1937 – 2000
|Ed: The following history of BRARC could not have been completed without the dedication of Al Heine (W5OVV) who published many articles in the RF New and our 50th anniversary directory in 1986. Al joined the club in 1947 and was an active member until is passing in 2009.|
In 1901, Marconi spanned the Atlantic with his radio signal for the first time and in 1909 a radio hobby group was organized by a group of local teenagers. It wasn’t long before experimenters in the Baton Rouge area joined in on the new hobby. Even before World War I they were tinkering with spark gap generators, coherers and regenerative / super-regenerative receivers. After the War, licenses were issued to several area residents and Vincent Rosso, 5KC was among the first.
In 1937, a group of ten amateur radio operators organized the Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club. A letter was sent to the ARRL on April 23, 1937, requesting club affiliation information. The club held its first meeting in the Naval Reserve radio room on the third floor of the old City Hall (now the City Club). They later met at the old City Police Headquarters where Shirley Arrighi (W5AXS) was a radio operator. These original club members included:
- Ken Purdy (W5FUM) / President
- George De La Matyr (W5BRR) / Vice President
- Al “Buddy” Switzer (W5GAL) / Secretary-Treasurer
- Don Allan (W5FVK)*
- “Doc” Boizelle [W5FQH (W5DQ)]
- J.A. Brady (W5EVZ)
- Jim Burnett, [W5GDA (N5FVF)]
- Ray Sturges (W5EQG)
- Fenton Smith (W5GEF)
- Jack Whitaker (W5HEZ)**
* W5FVK was the Chief Engineer for several radio and television stations for many years.
** W5HEZ found an interest in Ham Radio as a high school student. He got a license and joined the Club that year, perhaps the youngest ham in that original group of ten.
The rules of the club were strict compared to today’s standards. The club meet twice per month and a dues were 25 cents per meeting. If a member missed four consecutive meetings they would be suspended. A 50 cent fine was collected before the member could be re-instated. Just a few weeks after organizing the Club, the members sent in an application to join the ARRL and to sponsor the State ARRL Convention. On October 23 / 24 the convention was held at the Heidelberg Hotel in downtown Baton Rouge. Mayor Wade Bynum made the opening remarks. The programs included:
- “A River Engineer Uses Radio” – David Bowman (W5DXK)
- “Winding your own transformers” – George De La Matyr (W5BRR)
- “A Magic Box for Radio Engineer Photographers” – David Bowman (W5DXK)
- “Radio Wave Phenomena, Fading and Echoes” – Professor T. Parkinson (W5GIW) (LSU University)
On March 6, the ARRL officially awarded a Charter to the club and the club reported the following in its annual report:
- Licensed Members: 10
- ARRL Members: 10
- Meeting Days: 1st and 3rd Monday of each month
- Annual Dues: $5.00
- How many members…
- have their own station: 10
- use “phone”: 5
- use CW : 5
- use “phone” and CW: 2
- Club Plans for field day: Experience in use of Emergency Equipment
- Club activities: DX contests in running the lowest power
The club held meetings at the home of various members. When the Naval Reserve was organized in 1937, they provided a radio room on the 3rd floor of the old City Hall on North Blvd. The club ran a long wire antenna from the radio room to the Louisiana National Bank Building. Later the meetings were moved to the City Police Headquarters were Shirley Arrighi (W5AXS) worked as a police radio operator. During this time Baton Rouge only had one commercial radio station, WJBO. Many of the local ham worked at the station. Wilbur Golson (W4AV / W5CD) was the first Chief Engineer and Ben Letson (W5BGO) was another engineer on the staff.
The club adopted a new constitution and reported that 100% of their members also belong to the ARRL.
All activities moved to the Naval Reserve Headquarters in early 1941. After the start of WWII, Congress suspended all amateur radio operations and and many of the younger hams were called to active duty as radio operators. In June 1942, at the insistence of the American Radio Relay League, the US government created the War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) WERS was a precursor to the civil defense and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES ) groups and it which would remain active through 1945. WERS provided communications in connection with air raid protection, and communications during times of natural disaster. WERS licenses were given to communities and not individuals.
In March of 1941, BRARC wrote to the ARRL and provided the following update:
- Four of the club members were called to active duty and a fifth was expected to be called within days.
- Seven active members were reported
- No meetings were held in the previous three months.
After the War ended many veteran hams returned to Baton Rouge. The re-organized club first met at LSU. A number of faculty and students also regularly attended the club meetings. Later, the club moved its meeting place to the radio shop of Les Wilson (W5MZA) on St. Louis Street not far from the present location of the River Center. Some of the members included:
- Al Hayes (W5MHZ)
- George Hidalgo (W5DGB)
- George Perry (W5LVX)
- Stan Preston (W5GIX)
- Vince Rosso (W5KC)
- Jack Whitaker (W5HEZ)
Always ready to foster interest in all aspects of ham radio, several members of the club formed a mobile group. They operated on 3805 KHz using low power AM transmitters and one tube converters on their AM car radios. The Deep South Mobile Club, with up to 30 members, met each Sunday afternoon at the Glas House Restaurant on Florida Blvd. While the group drank coffee and socialized, one member went off to hide a transmitter and the hunt followed. This group also formed caravans to attend nearby hamfests with a dozen or more units in a continuous round-table as they traveled.
Between 1950 and 1980, BRARC met at several locations, including the following:
- “The Shack on the Track” – WIBR Radio Station (Ed Case was the Chief Engineer and several hams also worked at the station)
- Dixie Electric on Airline Highway
- Miller Buick on Florida Blvd.
- Burke Brumfield’s Shop (K5SNE) on Choctaw
- EBR Civil Defense / EOC on Florida Street
- St. Pius Church on Hooper Road in 1979
The Baton Rouge Civil Defense tower was featured on the cover on the December 1952 edition of CQ Magazine. This tower was originally constructed by a local ham and was later donated to the city. The original plan was to move the tower by helicopter; however the neighbors didn’t like the idea of wind and noise so close to their houses.
The BR Award was inspired by Dr. John Hunter (W5DUU) and authorized by the club to honor Dr. David Hunter (W5DUU) No one can recall the exact year that this award began, but W5DUU is reasonably sure it was in the 1960’s. This award is presented annually to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to ham radio.
With the availability of many surplus commercial radios (like the famous “80-D” FM), there was no shortage of opportunity for hams. In the Baton Rouge Area, many of these rigs were converted to two meters and the first popular two meter repeater went up through the efforts of hams like Bill Mixon (K5SVD), Fred McMurray (WA5ZHD), and others. Bill and Fred worked in the Civil Defense Branch of City Parish Government.
The original “94” repeater was a split site system with the transmitter at the Old Civil Defense Office in the basement of the Old BR Junior High. This site was linked by a dedicated phone line to the receiver site atop the State Capitol building. Since everything in those days was crystal controlled, it was convenient to use 146.94/34 for repeaters in all the major cities in the state and surrounding states, too.
Little interference was experienced between those repeaters (except with band openings) since the systems in those days were not very long ranged. Early ham rigs for two meters were all crystal-controlled with 6 or more channels. Each channel required two separate crystals, one for transmit and one for the receive frequency. Every two meter ham radio in those days came with 146.94 crystals and 146.52 simplex.
By 1970, just about every ham in the Baton Rouge area had two meter FM capability. BRARC installed a second repeater on 146.88 and most hams used either 94 or 88. It was easy to get to know every ham in the area that had two meter gear. Al Heine (W5OVV) kept a list of those he came across. By the time the list grew to 50 or more, Al decided to make a Directory of 2 meter hams in the BR area. Perhaps a few of these Directories are still around.
The annual BRARC hamfest was moved to Father Colbert’s Camp on the Comite River.
In 1972 the club began meeting at Catholic High School. Al Heine (W5OVV) was one of the instructors who set up a station in the back of the Chemistry Lab. It was often used after lab sessions to let the students experience what ham radio is all about. The students later formed the Catholic High School Amateur Radio Club.
On December 7, BRARC amended its Articles of Incorporation.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission directed South Central Bell Telephone to apply the residential tariff for the phone line at our repeater site. Previously the club was charged business rates for the line.
The ARRL Delta Division Convention was held at the Baton Rouge Hamfest from May 5 to May 7.
The 146.79 repeater was originally put on the air by Bob Taylor (WA5LBT) and the chosen frequency was not accidental. In 1979, the National ARRL Convention was held in Baton Rouge, at the Centroplex. For that occasion, Bob put the 79 repeater pair on the air and it was used for the talk-in repeater for the Convention. Later, Bob transferred that repeater to the BRARC and it has been the primary repeater for the Club since that time.
From the very beginning of ham repeaters, the importance of keeping operations within the FCC guidelines and rules has been a special concern. Repeater control operators were deemed to be very important. Stan Preston (W5GIX) was always listening and became the first official Control Operator.
Since he was always around following his retirement, Stan usually answered the call of hams passing through Baton Rouge. Often they had questions concerning traffic and locating addresses and the like. Stan had a very good knowledge of the streets and other information about BR. He got the reputation of being a very helpful person on the BR two meter repeater.
With Stan’s passing, a second award was instituted by the Club and dedicated to Stan’s memory. It became known as the Stan Preston Good Samaritan Award. Originally given at a banquet at the Hamfest along with the BR Award, the Club now awards both of these at the annual Christmas Banquet.
After Stan became a Silent Key, the BRARC obtained his call as the official club call, W5GIX.
The main New Orleans repeater had another old and respected member who likewise served in the same capacity down there. He was Jake Bullock (W5GXO). Jake always turned that repeater off at 10:30 PM, then switched to the Baton Rouge repeater, and said, “Good Night, Baton Rouge”.
The club meeting and the annual hamfest were moved to Catholic High School.
BRARC club members were on-hand as the USS Kidd was moved to Baton Rouge. The Central States VHF Society Conference held their annual meeting from July 29 to August 1 at the Hilton Hotel. The event featured lecturers, forums and demonstrations. Jack Coffe – WD5ELJ began working on a VHF RTTY net.
In September, an autopatch was installed on the 145.45 repeater. The annual dues for the club was set at $10.00
BRARC was approved as a ARRL Special Service Club.
BRARC obtained a surplus travel trailer for emergency operations. The clubs HF and VHF equipment was installed and W5URR worked very hard to make the trailer operational. The trailer was used at several field days and other events.
BRARC celebrated its 50th anniversary. A detailed report of the club history was drafted by Al Heine (W5OVV), club member since 1947, and it was published in the annual membership directory.