On Saturday March 20, 2021 the David Sarnoff Radio Club sponsored “Ham Cram” as a way to “Get a Ham Radio License via Zoom in One Day” during the Trenton Computer Fest 2021
Our Club has supported a “Ham Cram” amateur radio Technician License Class and Exam Session at the annual Trenton Computer Festival since at least 1998 (that’s how far back my collection of club newsletters extends!)
In March 2020, TCF was canceled for the first time in its 45-year history because of the outbreak of the then-new novel coronavirus. Large gatherings such as TCF were still restricted in 2021, so the TCF planning commmittee decided to conduct a virtual TCF in 2021 using Zoom. DSRC agreed to sponsor a virtual version of the Ham Cram and Exam Session.
The transition of the Ham Cram to a virtual format using Zoom was relatively straightforward, as Zoom has already been used to provide remote instruction to millions of students.
The license exam was much more of a challenge, because the FCC and ARRL VEC have strict requirements regarding the administration of amateur radio exams . My initial research uncovered that most pandemic exams used one of two approaches. In the first, candidates drive their vehicles to a large parking lot, complete the preliminary paperwork from inside their vehicles, and then take the test itself sitting on a folding chair in front of their vehicle, where they can be observed by the required minimum of 3 volunteer examiners. We immediately identified 3 problems with this approach. First local weather in mid-March is very unpredictable. Second, we did not find a commercial lot owner willing to let us use their land. And third, some candidates could be traveling a significant distance, so the exam would have to be delayed after the conclusion of the Ham Cram.
The other common approach is a remote test software application called ExamTools. The test is conducted online while a Zoom session is used to observe the candidate. Unfortunately, the ExamTools application supports only a single candidate at a time, so for a large number of candidates, the testing would take many hours.
Alan Wolke, W2AEW, heard of another alternative via Ria Jairam, N2RJ, who put me in contact with Joe Speroni, AH0A, in Honolulu. Joe has been conducting remote testing throughout the pandemic, observing up to 6 candidates at-a-time testing with traditional paper forms in a Zoom breakout room.
Joe graciously offered to support our event if I could supply enough volunteer examiners to staff multiple Zoom breakout rooms. We wouldn’t know the final count until the day of TCF, so we decided to plan for up to 4 breakout rooms which could accommodate as many as 24 candidates.
Joe had never conducted such a large test event previously, but he was enthusiastic to do so.
The planning and execution for up to 4 simultaneous virtual exam rooms via Zoom was a huge challenge. We assembled a team of 16 volunteer examiners: 8 local VEs from DSRC and other area clubs, plus an additional 8 VEs from Hawaii, California, and Guam, who have worked with AH0A in the past. We held a mock testing session via Zoom to rehearse the TCF test session logistics.
On Saturday, March 20, 14 candidates registered to take exams, but 2 backed-out at the last minute. We split the 12 candidates between 3 breakout rooms. The testing proceeded very smoothly.
A total of 17 exam elements were attempted by the 12 candidates. 7 earned a Technician class license, 3 earned a General class license, and 2 did not earn a license.
Special thanks to Joe Speroni, AH0A who developed the virtual Zoom exam session process and spent countless hours before, during, and after TCF to support our event.
73, John NU3E
2021 TCF VIRTUAL HAM CRAM INSTRUCTORS
- Pat Howard K2PAT
- Alan Wolke W2AEW
- Joe Zaroff WA3NEQ
2021 TCF VIRTUAL VE TEAM
- Ben Cahill AC2YD
- John DeGood NU3E
- Michael Harla N2MHO
- C.R. Phillips N3HTZ
- Carlos Prior KE2TT
- Eric Russell KD2ONY
- Cathy Tsao KD2UGE
- Joe Zaroff WA3NEQ
AH0A’s Pacific Team:
- Gessie Alpuuro WH6AV
- Shane Callaghan AH2EJ
- Stephen Kawamae KH6WG
- Larry Loomer KI6LNB
- Joe Speroni AH0A
- Joseph Tabrah KH6FHI
- Beverly Yuen AH6NF
- James Yuen WH6GS