Why you should (and shouldn’t) upgrade your amateur radio license

Congratulations! You just earned your FCC Technician amateur radio license. I bet when you took the test, one of the examiners asked if you wished to also test for your general license. If you are like most people, you are probably pretty mentally exhausted from taking the first test, so you may or may not feel the confidence of taking the next one. Should you take the test and move along to the next level? We’ll talk about that in a minute. But first, feel free to watch the video.

But first a little bit of personal history. I got my license back in the summer of 1999. Back then you could just take the Technician test and receive the license that gave you privileges on frequencies above 30 Mhz. But if you also took the Novice and 5wpm code tests, you would receive a Tech Plus license which also gave you all the novice privileges below 30 Mhz. In that day, Novices had limited access to VHF frequencies, so doing all three gave you the best of all worlds.

I must have been on fire at the testing session, because I passed the Novice and Technician exam and I also made it through the 5wpm novice code exam. After all that they asked if I wanted to take the General for free and I succumbed to the pressure. Fortunately back then the General exam wasn’t as difficult as it is today. If you knew the material on the Novice exam, you could make it through the General test. Back then the barrier to getting your General license was the 13 word per minute code test.

I just barely passed my General at that session, so I was a Tech Plus with a CSCE for a General written exam. Fast forward six months and the FCC restructures the license classes, eliminating the faster code requirements for general and extra. I was able to go to an exam session, pay my $10 and get an instant upgrade. Fast forward two more years, and I take the test for my Extra license, but that’s a story for another time.

So, with this story in mind, why should you upgrade your amateur radio license.

1. Upgrading opens you up to new frequencies on the HF bands.

This is probably the most obvious response. With the elimination of all morse code requirements, today’s Technician license does give you the old Novice privileges on the HF bands. You get voice on 10 meters, and code on 15, 40, and 80 meters. I don’t know how active Technicians are on the code segments, but 10 meter voice could be draw if it weren’t for the fact that we are in the bottom of the solar cycle. Upgrading to General gives you voice and data access on all the amateur HF bands, opening up a bigger world of communication.

2. Upgrading opens up your understanding of the Amateur Radio Art and Science

The Technician exam is full of basic fundamentals of amateur radio: rules, regulation, basic electronics, and operating procedure. The General and Extra for that matter delve more into operation, modes and frequencies, and propagation. The test lays the framework and the practice on the bands gives the understanding. So your growth in the art and science of amateur radio relies on upgrading to the next license class.

3. Upgrading makes you a more valuable member of the team

If you are part of an emergency communication group, upgrading to your General license gives you new skills and capabilities enhancing your utility and making you a more valuable member of the group. Granted that most emcomm groups use VHF or UHF communications, but many also rely on HF to communicate on a larger, regional level. Plus being involved in emergency communications is all about training, and why wouldn’t you want to advance your own personal knowledge in radio communications.

Bonus: Hey, you passed the Tech, so taking the General is free.

Why not give it a shot. As a Volunteer Examiner, I’d say about 40% of the individuals that pass the Tech will also pass the General on the first shot. It’s free, so why not give it a shot.

And finally, why shouldn’t you upgrade your amateur radio license? Because I told you to. Do it for yourself, not for others. If you are comfortable with a particular license class there is no reason why you need to feel pressure to upgrade.

Do you have any other reasons why upgrading your license is a good thing? Leave them in the comments below. I may use them in an upcoming video on why you should upgrade to Extra.