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Basic On-Air Rules & Regs

As an Amateur Radio Service licensed operator, you are obligated to follow some rules and regulations during your radio operations that are established by the Federal Communications Commission. Specifically, the regulations governing the Amateur Radio Service are outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Part 97. Usually this code is referred to by hams simply as "Part 97."

Part 97 is an extensive document -- go take a look at the link above. However, as a ham operator you do not need to memorize the entire Part 97 code. There are a few key rules and regs that you need to adhere to that will keep you out of trouble. This article will introduce a few of these so that you can get the gist of things. You will learn more as you study for your Technician exam, and yet more if you upgrade your license beyond Tech.

License Term

An Amateur Radio Service license is granted for a period of 10 years. At the expiration of the 10-year term the licensee may renew the license with no requirement for re-examination. The open renewal may be accomplished within 2 years of expiration. After that 2-year grace period, the license is revoked and the former licensee must again pass an examination to be reissued a license. During the 2-year grace period for renewal the license holder is not authorized to transmit on the Amateur bands.

Prohibited Activities

The Amateur Radio Service is established for specific purposes outlined in Part 97, and certain activities are inconsistent with the intended purpose of the service:

  • Obscene or indecent language -- as part of the purpose of promoting international goodwill, as well as common decency among the wide variety of ages and backgrounds of ham operators, you have to keep it clean on the air.

  • Codes or cyphers that hide the meaning of messages -- Morse Code is an open code and readily used on the air, but secret codes or cyphers are prohibited in Amateur Radio.

  • Harmful or willful interference -- no one has exclusive use of any Amateur frequency, and purposefully interfering with others communications is a violation of regulation.

  • Retransmission of commercial broadcasts -- the Amateur Radio Service is intended for two-way communications, but not for one-way public broadcasts.

  • Music transmissions -- similar to the broadcasting exclusion, music transmissions are not consistent with the purpose of Amateur Radio and are prohibited.

No Compensation or Payments

Ham operators may not receive any compensation for radio operations except for the receipt of a normal salary when ham radio operation is incidental to classroom instruction at an educational institution. So, you can't use ham radio to run your home repair service dispatch, but if you are a teacher you can be paid while using ham radio to instruct students in science, geography, communications, or any other subject that applies.

Station Inspection by the FCC

You must make your station available for FCC inspection upon request from the FCC. Relax... This is exceedingly rare and usually occurs only when gross violations of Part 97 are under investigation. Still, the regulation applies with the granting of your Amateur license.

Control Operator

A control operator is the licensee who is in control of a station. A transmitting Amateur station must always have a control operator, whether that is the station owner or a licensed person designated by the station owner. The transmitting privileges allowed of a station are those associated with the license class of the control operator. So, if as an Extra Class licensee I designate a Technician licensee to be the control operator of my station, that operator must remain within the band privileges of the Technician and cannot transmit outside of those band privileges.

Station Identification

A control operator must identify with FCC-issued call sign every 10 minutes and at the end of any set of communications. Station identification must be issued in English or by Morse Code. Note, there is no regulation requiring station identification at the start of communications, but that is often done simply in the natural course of dialog between operators at the initiation of a radio contact.

And there are many other regulations from Part 97 that apply to Amateur Radio operations. However, for the vast majority of on-air activity, these simple rules above will keep you within the rule book. When you get into long-distance, international communications with a General Class license, you'll need to learn a few more rules. If you become a Volunteer Examiner who can participate in license exams, you'll need to follow regs associated with that activity. Other specialized services and activities have additional provisions for those who engage in them. But you can always reference Part 97 to be sure your keeping your station ops in line with good Amateur practice.



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