 to $400, and that would operate perfectly WITHIN all of the ham radio guidelines and all the operating parameters of the FCC for ham radio.
According to the FCC, there are no such radios in America that are 'legal' or approved by the FCC. They have this big long list of 10 meter export radios that are all "banned" for import and sale, but then they look the other way and let every company that wants to build one import them or sell them throughout the country, thereby setting up millions of people for big fines and confiscation of not only their radios, but their entire businesses and in the case of one man that I know of that is now deceased they even took $16K out of the proceeds from the sale of his house.
Not only that, but if the rules were clear about who could run what type of radio, it might make it possible for the manufacturers to make a radio the would be an entry level 10 meter all mode transceiver that did everything on 10 meters, and get the cost down much further yet, perhaps even under $200 per radio depending on power capabilities. This would increase the availability of much more powerful and longer range communications to former CBers who might want to get their technician license, who are now bootlegging illegal power on the CB band, and would help to clean up the CB band, and decrease the temptation for CBers who are not licensed to come up on the 10 meter ham band and operate without a proper ham callsign. We hams are very good at policing our own frequencies, and if someone shows up without the proper call sign, nobody would talk to them, since they are not in the call sign directory at www.qrz.com.
Here is the real issue. We have a government agency that is guilty of entrapment and selective prosecution by administrative edict, and extrajudicially stealing from people without due process, just like almost every other government agency is doing at this time. FCC regulations are NOT laws. They are regulations. And the big one is that the FCC doesn't even follow their own regs. They LOOK THE OTHER WAY after creating their big long list of so called "illegal" radios, and continue to let the manufacturers of those radios import and sell them by the hundreds of thousands right here in America. It's like trolling for fish. They get some unsuspecting radio dealer to bite, and make a small infraction, and then they pounce on them and take all their stuff, and fine them big money, for what? They have lost control of the entire band anyway, so that makes their actions nothing but persecution.
And what about the radio dealers that play by the rules, and refuse to sell any of these "export" radios?
How much money are we losing to this black market?. As a radio dealer for the last 22 years both in retail and internet sales how much money have I lost since being forced by the gray legal area to abstain from this market? How much have the properly licensed ham operators paid over the years for these bad decisions from the FCC?
What are the solutions?
First, the FCC could put out some really clear guidelines and then enforce them across the board for everybody. And if their regulations are not enforceable, then take them off the books, and stop selective enforcement and selective prosecution which are both unlawful!
Second, and better, the FCC could just get the heck out of the way, and remove those regs, and open up the market. The CB band is lost anyway. WHY NOT GIVE IT BACK TO THE HAMS?
Legalize all the 10 meter export radios, and then require anybody that uses one to have a proper ham callsign. That is not as difficult as you might think it is. None of the ham license classes require learning the morse code at all any more. The license is free. It comes with some really good training and a test.
The test is simple. 35 questions, which are all multiple choice. You can get 9 questions wrong and still pass the test and get your license. The license is FREE for 10 years, and then you can renew on line for another 10 years without any cost. The only time you would start over is if you want a different call sign, or if you want to upgrade to general or extra class.
Then give the 11 meter band including all the new frequencies in the upper channels to the Ham community where it belongs. But with one new twist. On this band, and only this 11 meter band, let the hams and everybody else use it for business communications. Yes, LET EVERYBODY use the old CB 40 frequencies for business use, but as a licensed amateur radio operator who KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING. The only difference from now is that they will need a call sign as at least a tech class ham.
They can keep on running their same CB radios on those frequencies, and any of the new 10 meter export radios opened up for 11 meters, but they will have to do so, with proper training, and authorization, and policed by the ham community, NOT THE FCC.
We are much better at keeping a band clean and useable than the FCC ever was. The CBers could get the tech class license without much trouble, and then they would know how to get the most out of their radio communications. With a callsign requirement they would be required to operate according to proper protocol as we do on all the other ham bands. They would get the extra benefit of a legal 200 watts of power, and especially on SSB, but just on those frequencies which were formerly CB channels, AND they could use those same radios for business use. They could call somebody and order parts for their logging machine or whatever. This is what the FCC originally intended. That the CB band would be a poor man's business band radio service.
The manufacturers would not have to change a thing, except abide by the FCC rules for cross frequency interference, and intermod, like any transmitter is required to do now.
As always the solution to our problems in this country involve having LESS GOVERNMENT not more.
Let's get rid of the agencies that are interfering with our prosperity and freedom, and stop the legalized plunder of the public with administration persecution for every little infraction, and let real practical people help their neighbors to become better educated about this technology so they can accomplish what their personal communications needs demand.
How about it FCC? How about it Hams? Are you willing to solve this problem. Are you willing to take this bull by the horns and wrestle him to the ground, and reign in the problems of bureaucratic over reach?
Are you ready to make this whole black market disappear in a heartbeat, with no real added expense by a simple ruling from a government agency that for once would actually solve a problem and make people MORE FREE and better equipped for emergency, safety, and business communications?
I will be writing much more about this subject, and I invite you to use the comment section below. Just click on the word comments and add your ideas. As we are able to get the actual paperwork on some of these cases of persecution we will be publishing everything on both sides of this discussion.
Read part 2 of this series here:
Paul Stramer KC7MEZ VE # 1524 class G