I am asking on behalf of my friend who is not on this site.

My friend wants to know the nomenclature behind the licence Amateur extra, since they think that that term is misleading. I think my friend means that the term amateur in front of extra is what makes it sound as if it were less than what it was supposed to be. General is somewhere in between, and technician sounds so advanced that somebody with that license would be able to repair radios.

My friend said that they liked the older licensing system better because the name corresponded with the level of expertise.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry your friend doesn't like the names, but I'm not sure what kind of answer could be given here. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '19 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ I have heard this reasoning many times. To many folks, Advanced and Technician have the connotation of being the highest class licenses; and Extra sounds like a class that should be just above Novice or General. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters Feb 23 '19 at 19:32

If your friend likes the "old" license classes, then he or she should like the Amateur Extra class because it has its origins in the earliest years of amateur radio.

In the early 1920s, there were two classes of licenses, the highest of which was Amateur First Grade that required passing a basic code test and an essay type written test. Then in the mid 1920s, the Department of Commerce (pre FCC) started to issue a higher class of license that required a 20 WPM code test and a more comprehensive written test. The new license class was named Amateur Extra First Grade with the Extra cannoting more privileges. Thus began the "Extra" class license.

In the prevailing years, the First Grade designation was dropped as licenses were restructured but the Amateur Extra designation remained. I believe, however, there was a period where the top license was called Class A. To this day, "Extra" remains the highest class of license with the most privileges.


A technician is someone trained to perform a set of procedures. Performing a procedure on a technological thing is not the same thing as understanding the technology.

For example, anyone can enlist in the Air Force and in less than a year, become an aircraft maintenance technician. The job involves following prescribed test procedures, then turning bolts and screws in the proper direction to replace the parts that the procedure says require replacement. Job qualifications involve basic mechanical and deductive reasoning, but most importantly a capacity to follow directions. It's superficially impressive that technicians get to work on the most technologically advanced flying killing machines in the world, but really it's mundane, uncreative work that's been developed and documented to be as simple as possible so any grunt can do it.

But a technician is not an aeronautical engineer. The engineer will hold a higher degree, get paid more, have a deeper understanding of how the aircraft works, get to do creative things like design new aircraft, and create the service manual that tells the technicians what to do. One can't simply show up at an Air Force recruiting center and become an aeronautical engineer: it takes years of school, then even more years of job experience to be successful.

Most "technician" jobs don't even involve repairing things. A lab technician might spend their time loading fecal samples into a centrifuge, for example. Don't let the lab coat fool you: this is not highly advanced work: it's putting turds in tubes, loading them in a machine, and pressing a button while ensuring the labels don't get mixed up.

So "technician" as a license class implies just what it is: the lowest possible qualification to operate amateur radio equipment. The technician exam is much more about operating procedures than it is about understanding how radios work, just like the lab technician's training is much more about how to spin turds really fast than it is understanding the biochemistry to develop a colon cancer treatment.

As for amateur extra, the inclusion of "amateur" shouldn't diminish anything as all the classes in question are classes of amateur radio license. As Glenn W9IQ notes, "amateur" is included in that title mostly for historic reasons. And as ASzy notes, "amateur" means unpaid, not sub-par.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters Feb 28 '19 at 12:57

I believe that your friend is missing the definition of "Amateur". With respect to all three classes currently available ( and now extinct classes who still have members ) , Amateur only refers to the fact that none of us can be paid to perform [ with very specific exceptions ]. It has absolutely nothing to do with the professionalism or lack thereof of the operator , just if they can get renumeration. I could use an analogy of Amateur sports v.s. Professional sports. A kid that can dazzle and shoot hoops can be just as skilled as a pro-player for a pro-team , he just doesn't get paid. For the kid , it's circumstance , for us it's in the rules.


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