Technology and Technique Making Ham Radio Testing Possible During Pandemic
Amateur radio license testing continues during the pandemic, with a combination of remote Volunteer Examiner (VE) test sessions and careful in-person session planning. In Hawaii, VE Team leader and Section Manager Joe Speroni, AH0A, said he and his team passed the 100-candidate mark on August 10 for video-supervised remote test sessions. Speroni said the most recent session administered exams to 10 candidates simultaneously.
“Candidates from all Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US military bases in Okinawa have had an opportunity to sit for licenses,” he told the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator. “The high pass rate of 95% is most likely due to candidates having had time to prepare for the exam.” Speroni also said his VEs’ willingness to contribute their time has made the program a success and available to a wide geographical range.
“Zoom meeting video lends itself to handling three candidates per session, and each requires three VEs,” Speroni explained. “The 1:1 ratio of candidates to VEs makes planning important. Fortunately, the team of 15 VEs has volunteers from Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, California, and the Pacific. Often, hams from Okinawa and Guam are helping license and upgrade hams in Hawaii.”
Speroni said it looks like testing opportunities for Hawaii residents will continue to be needed for a while longer. He explained, “Remote video testing is available, and all are welcome to register for a test.” The team offers information on how testing is conducted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected licensing numbers as well as testing protocols. ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, reports that through the end of July, overall FCC license activity was down by 15% compared to the same period last year. New amateur licenses are down by 12% so far in 2020, with 15,849 new licensees compared to 17,947 in 2019. “Upgraded licenses are down by a staggering 23% — 6,501 versus 4,984,” Somma said. “The year-end prediction of 7,500 upgrades is much lower than in previous years, which have averaged around 9,500.”
On the other side of the US, Rhode Island Section Manager and VE Bob Beaudet, W1YRC, reports his club, the Blackstone Valley Amateur Radio Club, conducted a “pandemic-compliant” test session on August 8.
“Our governor in Rhode Island has directed citizens not to congregate in groups greater than 15 outdoors,” Beaudet said, estimating that group size remained at around that number at any given time as candidates arrived and left. “Some came early and left as new people arrived,” he said. “Also, we were rather widely spread out in the parking lot of Our Saviour’s Parish Polish National Catholic Church in Woonsocket.” Everyone wore masks and observed appropriate social distancing. The VEs grading and processing applications were also spread widely apart. “We planned to keep applicants a car width apart from one another, but many applicants came in rather large trucks,” Beaudet recounted. “That changed our parking pattern a little.”
The session accommodated one candidate who was severely vision impaired and successfully upgraded to a General-class license, with a VE reading the questions and recording his answers. — Thanks to Joe Speroni, AH0A, and Bob Beaudet, W1YRC