In May, in a computer science classroom on the Cal Poly campus, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens (’05, CSSE) became the 2,000 licensee of the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club – (CPARC). The club (callsign W6BHZ) provides a simple way for students and community members to take their #fcc amateur radio license exam, thereby giving access to the amateur radio frequencies. The milestone reflects the club’s commitment to introducing people to the hobby of amateur radio since the licensing team’s formation in 2009.
Kyle, a California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) alumnus, was joined by various interested members of the iFixit staff. The collaboration originated from a community repair cafe hosted at iFixit HQ a few weeks prior. After learning of the approaching landmark, Kyle expressed immediate interest in being that 2000th licensee.
CPARC officers Mathew Shaham [KM6WIU] and Hunter Herring-Alderete [KN6RJA] provided a lightning review session for the members of the iFixit team before the exam. In short form, this mimicked the comprehensive Ham (a term for radio operators) Cram review session offered by CPARC at the start of Fall Quarter. The Ham-in-a-day crash course speeds applicants through the question pool, offering connections and explanations for the material.
As the culminating session for the year, the push to reach 2,000 licensees was at a peak. Abbi Outcalt [KN6SOT], Lab Manager for the Cal Poly CubeSat Lab, played an instrumental role in recruitment. CubeSat (colloquially PolySat) uses the amateur radio band to communicate with satellites developed by the group on campus. In conjunction with an expansion to the ground station team, CubeSat members expanded the test manifest to 28 prospective applications.
The session marked the largest group of the year and was proctored by seven of CPARC’s Volunteer Examiners. Volunteer Examiners are certified radio operators who volunteer their time to help license others into the hobby. Alumnus Marcel Stieber [AI6MS] served as session liaison, working closely with student lead Andrew Fahey [KN6FIJ] to coordinate the exam.
CPARC’s licensing powerhouse exploded with the Freshman Licensing Initiative started in 2011 by Dr. Dennis Derickson Ph.D. P.E. [AC0P]. Up until 2022, when the FCC began issuing a fee for new licenses, the initiative provided class credit in the introductory Cal Poly College of Engineering EE 111 course for obtaining an amateur radio license. The effort gave new EE (electrical engineering) students a preview of topics covered in further classes. It also afforded students a practical outlet for skills, participating in things from radio contesting to volunteer communications support for events. At the peak of the initiative, CPARC was licensing over 100 operators in one 50-minute class period.
The licensing team traces origins back to Marcel, John Chen [KI6QDF], and Garrett Dong [KI6YML] in 2009. Noticing the difficulty at the time of getting licensed as a student, they reached out to community members John Portune [W6NBC] and Milton Davis [AI6MD]. Since that point, CPARC has provided over 55 exam sessions to the campus and #SLO communities.
“It’s a big milestone,” Marcel said on Tuesday, “most exam teams don’t make it to license number 2,000. I’m really proud to support the students running these exam sessions.” As the last papers were graded the scores came in: the majority of students passed in addition to every member of the iFixit crew.
Founded in 1947, the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club (#CPARC) has a long tradition of communications service on campus and in the San Luis Obispo community. The club maintains Emergency Communications Center No. 16 on the Cal Poly Campus for the San Luis Obispo Emergency Communications Council (SLOECC.org) which is equipped with emergency power and radio equipment to support various public safety agencies in the event of a disaster. More information about the club can be found at www.w6bhz.org.
Story and photos by CPARC