The Sparky Examiner - The official newsletter of HamTestOnline

Online courses for the ham radio license exams.

New Extra question pool, extended holiday sale, sunspot update, John's story.


New Extra question pool

Extra, Extra!

If the Extra is still on your bucket list, be aware that the NCVEC recently released a new Extra class question pool, for use on all exams administered on or after July 1, 2024 — 6 months from the day this newsletter goes out.

We've already started updating our Extra course, and it looks like this will be a major rewrite, as only about 25% of the questions in the current question pool were carried over to the future pool unchanged.  Hundreds of existing questions were modified, and dozens of brand-new questions were added on everything from digital modes, antennas, and electronics to tower safety, and more.

If you started studying for the Extra in the past, but haven't yet achieved that goal, you don't want to start over with a new pool!  Six months is plenty of time to get to Extra, as our most successful students are the ones who pack all their studies into 30 days or less.

The Extra is not for everybody, but here are a few reasons why it might be for you:

  • Dream Extra Big in 20204To learn more about this awesome hobby!
  • To have full access to all ham frequencies, including the less crowded Advanced and Extra portions of the bands.  Some of the best DX is in the Extra segments.
  • To get a shorter call sign, which can be a big advantage in a contest or working a pileup.
  • To have full reciprocal operating privileges when you travel to CEPT countries.
  • To be allowed to administer all exam levels as a volunteer examiner.
  • As a stepping stone for broadcast engineers to obtain the Certified Broadcast Technologist certification.
  • For the prestige of having the top-level license.
  • It sets your resume or college application apart from the crowd.
  • To exercise your brain.  Any day you don't learn something new is a wasted day!


Extended holiday sale

Plus a 6-month renewal option

We'll help you get to Extra.  First, we're extending our Ham It Forward sale, which gives $5 off of every course.  Next, we're celebrating 2024 by taking an additional $4 off the Extra through the end of January:

  • $35.95 — Extra course — 3-month website subscription — 20% off list price.

If you purchased the Extra previously, we're also extending our holiday pricing on renewals, and we've added a 6-month renewal option for those who prefer to take it slow:

  • $19.95 — 3-month renewal — 33% off list price ($6.65/month).
  • $33.25 — NEW 6-month renewal — pay for 5 months, get 1 month FREE!  ($5.54/month).
  • $59.85 — 1-year renewal — pay for 9 months, get 3 months FREE!  ($4.99/month).
  • $79.80 — 2-year renewal — pay for 12 months, get 12 months FREE!  (only $3.33/month).

The software now allows you to renew before your current subscription expires, so grab our sale prices before they go away.  Your first step is to make the commitment.  Do it now, as our prices are going back up in February!


Sunspot update

The best HF propagation in 20 years


Solar cycle 25 continues to delight us with greater-than-predicted sunspot numbers, yielding some of the best HF propagation we've seen in two decades.  A higher number of sunspots means more ultraviolet radiation from the sun, more ionization of the earth's atmosphere, and improved “skip” propagation on the higher HF bands, particularly the 17-, 15-, 12-, and 10-meter bands.  We also see more openings on the 6-meter “magic” band, and sometimes even 2 meters and beyond.

With sunspot numbers like these, the next few years should be a great time to be radioactive.  What's stopping you?

Solar Cycle Radio Flux Progression

John's Story

by John Cunningham, W1AI

Zero to Extra the hard way (back when dirt was new)

This month, we share how Owner/Developer/Coursemaster John, W1AI, got his ham radio license:

Dream Extra big in 20204I got into ham radio the hard way, which was the only way to do it back in the '70s, in the era before home computers and the internet.  Back in High School, I attended a free class offered by hams from the Raleigh Amateur Radio Society (RARS), where I learned Morse Code at 5 words per minute and enough about the regulations to pass the simple Novice exam.  After I got my brand new call sign, WN4EKG, my Dad helped me build a Heathkit HW-101 transceiver and put up a folded dipole antenna.  A lot of hams built radios from kits back then.

The only privileges the Novice class license gave me was Morse Code on a few HF bands, so I spent the next year making hundreds of contacts and improving my code speed.  Once I was reliably copying above 13 words per minute, I spent a couple of months diligently studying the license manuals, then made the trek (185 miles each way) to the nearest FCC Field Office.  (Back then, volunteer examiners were only allowed to administer the Novice exam.  For everything else, you had do travel to one of the 16 FCC Field Offices scattered around the country.  I was fortunate to live so close to an FCC Field Office, as many hams had to travel much further!)

After a year of preparation, in a single morning, I passed the 13 words per minute Morse Code test, and the General and Advanced written exams, earning my Advanced class license.  The FCC upgraded my call sign to WA4EKG.

That was basically the way everybody got into ham radio back then — hundreds of hours practicing Morse Code and dozens of hours overstudying the license manuals.  When you're driving 4 hours (each way) on a maze of unfamiar roads, before the invention of GPS, using only a paper map for a guide, you want to be really sure you're going to pass the exams!  Since there was no software with intelligent repetition to teach you the materials, no practice exams to confirm that you're ready, and you can only imagine how intimidating it is to take exams in front of the FCC Examiner, you really studied hard!

Then I went off to college.  I started off as a Chemistry major, but eventually decided that was a stinky career choice.  (Literally, if I never smell hydrogen sulfide again, it will be too soon!)  Since I had enjoyed studying electronics to get my Advanced license, I switched into Electrical Engineering for a while.  In the end, I discovered that my true calling was writing software, and I'm still loving it 50 years later!

After college, I got my code speed above 20 words per minute, hit the books, headed back to the FCC Field Office, got my Extra, and finally got a 4-character call sign, KC4J (“Kiss Chickens For Jollies”).  In total, it took me 6 years and maybe 1,000 hours of code practice and study to go from Zero to Extra.  The code was at least 90% of the effort.

Today, mostly because the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement, HamTestOnline students often go from Zero to Extra in a month or two.  You kids have it so easy today... all uphill, both ways, in knee-deep snow...

After several more years of ham radio fun, it was the old story.  I met a girl, started focusing on family and career, and eventually let my ham radio license expire.

Fast forward to 2002.  One day I'm out running in a park, and see a sign saying that radio operators are giving demos in a field.  I went over to check it out, and discovered that it was the ARRL Field Day, one of my favorite ham radio activities.  They let me operate their GOTA (“Get on the Air”) station on SSB (my Morse was too rusty), and I was hooked again.  It didn't take long to get my code speed up to 5 words per minute, which was all that was required for an Extra class license in 2002.  I loaded the question pools into some adaptive learning software that I had developed a few years earlier, drilled the questions until I knew all the answers, then passed the Morse code, Tech, General, and Extra exams, earning back my Extra class license in a single session.

The FCC gave me AB1BK (my “Burger King” call), which I later changed to W1AI (“Whiskey One Artificial Intelligence”).  I think I'll keep this call sign for the rest of my life!

By the way, I was very successful on the exams the second time around.  I got 5 minutes of perfect copy on the Morse test, perfect scores on the Tech and General, and only missed 1 on the Extra.  I asked the volunteer examiners if I could retake the Extra exam, as I really wanted to achieve a perfect score, but they just laughed at me.  (Some people think I might be OCD, but they are wrong.  I'm actually CDO, which is OCD which has been put into its proper alphabetical order!)

A friend pointed out that my software seemed to work really well, suggested that I make it available on the web and sell subscriptions, and thus HamTestOnline was born.  Over the past 21 years, it's helped students pass more than 100,000 ham radio exams, usually with high scores.  And think, it's all because a few hams took the time to help a bunch of High School students get their Novice licenses, and other hams took the time to put up a sign and give radio demos in the park.  So, thank you RARS, my Dad, K1RV, and so many others who have helped and encouraged me through the years in this grand ham radio adventure.  My life would not have been the same without you!


Feel free to respond to this email with comments for the HamTestOnline team.  We love feedback!

Thanks for being a part of the HamTestOnline family!


W1AI Arizona license plate

John, W1AI
Extra-class accredited VE

WW1S Arizona license plate

Greg, WW1S
Customer Support Representative
Extra-class ham radio operator

WA1RON Arizona license plate

Technical Editor
Extra-class accredited VE

W1SI Arizona license plate

Brandon, W1SI
Extra-class accredited VE

HamTestOnline Team Zoom Photo

HamTestOnline 2698 E Lines Ln, Gilbert, AZ 85297, 888-857-6164.

The best study method, study materials, customer support, and guarantee in the industry!