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Thoughts on proper use of Amateur Radio by K5WLF

The following was recently written by a friend of mine, Larry Barr – K5WLF, during an email discussion on the recent trend of Emergency Communications blurring the line between Amateur Radio and Commercial Radio. His comments were so insightful that I thought to share them here.

While I guess we ought to be glad that the “instant hams” at least want to join in the drills and training nets, I’m seeing what I perceive to be an underlying, and very real, danger in the current trend. It’s beginning to look like some of the hospitals et. al., are turning to amateur radio equipment to serve as their primary solution in the event of a failure in their normal communications system. Which, in my understanding, is generally internet based.

I believe that they should, instead, be creating properly engineered and well-installed commercial radio systems to serve in that capacity. For that is the proper service in which they should operate. If, in the event of emergency or disaster, their commercial system fails, then they can call on us to provide their emergency comms for them. And we will gladly help them.

I’m always happy to see new hams come into our hobby, but I don’t hold with the “teach for the test” approach to licensing courses. I personally will not teach a course that does not include operating rules and procedures, because I refuse to create a licensee that has no knowledge of proper operating skills.

The daily interchange of QSOs on the ham bands do more to form a skilled and practiced operator than one or two SETs a year could ever do. If we fail to instill in those whom we train a love for all aspects of our avocation, we deprive not only them, but ourselves as well of the joys of our hobby.

There is much discussion going on about the need to preserve our spectrum allotments and to maintain the vitality of our beloved hobby. Let us not drop the ball by allowing amateur radio to become a de facto backup service for institutions which are properly required to operate on other bands and under the jurisdiction of another radio service.

If the excrement truly impacts the turbine, let there never be a question that ARES, RACES and the entire amateur radio community will be there to give our full assistance, as we always have. But, in the meantime, we must work to ensure that the purity of our operations is preserved and that our service is not usurped by commercial entities looking for a cheap and easy solution to their communication problems.

The fine men and women of the amateur radio service have a proud tradition of giving their all when their help is needed. And we will forever be there for those who require our help, our equipment and our operating skills. But we must not tolerate the misuse of our service under the guise of emergency communications for commercial organizations. I don’t agree with the FCC all that often, but in this case, I believe that they were correct in their ruling.

There is one other question that I’ve never heard addressed. If I correctly understand the patient privacy requirements, there are certain precautions that must be adhered to ensuring that patient information is not divulged to persons not directly involved in that case. Transmission of patient info over internet or commercial radio service can be encrypted, preserving its privacy. Since encryption is prohibited on the amateur bands, how can a hospital transmit patient info on the amateur service without committing an infraction of the privacy requirement? It may be that the amateur service won’t legally provide all the capability that they’re looking for anyway.

I encourage all amateurs to continually strive to ensure that our bands and our service are used properly and in compliance with FCC regulations. For we are always in danger of losing our allocations, since we are the only service that doesn’t return a revenue to the government. We continue to exist primarily because of our ongoing response to emergencies; local, regional and national. If we permit our allocations to be misused, we will be in danger of losing them forever.


Larry D. Barr, K5WLF
PIO, ARRL NTX District 3
SKYWARN Spotter/Net Control
Erath County (TX) ARES AEC
Erath County (TX) RACES CLO (Alt)
Erath County (TX) Emergency Management

3 Responses to “Thoughts on proper use of Amateur Radio by K5WLF”

  • I am the ARES South Texas Dist 14 NW Unit AEC trainer and I would like to use this article for one of our weekly training NETs. I would also like to add the article, with author credits, to our training library. Would this be permissable.

  • It’s fine with me, Earl. Regarding the author credits, just note that I’m no longer PIO for NTX 3, nor am I an Erath County ARES AEC. Glad to help out your training program.


  • Very nice post. I certainly appreciate this website.