Many of you have asked me about the February, 2013 QST Op-Ed article (page 99) about raising questions about a 6 year old being able to have a ham radio license. This is it:
I think the real issue that needs to be addressed here is maturity, not age. I’ve met a lot of young hams over the years, and every one of them so far have acted more mature both on the air and in person than some older, much more experienced hams. Being a teacher of young hams, I often get nervous when I hear some of “my kids” from my school getting on the air totally on their own. I am used to being there to help and support them while they operate at school. I have been known to grab my radio and have it ready to jump in… just in case they don’t know what to say or do something they shouldn’t. I have never had to do that. In every case, at least so far, they have always handled themselves properly and sometimes were more knowledgeable than the hams they were conversing with. Over the years, the amateur community has seen many young hams licensed, starting at age 4. Multiple 7 years olds have earned extra class licenses, and some even DXCC. Some I’ve heard on the radio, and some I’ve met in person. And some, I’ve only read about. And, my apologies if there are some younger hams than age 4 that I haven’t heard about which I’m not mentioning. But, my experience has been the same. All of them acted very responsible and mature for their age. They knew how to safely and properly operate. To generalize that everyone under 16 is not mature enough for a ham radio license just doesn’t make much sense to me. I get frustrated at times listening to VHF/UHF and hear how hams that are well into adulthood create feedback with their radios over and over again on purpose, berate other people, and show little respect for others. I have to be careful working with the kids at school to quickly pass over certain frequencies on HF (14.313 among others) because of what might be heard. But to say that all adults that are hams are immature would be going too far.
I was introduced to amateur radio when I was 5 years old, in 1976. My father decided to go to a ham radio class, sponsored by our local club. They placed a 13 year old age limit on the class. After the first week, my father asked if it would be ok if I just tagged along. He assured them that I would not disrupt the class in any way. They went along with it. They also made an exception for a 9 year old girl. So when my dad copied down a letter in Morse code in his notebook, so did I. Before long, everyone noticed that I was copying code just the same as everyone else. Several weeks later at the completion of the class, I had earned my novice ticket, as did the 9 year old girl. I upgraded to technician at age 6, general at age 7, and advanced at age 9. I finally decided to get my extra class at age 18. I made my very first contact at 5 years old all on my own… before auto tuners. I knew what not to touch, and what the dangers were. All this happened because I had good support. My dad, and others, took the time to show me what to do and what could go wrong. I knew the responsibility that came with a ham radio license. Needless to say, the next year there was no longer an age limit on the class.
Most of the young ham experts say that the optimum time for students to get into ham radio is in middle school. By the time they get to high school, cars and boyfriends/girlfriends often distract them and consume more of their time. I think that having an age limit on ham radio would be very detrimental. It could be nice to have a way to require a certain level of maturity for a ham radio license, but I don’t know of a fair and proven way to do that.
My students have had the advantage of having an elmer. It’s worked pretty well for us. In my time teaching at Bloomington High School South, our ham radio club has actively served 68 students, of which 28 have become licensed. Many of them have gone on to upgrade. Many of them have become an important part of our local and global ham radio community. In addition, several students did the same at other schools of which I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. And, most of them did it before earning a driver’s license. One even led his own DXpedition to Cyprus, which you can read about in an upcoming edition of QST, at the age of 15. There are many other similar experiences around the world. If I had been refused at age 5, none of that would have happened.
Neil Rapp, WB9VPG
Chemistry teacher, Amateur Radio Club Sponsor
Bloomington High School South