Ham Radio at The 1982 World’s Fair

In 1982, a World’s Fair was held in Knoxville Tennessee. Dubbed the “Energy Exposition”, there was a full six months of activities and displays from the United States and over 25 countries. I was fortunate to be a part of the planning and execution of a major exhibit to include Ham Radio as part of the 1982 World’s Fair.

The following article was published in the February 1983 issue of 73 Magazine.

Ham Radio Hits the ’82 World’s Fair

When the gates in Knoxville opened, would WA4KFS be ready? Here ‘s the inside story of the World’s Fair station.

By John M Clark, N4AQI (photos by WD4MQQ)

While the health pavilion was being finished, local hams installed two towers, tribanders, a 2 meter antenna and dipoles.

The theme was energy, and amateur radio generated plenty of it – rf and human -during a successful six-month run at the 1982 World ‘s Fair in Knoxville.

SSTV contacts to Europe, the opportunity to send radiograms to the folks back home, rag-chewing on RTTY, and a lot of conversation about the excitement of ham radio were among the activities fair visitors found at the Tennessee Wireless Association exhibit.

Thanks to the tireless work of a group of East Tennessee hams and the generosity of US amateur radio dealers and manufacturers, our worldwide, high -technology hobby continued in Knoxville the long tradition of ham radio at world’s fairs.

Officials of the City of Knoxville’s health pavilion, where the amateur station was located, estimated as many as half the fair’s approximately 11 million visitors could have seen the amateur radio exhibit during the May to October exposition. It was a magnificent showcase for amateur radio.

Plans for bringing amateur radio to the ’82 fair began about a year before the event opened. Many of the original group that met at the Knoxville and Oak Ridge hamfests early in 1981 to talk about the idea of ham radio at the fair went on to assume major responsibility for the effort.

The group incorporated itself as the Tennessee Wireless Association, a nonprofit organization chartered for the sole purpose of sponsoring an amateur radio exhibit at the fair. Under TWA president Ed Dunn W4NZW, the group’s first order of business was to approach fair officials about obtaining a site for the station. Virgil Davis KA4RPA, a TWA officer, talked with Knoxville mayor Randy Tyree and secured a location in the city’s health pavilion. Health care under emergency conditions was the theme of several exhibits in the pavilion, and the mayor and city officials felt the station would be appropriate there because of the emergency-communications aspect of the amateur service.

The site was superb. The health pavilion was a striking geodesic dome in the
center of the fair site, near the Sunsphere, the fair’s theme structure. An additional benefit was being located in a high-traffic area near the pavilion’s entrance.

Operators from throughout the US and many foreign countries stopped by to operate the station. A commemorative
certificate and QSLs were available from the Tennessee Wireless Association.

With the exhibit space tied down, TWA officers turned their attention to lining up equipment which would demonstrate the diversity of amateur radio. Ten-Tec Inc., located in nearby Sevierville, was asked to supply HF rigs for three stations. The company agreed, and Tom Salvetti WD4FVU of Ten-Tec accepted the job as equipment coordinator for TWA.

Amateur dealers and manufacturers responded generously to Salvetti’s calls, and approximately $20,000 worth of state-of-the-art gear was loaned and soon on its way to Knoxville.

L. B. Cebik W4RNL, who has written a book on station design, was called on to produce a layout making the most efficient use possible of the 105-square-foot space. Three stations, two designated for general operating and one for specialized communications, were planned.

Although equipment needs were largely met by dealers and manufacturers, funds for installation and operation of the station were needed. Eleven area radio clubs and more than 60 individual amateurs responded, and Jerry Goodchild K4DZR, TWA secretary/treasurer, reported that approximately $2000 was donated to support the station.

Jerry also accepted, with the help of station trustee Chip Coker KD4C, the job of scheduling control operators for the station. About 40 hams each month worked shifts of three to eight hours as control operators. The station was staffed almost all of the 12 hours per day the six-month fair was open.

TWA directors talked about asking the FCC for a special call sign for the station, hoping that Knoxville’s hosting the first world ‘s fair in the South would persuade the commission to relax regulations on special calls. Deciding that prospect was dim, Chip KD4C offered the use of WA4KFS, for which he is trustee. Perfect – the phonetics would be “Knoxville Fair Station.”

George Child N4BCS installed the 2 meter antenna atop one of the two crank-up towers in the shadow of the Sunsphere.

A year-long planning effort by TWA paid big dividends when the time came
to install the station. Construction at the fair site was on a tight schedule, with several buildings being ready only hours before the May 1st opening. While work continued on the health pavilion, TWA erected its two 50-foot towers and rotors from Hy-Gain/Telex and Texas Towers. Aboard were a Hy-Gain TH-3 and a V-2 for 2 meters and a KLM KT34A, Dipoles for 40 and 80 meters were cut , and feedlines from Times Wire and Cable Company were strung and ready to be hooked to the rigs. The three stations were built around Ten-Tec Omni C transceivers and Hercules solid-state linear amplifiers. Matching tuners, vfo’s, keys, and mikes were from Ten-Tec, with MFJ providing memory keyers and clocks. KDK Distributing of Nashville supplied KDK 2036 transceivers for 2 meters. All the gear was housed in stylish consoles from S-F Amateur Radio Services of California.

The latest RTTY equipment was sent to Knoxville by Hal Communications, and SSTV gear came from Robot Research. Both slowscan and Teletvpe attracted a lot of attention from non-hams who stopped by the exhibit.

RCA and Smith-Victor Sales supplied the SSTV camera, monitor, and tripod, and Overman International, which has a manufacturing plant in Knoxville,
provided chairs for the station, which was fully accessible to handicapped

A crowd of 82,000, including President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, enjoyed opening day ceremonies on May 1st. Shortly after the official festivities, WA4KFS went on the air. Pileups were common, as hams around the world wanted an ’82 World’s Fair QSL card or a special certificate for working the station and 10 other Tennessee hams from May to October.

Amateurs coming to Knoxville were provided with World’s Fair information via ham radio. A 2-meter information station was built and placed on the air by Robin Rumbolt WA4TEM. By keying the station on simplex and giving their call, hams received information on parking, shuttle bus service, and lodging. Area repeaters were monitored by operators who could give directions and answer questions about East Tennessee and the fair.

Many amateurs heard of WA4KFS from the 2-meter information station, but a large number said they knew about the exhibit before coming to Knoxville, thanks to the work of publicity director Steve Kercel AA4AK. Some hams spotted the tri-banders and followed the coax into the pavilion. All visiting amateurs were asked to sign the guest log at the reception counter and were given the opportunity to operate the station.

Three complete HF stations with SSTV and RTTY made up the amateur radio exhibit at the Knoxville World’s Fair. Information on amateur radio for non-hams was available at WA4KFS.

And operate they did – all modes, all bands. Some kept skeds they’d made in
advance, others checked into nets, some looked for DX. Many added considerable skill to the art of ragchewing.

Control operators answered thousands of questions from non-ham fair visitors and helped hundreds fill out radiograms, which were moved by Anita Teffeteller
NG4J, one of the nation’s top traffic handlers. Brochures about the station with tips on how to become a ham were given to those who stopped by for a chat.

Several control operators said they found conversations with fair visitors American as well as foreign interesting and educational. The foreigners came from Australia, South America, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, and many other parts of the world.

With QSLs in the background, Charlie Price WB4VFP explained the ma y facets of amateur radio to the public.

If you worked the World’s Fair station and want a QSL, send an SASE to Harvey Cross W4PKM. You can get the special certificate for working WA4KFS and 10 other Tennessee stations by sending $2 and log confirmation to Sarah Hickey N4EFA.

TWA, the 1982 World’s Fair, and the amateur community express their gratitude to the manufacturers and distributors who made the “Knoxville Fair Station” possible. Those firms were: Hal Communications, HyGain/Telex, KDK Distributing, KLM Electronics, MFJ, Overman International, RCA, Robot Research, S-F Amateur Radio Services, Smith-Victor Sales Corp ., Ten-Tec. Inc., Texas Towers, and Times Wire and Cable Co.

Thousands of people at the fair saw amateur radio at its finest, and East Tennessee hams who served as control operators and repeater monitors threw in a large dose of southern hospitality for good measure, look for some new hams on the airwaves because amateur radio went to the fair.

The Geratol Net

Back in the early days of my ham experience, just after I successfully upgraded to Extra in the fall of 1978, I was taking advantage of my new Extra class phone band privileges on 75M and happened across an interesting group of people that referred to themselves as the Geratol Net (notice the distinct spelling that differentiates from the legendary consumer dietary supplement, although I’m sure there was some overlap given the demographics of the people on the net).

The purpose of the Geratol Net was to aid members in obtaining an elusive endorsement that at one time was provided by the awards department of the ARRL – “Worked All States with Two-Letter callsigns in the Extra Class portion of 75 Meters” – Otherwise known as the Geratol Award, or as they call it, the “Unbelievable Operating Achievement Award“.

Being young and otherwise nocturnal, I had no problem dedicating lots of weekend hours late at night on the Geratol Net trying to obtain this elusive award. As you may or may not know, WAS on 75M phone is not an easy task, given the particulars of propagation. Couple that with finding stations in all those states that have 1×2 or 2×1 callsigns that are crazy dedicated enough to stay up half the hours of the evening pursuing the prize (or enabling those that desire it!). But such was my pursuit.

The net is structured in such a way as you can request certain needed states (I think it was up to 3 a night) and if stations in those states are present in the net, you will be given a (relatively) clear frequency to attempt to call them. If you’re both successful in giving and receiving reports (as refereed by the NCS) then a QSO is declared and QSL cards eventually pass in the night to arrive at the doors of both happy operators. Most nights there would be anywhere from 15-25 stations, so you might end up lucky or (more often than not) just there to help other stations out, since no one from your need list was checked in.

Since I was in Tennessee, I was sought after early on, mostly by western stations, but after awhile of me being a regular, Tennessee was no longer that needed. Working the close-in stations on 75M phone was relatively easy, even for a modest station running barefoot, but stations in the Northeast and Northwest were a bit elusive given 75M propagation and the distances involved. Most everyone on the net was concerned about Alaska and Hawaii and, while they were tough, I don’t remember them as being the most elusive. I expect the Alaska and Hawaii stations that were on the net had a) a bit better antenna system, and b) saintly patience, which was to our benefit.

Speaking of better antennas, I do remember the quest for a better 75M antenna as taking up quite a bit of time. Different orientations of dipoles, along with ground-mounted verticals all were in the mix to be tried if there was a needed station that was deep in the noise. But I never exceeded the barefoot power level of my modest Kenwood TS-520S.

As I recall, it took just under a year to find the 50 elusive stations, receive the needed QSL cards (through the snail mail!), verify everything, pack it all up and send it to Newington with the award application. Then to wait for the soon-to-be-cherished wallpaper to arrive…

Geratol WAS
My cherished WAS with the numbered Geratol Endorsement – #348

Arrive it did, and I was never so happy to put it in one of those cheap document frames and on the wall, staring at the cherished endorsement and knowing that I was #348 of a very select group.

Fast forward oh so many years, the vast majority of which I had no 75M phone capability, so therefore unaware of the fate of the Geratol Net, when I received an email requesting that I try to check in soon. Wait, it was still going after all these years? After the shift in 75M extra bandplan where the hallowed 3.787MHz was no longer an Extra-only allocation? Quick – to this new thing called the internet! A little searching and I found that the Geratol Net has a home on the internet, and that someone has obtained the numbered list of awards from ARRL. The awards department no longer issues the endorsement on a paper WAS certificate, so it’s no longer a League matter, but these guys have kept up the tradition and are issuing their own award. The site also had some notices that some of the notable calls from when I was hunting have gone SK, but the Geratol Net lives on. I hope to be a part of it again, just after I can start wrestling with a suitable 75M antenna!

KD4C Is On The Air

I discovered Ham Radio in 1977 when I was a freshman in High School. I had bugged my Dad for a CB Radio during the CB/trucker craze in 1976 (anyone remember Convoy?), but the actual product (a Midland portable) left a lot to be desired. Mostly squeals and squawks and very little of interest from a boy’s bedroom. So my Dad signed us up for a Novice class, put on by the local radio club, and we learned CW, regs, and a little radio theory. Being young, I picked up the code faster than he did, but ultimately we were both licensed as novices, me as WD4EJO.

I was very fortunate that my Dad had a background in electronics and had the means to get us a new radio – a Kenwood TS-520S (I loved that radio!). Over the next few years, we ended up with a great station and a modest tower with a 3 element triband beam (a used Mosley TA-33 that was shipped from New York). It was a bitch to assemble and put up, but I worked the world on that antenna.

As far as ham activities, I’d done more than most at that age. I was involved in my local club ((RACK – W4BBB – the same club that offered the license classes) and served as club secretary, newsletter editor, and on the hamfest committee. I got to operate a bunch, earn my Worked All States (in the Extra class portion of 75 meters! – the Geratol Net WAS #348), work a lot of DX during the great Cycle 21 peak, build a lot of neat things, work field days and fox hunts, and me and a fellow ham friend even modified an old Western Union FAX machine to send radiograms over HF. I did a lot of club radio-related activities, including helping to build a 2M repeater in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains – nice view at the top of that tower (elev. 2,970 ft.)! I also experimented a lot, built a lot of things, and generally did what hams do – learn and have fun with radios and electronics.

I also got involved with computers in high school (this was 1977) and bought a Radio Shack TRS-80. I had a lot of fun with the computer and programming as well, and even then was looking for a way to combine radios and computers – it’s a lot easier now, but then it was very clunky. I got to experiment with lots of what was then cutting edge and the predecessor to today’s personal computer. It seemed inevitable that I went to college and majored in Electrical Engineering, something that would allow me to combine my love of radio and computers.

After college, I moved to Texas to work in the defense industry. Ironically, although my day job involved lots of radio and computer-related technology, I didn’t get to do much in the way of ham radio. I was busy, traveled a bunch for work, and lived in an apartment that limited my antenna farm severely. I spent several years not making a single contact and never really got involved in the local clubs. But the itch was still there, just under the surface. I bought a radio and would tune and listen, but fear of interference of the neighbor’s stereo and telephones kept me off the air.

Fast forward to recent times. I’ve traded an inner-city condo for a suburban house. One day I was driving down a main thoroughfare close to my house and saw a sign that was advertising ham radio exams by the local club. I had forgotten that Richardson (home of Collins Radio) had a great radio club, and now I was seeing the evidence. I went home and looked up the club and went to the next meeting. As hams do most everywhere, the members welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve gotten involved in lots of club activities. I also unpacked most all of my ham gear, got an antenna on the roof, and got a station back on the air. I discovered this new FT-8 mode that makes the most of the crappy sunspot cycle that we are in, and have had fun working bunches of local and DX stations on the newest mode. I’m also back to building stuff, even if it’s nothing more than interfaces between radios and Raspberry Pi computers. Old habits are hard to break.

I can’t wait to find out what happens next!