HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio History: Novice Licenses

Many Amateur Radio operators got their feet wet in the hobby by receiving a Novice Class operator license. First issued in 1951, this entry-level license required the applicant to pass a five-word-per-minute (WPM) CW test (send and receive) and a multiple choice exam (20 questions when first offered).

Initially, the non-renewable Novice license was good for one year of on-air activity with few privileges (2 meter voice and CW using up to 75 watts of transmitting power on a handful of HF bands). License holders had a second-year non-active grace period in which to upgrade to a General or Conditional license. The Conditional license carried the same weight as the General license—full privileges on all HF bands. This license was made available to individuals who could not travel to an FCC field office to take the exam. Instead, the exam was administered by two local Hams who mailed the test to the FCC for grading.

Technician licenses were granted to Hams who passed the multiple choice portion of the General license test but failed the 13 WPM CW requirement. Technician license holders retained their limited HF Novice privileges but added General license privileges above 50 MHz.

In 1987, the Novice license became renewable and included enhanced privileges, including limited voice on 10 meters. The issuing of Novice licenses, along with Advanced and Technician Plus classes, was halted after the FCC simplified licensing in 2000, reducing the number of classes to today’s familiar three: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. Hams who hold licenses in deleted classes can renew these licenses in perpetuity. In 2007, the FCC eliminated Morse Code testing from all licensing exams.

Thinking about getting a Technician license or moving up the ladder to General or Amateur Extra? Find all the study guides you need at DXEngineering.com.


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