pix_logo01 (5K)NAQCC News

Nov 29, 2008NAQCC Web Site Issue # EXTRA

In this issue:
1. NAQCC History.
2. KX-1 Kit Building Project - Installment # 1


How the club came to be, where it is now, and it's vision for the future

by Thomas Mitchell WY3H with notes by John Shannon K3WWP

Although it is said there are no coincidences, some might say that it was a series of strange coincidences through which the North American QRP CW Club came into existence.

The year was 2004. It was early summer and I was working as a staff writer for the Leader Times newspaper (Kittanning, Pa.) part of Tribune Review Publishing, Pittsburgh. Although I had previously held an Advanced Class license (KC3YD), after a devastating house fire in which virtually all my radio gear was lost, I allowed my license to expire, about 1999 or 2000. The two-year grace period had passed and of course, to be licensed again, I would have to go through all the required tests. That was a discouraging thought. Nevertheless, there must have been a spark of radio fever left smoldering somewhere in my heart, and I was always happy to write about any radio activity and promote the hobby.

I had belonged to the Fort Armstrong Wireless Association but allowed my membership to lapse when my license expired. However, a Fort Armstrong member told me about a fellow amateur operator (who was not a member of the local club) who operated strictly CW and QRP. My interest was piqued and soon I called the operator in question, John Shannon, K3WWP to ask him if I could do a story on his CW/QRP only activities.

To my delight John was quite agreeable to the idea and we set up an interview. While living in Schuylkill County, Pa. (the place we had our house fire) I had done quite a bit of QRP operation using a Ten Tec Argonaut 509, a Ten Tec Century 21, an unmodified HW-7, and a Ramsey 30-Meter rig.

For what it's worth, the little HW-7 was the only rig I managed to salvage from the fire. A bit of touching up some solder joints got the rig to transmit, but it would not receive. So here I was, living in Kittanning, I had a non-working "rig," no license, no antenna, and at that time, little or no interest in getting back into radio.

However, my visit to K3WWP somehow served to rekindle my interest in radio. I watched John operate his Kenwood 570 turned down to 5 watts. I saw a wall in his "shack" decorated with every sort of award imaginable, WAS, DXCC (nearly 200 DX countries) the USA-CA award, and awards for top place in several state QSO parties, CW/QRP divisions of course. John pulled out a rather thick photo album. On every page there were several QSL cards from such exotic places as Israel, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Asiatic Russia and even one from Mongolia - all made via CW/QRP of course. Then John told me that he was in the process of making at least one QSO a day, every day, for the past several years. I forget exactly how many days he had racked up but I believe it was around 3,500 consecutive days at that time.

"Now this guy is somewhere near serious," I thought to myself. I was favorably impressed with John's devotion to this aspect of Amateur Radio. I guess I viewed John's activity with a bit of envy, and soon, I was wishing that I could make some CW/QRP contacts myself.

pix_083e_001 (95K)

After the article came out I kept in contact with John and eventually I decided to get my Technician Class ticket. I traveled to Youngstown, Ohio to a test session held by the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Club. I passed the test and received the call KB3LFC. A month later John and I went to a hamfest in Butler, Pa. sponsored by one of the Butler radio clubs. While there I passed the General Class test. I retained the call KB3LFC.

I can't quite remember the exact circumstances, but through the Internet I came to know Paul Stroud, AA4XX, another dedicated QRP operator. To my surprise, Paul offered me a wonderful HW-9. A week later the rig arrived. I bought a roll of used wire at a hamfest, more than enough to make a random wire, for $2 and a Russian Army surplus key for $20. John lent me a homebrew tuner and presto, I was back on the airwaves.

Now that small spark of interest in getting back into radio was fanned into a full blown bonfire. It was sometime during late September that I approached John with the idea of starting a QRP/CW club. At first John was less than enthusiastic, but I reminded him that the club would be exclusively devoted to QRP/CW. That did it. John's interest was now kindled as well. After bantering about a few names for the club, we decided on the North American QRP CW Club.* We decided that club membership should be offered free to any licensed radio amateur anywhere in the world, and to any SWL. (As it would turn out, we signed up several SWLers, several of whom later got their ticket). Now I'll shut up and let John tell the next part of the story.

"We began accepting member applications October 15, 2004," John said, "and among many many more those first few days, signed up the following as our first 10 members - KB3LFC(WY3H), K3WWP, K3MRT (now unfortunately a silent key), VA3RJ, K5DUZ, WY3T, KI0ET, EA8BVP, K4CHT, K4IR. The club grew explosively as if to mock the guesses of WY3H and K3WWP that we'd garner maybe 50 members at most. Except for a couple members here and there, we did not keep track of signing dates at first, but our membership list does show member #0202 KA7BIY was signed up on 10/31/2004. And on 1/5/2005 John K4BAI came on board as #0644."

The growth of the club continued, not only in the continual adding of members, but thanks to John, the club also was enriched by forming what would prove to be a continuing and warm relationship with FISTS. This was in October, 2004, the club's first year of existence. John writes a column for every issue of the official FISTS organ, "Keynote" and so already had a good relationship with FISTS officials, including Nancy, WZ8C. John tells that part of club history.

"Our wonderful continuing relationship with FISTS started as Nancy WZ8C permitted me (K3WWP) to introduce the NAQCC to the readers of my QRP Column in the FISTS Keynote. My column started with the following paragraph: 'QRP with K3WWP - Column #65: This month I'm going to introduce you to a brand new QRP club. I can hear you saying, "Not another QRP Club - there are enough of them already." Don't turn the page just yet - this is a club with a DIFFERENCE. First of all, it's FREE, so the price is right. Secondly, it doesn't fool around with all these fancy digital modes, nor does it bother with any voice modes. It's a QRP CW club - all club activities, awards, etc. are done only with CW.'"

After garnering more than the anticipated "50 members" the NAQCC could be considered a bona fide club. But now what. One thing we knew for sure, we couldn't just sit by and wait for things to happen. John and I put on our "thinking caps" (for whatever they were worth) and decided that we needed regular monthly sprints, and other activities to garner interest and to inject some real life into the club.

On October 29, 2004, the first NAQCC sprint was held. By today's standards it wasn't exactly an event that set the radio world on fire, in fact it no doubt drew little attention from ops on the CW bands. Nevertheless, it happened. It was the club's first 'baby step,' if you will, and that's all that mattered.

In that sprint, exactly seven logs were submitted. (Remember, this was the club's first baby step and not everyone participating submitted a log). Logs were submitted by the following pioneer members: AA4XX, K3WWP, KB3LFC (Now WY3H), KU2US, VE3DCP, AA0VE, and KD9B. Paul, AA4XX was that sprint's winner with a "whopping" 14 QSOs in eleven multipliers for 232 total points. I might add that Paul has been operating QRP exclusively since 1994.

In addition to monthly sprints, John and I decided that holding monthly "challenges" with each month having a different theme, in addition to the sprints would also draw interest.

Although it was more in the category of an event than a challenge, I suggested the NAQCC hold a "Get Acquainted Week." The event was held from Oct. 31, through Nov. 5, 2004. The idea was to give members, and prospective members, an opportunity to, well, get acquainted. However, although a small number of members participated, we received only three reports. K4CHT sent in the top standing report with 13 QSOs in nine multipliers. WU9F and K3WWP also submitted reports. Although only a handful of members participated in the event, they managed to spread the word about the NAQCC. As a result of the Get Acquainted Week event, several more joined our ranks, although it's difficult to say how many that joined in the next two weeks or so, did so as a result of having worked one of our members during that event.

To add some variety to our challenges we decided to try "Alphabet Challenges." the first such event was held in November, 2004. The concept involves making words from letters and numbers using call signs of stations worked during the month. This first one dealt with only one word relating to Thanksgiving - TURKEY. Subsequent ones would be more challenging. Following November challenges, for example, called for building about a dozen or so words concerning Thanksgiving Day. In a short time alphabet challenges became quite popular with excellent participation. Certificates are awarded to anyone who constructs all the words for a challenge.

In December of 2004, we acted on a suggestion by club member Gary, K8KFJ and decided to involve straight keys in our sprints. We thought one fair way to encourage straight key use, but still let folks use their bugs or keyers was to allow those who used a straight key to double their score, or in other words a 2X bonus applied after the score was computed by multiplying QSO points times multipliers. This proved to be a tremendously popular idea and helped to mold our sprints into what they are today - somewhat slow-paced, non-frantic events that are popular with all contesters from the most novice to the very experienced. So our sprint held on Dec. 17, 2004 incorporated the straight key bonus,all thanks to Gary and his idea.

Early in 2005, in a QSO with Stan, K4UK, John asked him if he had any ideas for some unique awards we could come up with for our club. It was then, and continues today, that we didn't just outright copy awards from other clubs being that we were "The Club With a Difference" and also because we respected the ideas of other clubs in forming their awards. Stan suggested something related to John's 'streak' of making at least one QRP CW QSO each and every day. So the "QSO-A-Day" award was born.

Sometime in 2005 the NAQCC applied for and received a club call, KB3MQT. This was later updated via the vanity call sign system to N3AQC which was as close to including 'NAQCC' in a call as we could come since no 2X3 calls starting with N were currently being issued.

Not all the NAQCC events proved successful. One of these was the "Bear Hunt," launched in 2005 and designed to encourage members to put their states on the air to give others some help in earning either the club's WAS award or the ARRL WAS award. Probably due to the propagation at the sunspot minimum, interest in being a "Bear" or a "Hunter" just was not enough to warrant continuing the event despite a strong interest by a very few members. It may be revived when sunspot cycle 24 gets in full swing and propagation improves.

January, 2005, was when we began calling our events by a more appropriate name - "Challenges," since we were challenging our members to accomplish something. Sometimes it would involve the whole month, sometimes a specific contest, or perhaps a single week during a month. We were still feeling our way around back then. As described later, we eventually decided our challenges would each involve something done over a full month.

It was in the January 21, 2005 monthly sprint that the club hit the 30 logs submitted mark for the first time with 38.

To encourage our members to participate in more events, particularly challenges and sprints, the Participation Award came into being in April, 2005. The club awarded 1 point for participating in a monthly sprint and 1 point for mastering a monthly challenge. Do both in a month and 3 points are awarded. This would become an award that was renewed each year. The first winner was K3WWP who earned 3 points each in the 9 months of 2005 (Apr-Dec) for the maximum 27 points.

The next month, May, the club learned that the random day of the month scheduling for sprints was conflicting with another club's events. Club officers immediately changed the schedule to the current format of alternating second Tuesday - third Wednesday (local date and time) evenings. This has proved very popular as it gives virtually every member the opportunity to participate in at least half of the sprints despite other regular evening commitments (choir practice every Wednesday evening, for example). Also during this month, the club's friend and faithful member, Dave Ingram, K4TWJ, of CQ Magazine writes up the NAQCC in his QRP column. Dave's excellent article served to bring the club a lot of new members.

Sometime in mid-2005 an e-mail newsletter was begun. It was decided there would be two issues a month. One sent out just before a monthly sprint to promo the upcoming event and a second issue the end of a month to promo the upcoming monthly challenge.

The challenge for July 2005 was make 30 QSO's on 30 meters. This would lead to our 30-30 Award beginning in 2006. The idea was to encourage more CW operation on this once very active CW band on which activity has declined in recent years.

pix_kd0ar_sm (45K)

In Sept, 2005, as the club set up for the Butler, Pa. hamfest, membership was just shy of 1,000. It was at this hamfest that Mike, KD0AR, joined as member 1,000.

Early in 2006, based on, but not copying directly from, the CQ Magazine WPX award, the NAQCC introduced the Alphabet Prefix award. The award is for working different combinations of the first two characters in a call sign For example K3WWP = K3, DL4IO = DL, 5V9A = 5V, S53EO = S5 and so on.

In January, 2006 the second year of our Participation Award began with a new twist. From now on three awards were given according to categories - Eastern USA, Western USA, and VE/DX. This was done to encourage more participation from members in western states.

Tom, WY3H, came up with the idea of a Spring Ragchew Award in March 2006. The premise was to make as many 30 minute rag chew QSO's as possible between the exact beginning and end of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This award has continued each year, but with declining participation probably due to conditions at the current sunspot minimum.

In June of that same year the NAQCC was back at the Butler, Pa. hamfest, Frank KB3AAG, gave us several code practice CD's which the club gave away at the hamfest and in various ways over the following several months.

pix_kd2mx_plaque (23K)

On Oct. 3, 2006 Paul KD2MX was the first non-officer member to reach 1,000 points in the NAQCC 2xQRP award. As a result he won a beautiful plaque containing a genuine straight key. Officers were not eligible for the plaque. As it was, John, K3WWP, was the first to reach 1,000, but since he was an officer, he was not eligible. Paul was not a club officer at the time of the award, but became one later.

In October, 2006 The club applied for and received a special event call, N3A, to celebrate the Second Anniversary of the NAQCC founding. The call is used by club officers KB3LFC, K3WWP, and W2LJ.

As yet another manifestation of the great relationship between NAQCC and FISTS, in January, 2007, Nancy, WZ8C agreed to give a free FISTS membership or one-year renewal to the winner of the NAQCC Participation Award. The first winner of the renewal was Don VE3HUR. This award was subsequently renewed for the winner of the 2008 Participation Award.

In March, 2007, Larry W2LJ, suggested converting the email newsletter to an on-line newsletter so that more information could be presented in a more attractive format including photos or drawings. His idea was enacted with issue 042. Members are now notified of each new release with a brief synopsis of the newsletter sent via email. The twice a month schedule continues to this day.

In April of that year the club had a new record of 42 logs submitted for the monthly sprint.

pix_k4twj_book (36K)

In May, Dave Ingram K4TWJ, of CQ Magazine offered to give away two of his key collecting books to NAQCC members. It was decided to award them to the two highest (non-officer) scorers in the June sprint. The winners were John KA8MPT and Gregg WB8LZG.

In July, 2007, the club was able to make a truly unique prize offer, thanks to Chuck K7QO. Chuck offered to award CD's from his collection of Classic Books in Morse CD's to the high scorer in each of the monthly sprints. When the club went to division sprint awards, the CD was awarded to the winner of a drawing among the high scorers from each division.

pix_handles (197K)

Another unique prize opportunity presented itself in Aug. 2007 thanks to Gregg, WB8LZG, who donated 13 sets of his beautiful hand-crafted bug/paddle handles. They were awarded at one set a month in a drawing among those mastering various challenges.

On Aug. 14, 2007, The club reached the 2,000 member mark with the signing of Ed N2IMO.

The next day, the club set a new sprint log submission log record. Fifty logs were submitted to that month's sprint.

Fellow QRPer and cartoonist Dick, W9CBT, offered to supply one of his ham radio cartoons for publication in the newsletter each month. The first cartoon appeared in newsletter #058 on November 17, 2007. The NAQCC was honored to be one of only two ham radio publications in which Dick's cartoons now appear.

October, 2007 was not only the Third Anniversary of the NAQCC, but proved to be a significant month in other ways.

In that month the NAQCC again applied for Special Event call N3A. This year operation is by volunteer ops from each of the 10 USA call areas - N3A/1, N3A/2...N3A/0. Around 1,150 QSO's were made by a total of 16 operators.

pix_qrp_kit (23K)

Also that month, Karl, N3IJR, donated a Hendricks QRP DC40 kit to be given away to the top scorer in the October sprint, someone who had never won any prizes previously. The winner was WB8LZG who subsequently decided he had too many QRP rigs already and "re-donated" the rig to be given away again. It was won the second time in a drawing among sprint participants expressing an interest in the rig and making at least five QSO's in the Dec 2007 and Jan 2008 sprints. The winner was Bart, N9AKF.

pix_057_proclamation_1-vert (87K)

Perhaps most significant of all, the Armstrong County Commissioners became aware of the NAQCC and its international appeal and activities. Consequently, club president, Tom, WY3H, and vice president, John, K3WWP, were asked to appear as special guests at the monthly commissioner's meeting in October to receive a proclamation. The commissioners officially proclaimed October, 2007 as NAQCC Month in Armstrong County. The award appeared on the county's official Web page. It was quite an honor for WY3H and K3WWP to receive the Proclamation on behalf of the NAQCC.

March, 20, 2008, yet another sprint log record was set with the submission of 61 participation logs. It's worth noting that not all participants submitted a log. This was yet another confirmation of the NAQCC's popularity growth and interest in QRP/CW operation.

5/22/2008 - Mainly to increase interest in the sprints among members in the Western USA, in May, 2008, the club divided the SWA category into four divisions, by time zones, so that members effectively compete only against others in their own time zone.

In June 2008, Paul N8XMS, donated a book of ham radio cartoons to be given away. It was decided to award it in a drawing among those mastering our August 2008 challenge which was tailored to the book by making it an alphabet challenge with the words being names of classic cartoon characters.

10/2008 - A number of other fine gifts were donated, and a few were bought courtesy of generous donations by club members, all to be given away. Details of those giveaways will be announced in upcoming newsletters or have been announced in the past couple newsletters already.

pix_079_rockmite_001 (65K) As this history is written, one of the club's give-aways will be a Rockmite 40, with complete hook up kit. This will be the prize for the club's first winter Milliwatt challenge, slated for January, 2009.

What's coming up? That is an intriguing question. For one thing, the North American QRP CW Club is a "...club with a difference" for several reasons. Membership is free. And the reason for free membership is that the NAQCC is a club that gives, not takes. Through the last four years it became apparent that the club did not satisfy everyone, but with almost 3,000 members to its credit, only two people have resigned from membership for personal reasons known only to themselves. The club is dependent on and open to suggestions for improvement from all members, Indeed, it has enacted many suggestions from members and will continue to do so. In these and other respects, the NAQCC is indeed, unique.

NOTE - After the bulk of this article was written and prepared for publication, the NAQCC signed up member #3,000 on 11/23/08 in the person of Vince WB2FYZ.

* Initially, the club was to be named the WPA (Western Pennsylvania) QRP Club, and a charter was drafted. However, after some discussion, it was decided that a sectional or regional state club would have limited appeal. After some brain storming, the North American QRP CW Club was born and free membership was offered to licensed radio amateurs and short-wave listeners worldwide.

The publication of our next newsletter will be announced via email to all members for whom we have a valid email address unless they specifically have unsubscribed from the email.

Unless otherwise credited, all items are written by K3WWP.

If you came directly to this newsletter, we invite you now to browse the NAQCC Web Site.