I didn’t make my original goal of DXCC by the end of 2020. Lots of reasons, none of which are important now. But another 5 months and it’s done.
Honestly, it’s a pretty big feat at solar minimum and wouldn’t have been possible without FT4/8 modes (which represent ~90% of my contacts). Also, it would have been much harder without LOTW, as all my 100 contacts were confirmed via LOTW. I suppose I could have waited another who knows how many months for paper QSL cards, but for this I was impatient. I actually had to work 108 countries to get 100 stations that were on LOTW, so I guess I’m on my way to the honor roll – it’s doubtful that I will get there but who knows. My only regret is that I’m sure that in the ’80s I worked at least 3-4 countries that no longer exist (East Germany, Yugoslavia, etc.) and I’d love to have those cards back.
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…
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!
I was close to DXCC in 1982. Back in the days of paper logs, QSL Cards, the DX “Buro” (QSL Bureau), and Cycle 21, it was fairly easy for a high school kid to work lots of countries on 15 and 10 meters. Having a 3 element beam at 55′ didn’t hurt either. But that was then. After being mostly inactive on HF for 20 years, moving 3 times, and leaving behind my log and QSL Cards, there’s no way to get back to where I was on the quest for DXCC.
So I’m starting over.
Now we have FT-8 and LOTW, so it’s a lot easier to make (and confirm) those weak signal contacts. In a little over 18 months, I’m up to 70 countries. Probably 15 or so behind where I was back then. Of course there’s no real way to know if I had something then that is now unobtainable (pretty sure I had East Germany and Yugoslavia confirmed), but I’m resigned to never being on top of the honor roll. I’d just like to have the milestone checked and maybe the wallpaper…