Monday, October 26, 2009

If it's a "station", how come it can move?

An amateur radio station is defined (by regulation) as "the apparatus necessary for carrying on radiocommunications".  In other words, the station is the radio (transmitter and, as appropriate, receiver), feedline, antenna, and presumably also power supplies and other mechanical appurtenances required to enable all that to work together for the purpose of communications via radio.  The station does not include the operator, and stations are technically licensed separately from operators, although this is very much not obvious anymore. 

Despite the name, "station", nothing about this definition of a station requires that the station be stationary, at least in the amateur service.  Older hams will remember the "mode" suffixes of "mobile" (/M), "portable" (/P), "maritime mobile" (/MM), and "aeronautical mobile" (/AM), which used to be required whenever an amateur was operating a station that was not at that amateur's primary station location.  The FCC no longer restricts amateurs to a single primary station (we're allowed to have as many primary stations as we want now without obtaining additional license grants, which is why amateurs are now restricted to one and only one amateur radio license per person), and no longer requires the modal suffixes, but it doesn't hurt to know what these mean because they are still commonly used (and occasionally misused), and furthermore they are sometimes still required when operating outside the United States on a reciprocal treaty grant. 

"Mobile" is defined as "operating a station which is capable of being operated while in motion".  Therefore, one is "mobile" when operating a station installed in a car, motorcycle, or bicycle.  It also applies when using a handheld transceiver (since you can operate a handheld while wilking), although many people incorrectly use "portable" for this.  There are two special sub-cases of mobile: operating while on a boat is "maritime mobile", and operating from an aircraft is "aeronautical mobile"; in both of these sub-cases permission of the master of the boat or the pilot in command of the aircraft is required, and your station must be independent of the craft's own radio equipment (except that you may share an antenna with a boat's radio systems, but not an aircraft's).  (Additional conditions apply; see §97.11.)

"Portable" is defined as "operating a station which has been temporarily installed in some location other than the licensee's primary station location".  Since amateur licensees no longer have a defined primary station location, the "portable" designation no longer makes sense, and so some people have (as I note above) co-opted it for the case of operating a handheld.  An example of "portable" operation would be a transmitter running off a battery into a longwire temporarily thrown up into a couple trees at a public park. 

There's several other modes of operation (the so-called "special operations" that are set out in Subpart C of the regulations), but I'll save those for a subsequent post. 

This post has been brought to you by pool questions T1A09, T2C02, and T2D07.