by John Shannon, K3WWP
I can't say just when or how my own interest in county hunting got started, but I am sure it came about partly because I soon realized that I was never going to be a great Dxer. Since then I have worked over 200 DX entities with QRP, but I wouldn't call that great. I live in a valley QTH which limits the low angle radiation needed to DX as successfully as those in better locations. However, I learned early in my Novice days that I could work any part of the USA quite easily, and that made county hunting an activity I could probably succeed in.
I used to have regular QSO's with Sue, W9KSE, and she helped me more than anyone else in learning the basics of county hunting. She told me about the USA-CA Record Book and also the Post Office publication POD-26 which lists every post office in the USA and the county it is in. Another good suggestion from her was coloring in the counties confirmed in the USA-CA record book. In case you don't know, the books back then had a county map for each state. She suggested using a different color for each group of 500 which I continue doing to this day.
Once I was armed with these books, I began the task of going through my old QSO's and QSL's searching for counties. I found several hundred, and sent out QSL's to those I hadn't verified yet.
I was (and still am) a dedicated CW operator who has never used a microphone in ham radio with the exception of 4 phone QSO's helping hams check out their rigs. County hunting on CW in the early 60's was a hit and miss affair. There was a county hunters net on SSB, but nothing on CW.
There were some people who would make county expeditions on CW, most notably W8CXS, who activated a different Michigan county each weekend. Another good way of getting CW counties was to get in the the state QSO parties. One of the better ones was the Georgia QSO Party. John, K4BAI, among others, would operate portable from different counties in Georgia each year. Still it was a slow process finding and working new counties once you worked and confirmed the first 500 or so.
The CW county hunters got to know each other from casual contacts on the air, and would share tips on where to find a rare county or who was going to be active from where in a certain contest.
One of the county hunters I got to know this way was WA8EOH (after this referred to as Dave). We were both interested in CW county hunting, and we discovered our common interest during QSO's we had in the early part of 1966. We had several lengthy QSO's during that time and we talked about the nets on SSB, and thought there should be a net for CW also.
Finally after several QSO's, we began putting together some concrete ideas for a CW net. We talked about a frequency and thought that it should be something on the 40 meter band to start. We rejected anything too low because that was DXer territory and anything too high because that was more or less rag chewing, net, and/or sked territory. We settled on something in the middle of the CW segment, and finally narrowed it down to 7035 kHz. Next we had to decide on just how to go about starting it up. We decided to just dive right in and start it, and get the word out by word of mouth at first until the magazines, mainly CQ, could help us out with some publicity. The rest of the details we decided to work out as we went along. He and I decided to split up the NCS chores at first.
We also had much valuable input from K3ZMI (now WC5D) about net procedures, etc. He also was one of the first NCS who joined Dave and I. In fact he held his first session just a few days after the net got started.
I guess the best way to describe the start of the net is to say it was like learning to swim by being thrown into the middle of a river and being told to swim. I never had any net experience of any kind. On May 2, 1966, we met on 7035 kHz. and I started calling CQ CHN with a lot of explanations thrown in. I would invite county hunters to join us and for anyone in a rare county to check in. That first ever session had 6 stations check in, including Dave and me. The other ones checking in were: WA9EZP, Irene; WA2JIA, Emil; K3ZMI, Van; and WB2MXJ, whose name I don't have as he just dropped by briefly to see what was going on. No new counties were given out during that first session.
We needed the publicity and sent out this announcement to various publications:
The announcement appeared in CQ Magazine for July, 1966 in The USA-CA Program column. Ed Hopper, W2GT (now a SK) wrote the column at that time and was extremely helpful in publicizing the net in his column.
With the help of such publicity, activity gradually increased on the net. In addition to those who joined us directly because of the publicity, many net members would bring stations that they had worked elsewhere to the net with them. We got several of our rare counties that way. Then after a while, the mobile stations started showing up, and things really got going.
We tried various times for the net, and also tried some sessions on 80 and 20 meters which were not very successful. Our greatest success came on 40 meters on 7035 kHz. I don't have a complete record of the schedules we used, but I have found a couple of notes here that show the following:
Basically, the schedule changed as needed to fit conditions or to be there when a particular mobile was to be active.
I became a student at Gateway Tech in Pittsburgh in September of 1966, and that cut down on my activity in the net quite a bit. I did continue as net manager. My activities as manager consisted mainly of trying to coordinate activity on the bands to have a NCS around when a mobile would be active. I also tried to get some publicity for the net from various sources. I kept records of net activity and analyzed it to see what times were working best, and which NCS were having the most success. I also did continue as NCS myself when I was able to be on the air.
The net continued to be a success with the help of many stations who were willing to serve as NCS. In my net records, I have the following listed as having served as NCS:
I am sure there are others during the period from 7/67 to 2/68 when accurate records were not kept. A couple I know of are WA9QQB and WA8LWK.
Helping to make the net a success also were the following mobiles who travelled to many different counties:
* - still active (or at least listed in 2011 on the WM7D callsign server, although some may be re-assigned calls)
There are probably some missing because these are only the ones who checked into my sessions, and I am sure that others checked into some of the nets in which I wasn't present.
I kept detailed records of net activities through June 1967, sending a report of net activity each month to each station who served as NCS. After that time, the information is sketchy because of the pressures from school that I mentioned above. Complete records were not kept or were not reported although the net did continue to run, albeit at a slower pace. I held my last session as NCS on June 24, 1967. A summary of the net reports follows:
My records show that for the period from May 1966 through October 1966 we had a total of 485 different counties from 45 states QNI the net. After that, I did not keep records of total counties, but I am sure in that first year we must have been close to 1000 since the mobile activity kept increasing.
I think the following is very interesting. It is a sheet that was sent to each prospective NCS with suggested operating procedure. It goes as follows:
I am not sure just when this sheet was used, but probably the fall of 1966.
As you read the above about log keeping, keep in mind that FCC logging requirements were much stricter in those days, and it was necessary to keep track of all contacts. Of course today hams are not even required to keep a log.
We also had our version of a County Hunters Reply QSL in those early days. Credit for that however, goes to the SSB net people and K9EAB in particular who sold the cards for $3 per 500.
Early in 1968, I had to give up my association with the net completely because of school, and looked for someone to take over the net and keep it going. I talked to K2UFT and K2VGR about it, and it led to the following postcard dated 2/25/68 from Dick, K2UFT that reads in part:
Although CW CHN has remained continuously active to this day (do a Bing search to find the latest schedule or check the county hunting sites in my awards links), my period of involvement with the net ends here. It was a very enjoyable time for me, and it led me into many friendships that I would not have had otherwise. It was rewarding to be able to help so many hams work many additional counties they might not have gotten without the net.
Now the history of the net must be taken up by K2UFT and those who followed him.