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!