A Brief History of the North Shore Radio Club

(Written by John A. Wass, KA9QJX in 1993)

“Today, February 10, 1980, a meeting was held at the home of Alan Marcus, WB9FRM, for the purpose of forming an area Ham Radio Club…” Thus begins the story of the NSRC, one that started with a whimper and proceeded by fits and starts to the dynamic 160+ member club that you all know today.

Sometime in late 1979 WB9FRM, our founder, was pondering the driving time to local area club meetings. LAMARS in Mundelein was the closest but Alan decided that something even closer would be more convenient. Immediately he hit upon the ideal solution, his own QTH!

With characteristic gusto Alan assembled a list of 204 area hams and notified every one of them with a mailing (I believe he even followed-up by phone!). The first club treasury I suspect, went toward filling a gaping fiscal deficit!

Human nature being what it is, 12 people showed for the first meeting. For those of you with calculators, that’s a 5.9% response and not bad for an initial effort. Ten of the attendees were from Highland Park, one from Glencoe and one from Lake Forest. Among the familiar names of our founding fathers you may recognize Alan and John Marcus, Mike Hexter, Bob Foote, Richard Steck, Larry Abt and Reese Black.

At this first meeting the original group decided upon a meeting site (Alan’s house), time and date (7:30PM, second Monday of each month) absence of By-Laws and desirability of a monthly program. The first formal program was given by Reese and Larry in March of 1980. Reese talked about getting into 2 Meters and Larry discussed repeater protocols and autopatch. The following month Mike Hexter discussed DX. Alan quickly followed-up the first meeting with a newsletter that included informal minutes, an equipment quiz, informational phone numbers for the new club and a roster. This 3-piece bulletin was published for the club by Pete Hammel, who soon became a member and continued to publish our newsletter for many years. Two other tidbits of historical interest from these timesa: the club initially had no dues but members deposited a dollar each into a kitty for refreshments and postage, and one of the first major efforts by the neophyte club was to decide upon a name.

By the April 1980 meeting the club had grown to 20 members, was already holding auctions and had instituted dues of $5 per year. The next month our club got a name - the IFAC (Informal Friendly Amateur Club) and the May Newsletter lamented the loss of Mike Wolfe, who was leaving for college.

The September 1980 newsletter informed the club that Alan Marcus was to give the first of what was to become a highly successful and repeated lecture topic - Homebrew. Alan’s first lecture was on circuit board fabrication. At this time the club was already offering a General Class course (6 students, 7-10PM, Monday nights, 3 nights per month). The class folded a few months later dues to decreasing attendance but by then the club was already discussing the formation of a local net (Egad! Wouldn’t that lead to a repeater?!)

On the 27th of June 1981 the IFAC participated in its first Field Day. They started at 12:00 noon at the Deerfield High School athletic field, a site that was used for the next four years. According to the Transmitter, a tower and beam were erected and local Civil Defense provided a generator. It must have been successful as several people stayed the entire night. Evidently it was also an educational experience - member Steve Weiss learned that when a generator’s spring brush loses its tension, the generator stops. It must have been a fun weekend. Around this time we learned the saga of WB9FRM’s problems in putting up an antenna in Highland Park. It seems permits and permission were needed ($150 plus consent from all neighbors within 250 ft and the City Council) and Alan decided not to fight it. Today we are still saddled with these problems despite a National law.

As early as October 1981 (at 20 months of age) the club suffered its first growing pains. Alan was doing all of the work: getting the speakers, writing and mailing the Transmitter and chairing all of the meetings. The time was long overdue when the club needed to be less informal and elect officers. This thought was echoed for several months in the Transmitter. In February 1982 the club name was changed to the NSRC (the club was now two years old and more representative of the North Shore), and one may deduce from the written records that our yearly operating expenses were $84 (that’s $7 per month; $4 for mailing the Transmitter and $3 for refreshments). By now the club had 28 members at $5 per year dues. Some quick calculations would tell us that there was a surplus of funds to run the club. Wrong! It seems that about 40% of the club had not paid their dues. (Remember this when our Treasurer gently reminds you at the end of the year to get your dues in on time).

It should be remembered that for the first several years our club was almost a one-man effort. WB9FRM was tireless in his efforts to get our club “off the ground.” In December 1982 his efforts bore fruit. As both dues and member interest were declining Alan challenged the group to decide if it would be worthwhile to continue the club and if so, how to invigorate it. At the December meeting, the members held a lengthy discussion on this topic and decided that the answer was - a repeater! Initial sites considered were Ft. Sheridan, WVVX tower and the Highland Park Water Tower. It was decided to purchase used equipment (considering the shape of the clubs treasury, a wise move), use no PL and shoot for autopatch somewhere down the line. The second big decision was a slate of officers - our first: President-Ben Stephens, Vice-President-Ed Collins, Secretary-Alan Marcus, Treasurer-Larry Abt and Membership Chairman-Reese Black. This tradition has continued to the present day thanks to many active members willing to give of their time and services. By the way, it wasn’t all wine and roses at this time as someone had to pay for this party, i.e. the repeater. Dues were increased from $5 to $25 per year to finance our Motorola “G” repeater (65W/5W). Mike Hexter donated 75 feet of hardline and the club purchased a 6-cavity duplexer kit. Oh yes, lest I forget, the club went on record at this time as being against the new no-code policy advocated by at least one national organization.

What we finally ended up with repeater-wise was a 250W Motorola machine previously used as a Lake County Fire repeater. This machine was donated to the club through the efforts of Bob Schenck, then emergency coordinator for the ARRL. The first frequency pair chosen was 146.895/-.
The April 1983 issue of the Transmitter was a real treat. Five pages in length! Alan outdid himself and it seemed as if the club was taking on momentum and finally on its way to achieving critical mass. Among the items discussed in that issue were
   1) progress on the repeater (we still talk about that)
   2) club badges (we got ‘em)
   3) club caps and jackets (10 years later we still can’t seem to agree on these)
   4) Tours (we had yet to take our first as a club) and
   5) Advertisements (yes the Transmitter had ads back then, interesting revenue generating scheme).

One other item that we introduced back then and could use now that we have such a large club was the ‘NSRC Ham of the Month’ profile. This was a one page biography of a different member each month. It let our club know a little about its members, their work, interests and activities within amateur radio. It was very interesting and our first was on Ben Stephens, NSRC’s first President. One month later another “standard feature” appeared. The repeater rapidly became the clubs center of attention. Its updates occupied 25% of the Transmitter and much of the time of the members.

We quickly found that the initial frequency pair was too close to that of an established repeater and changed our frequency to 146.34+. A lease was negotiated with the WVVX people in Highland Park, so we had our initial 130 ft. site for the antenna. At this time we also became more newsworthy mainly through the efforts of our Publicity Chairman, Jim Peterson, soon to be our second President. It marked the first appearance of the NSRC in the News/Voice (the first of many). We also held our second Field Day under the able leadership of David Liebowitz (he’d also be our President a few years down the road) and enrolled as a club in a CPR course at Highland Park Hospital. Marty Rukin helped set that up for us and our group might well look to events like that in the future. By this time we were already doing walks and marathons and establishing a reputation within the North Shore Community.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in September 1983 our first President, Ben Stephens, climbed 140 ft. up the WVVX tower to investigate problems involved in putting our antenna in place. Ben found that the antenna brackets were on the north side of the tower while the climbing pegs were on the south side. Alan wondered about Ben’s progress up and down the tower and found out that it was like climbing a 15 story building - exhausting especially in a strong wind. We eventually hired a professional to erect the antenna under these adverse conditions. The club now had 39 members with an average of 25 attending the meetings. Out of that group Alan Marcus (still the Transmitter editor) saw fit to let our members know that at our core were 10 members (25% of the club at that time!) who went above and beyond the call with money, time and professional services. Need I say that it is things like this that make our club great (and will surely sink us if we cease in this volunteerism).

In January 1984 we began another tradition, the annual installation banquet. Our first was held at Phil Johnson’s in Deerfield and our officers installed at that time were: Jim Peterson-President, John Wass-Vice-President, Tom Volk-Treasurer and Alan Marcus-Secretary. Our repeater was already on the air at 147.345/+  and we were holding Tuesday evening nets. Alan acted as net control for every net as he was not exactly deluged with volunteers. Sometimes we had only two or three check-ins but Alan hung in there regardless.

As our club was growing larger and needed rules to be codified, Ed Collins took on the daunting task of writing the By-Laws while Richard Steck produced the autopatch protocols. Another item from these ancient times - several of us were very interested in antenna design and construction and discussed forming an antenna study subgroup (this never came to pass but may be realized someday).

Our regular meetings were now featuring speakers from the FCC, ARRL, Radio Amateur Callbook, and other clubs. Due to a major public relations/membership push as well as “word getting out” about our little club, we grew from 39 to 81 members over the next three years. We became more of a truly North Shore radio club, with 12 suburbs represented by 1987. This was a great relief as we were running short of cash for our repeater and had formed a funding partnership earlier. At this point you may be wondering how 81 of us fit into Alan’s basement. We didn’t! Even at 30 members I can remember sitting on the steps leading to the basement as we “packed the house.” At that time I can remember that one of our biggest items of discussion was the serving of cold lemonade rather than hot coffee at the summer meetings.

To remedy the space problem. in March 1984 we moved to the Karger Recreation Center in downtown Highland Park. Initially we were in the Boardroom, a small room at the rear of the building. Luckily the Moose (or Elk, one of those large mammals) who had reserved the large auditorium on Monday nights changed their site, so we received this room. After a spate of breath holding, the room officially became ours (Monday nights, 7-10PM only) in October.

Three other events of this time deserve note. Tom Volk volunteered to be our first repeater (soon to be renamed technical) chairman. His was the first guiding hand to keep us on the air. This difficult technical task was later passed to Ken Check, Dan Kamm and Rich Davidson. They were frequently assisted by many of our more ambitious members whose names were mentioned frequently in the Transmitter (notice how deftly I avoided listing them all).

The second event was the transformation of the Transmitter into the Amazing Shrinking Journal. For some reason our printer had to publish the November 1984 to January 1986 issues in a reduced format that made it difficult to read. Remember that amateur radio is an old man’s hobby. Those of you who were members at that time may still have copies of these 5 1/2” by 8 1/2” gems. I was Secretary/Editor at the time (yes, one person did both jobs back then) and I think that Pete Hammel (our printer) was trying to get even with me for slipping too many deadlines.

The third event was the gradual coalescence of our Saturday morning breakfasts. These have a long history and date back to our first pre-Field Day planning session in June 1983. Field Day Chairman Dave Liebowitz suggested that we meet for a strategy session near the site and selected Belden’s Deli in Deerfield as a convenient spot. Several of us had such a productive and fun session that Alan suggested it be a regular “event.” We generated enough interest over a period of 14 months, so that by November 1984 we were holding regular Saturday breakfasts at Belden’s. We tried several other spots over the years (while a splinter group of loyalists remained at Belden’s) and finally switched to Max’s Deli in Highland Park when Belden’s closed in September 1991.

Before we leave the early history of the NSRC I should mention our continuing commitment to the diversity of interests within amateur radio. Why was (and is) the NSRC so successful? It supports the following activities: Repeater operation (2 meters, 220, 440 with autopatch and weekly nets), Education (classes and VE testing), Dxing (lectures and informal contacts), Packet Radio (lectures, demo’s and club BBS), ATV/Satellite operations (lectures, demo’s), Radio Direction Finding (monthly hunts, April thru October), Homebrewing (lectures and informal meetings), Community Support (communications for Walks, Runs and public events); Regular meetings (monthly, breakfasts-weekly), Antique radio (lectures) and Scanning/SWL’ing (we used to have an active subgroup that met for dinner each month, can easily revive upon demand).

In August of 1986 the club sponsored a one-of-a-kind (and one time) event, a competitive amateur radio road rally. The idea was to have car teams, each with two amateur radio operators, travel around southern Lake County and northern Cook County answering radio related questions and finding various checkpoints. First one to complete the course won. Well for once the club outdid itself. We had more than enough NSRC volunteers present, but only one car team showed! This team ran the course and was awarded the prize (actually 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes). This was a unique, educational and fun activity which the club might well develop again. Our thanks to Bill Ross and Carlos Frum for organizing this.

Skipping to 1989, our Transmitter under the editorship of Bill Lederer, took on a more modern, professional look. It was computer generated (by a real computer!) and began am era of publishing elegance taken to even greater heights by editor Dave Alpert. No longer appearing as if done by a dot-matrix typewriter (pre- Bill and Dave), our newsletter became a polished, well-read journal, worthy of respect as a valuable news source. Bill also provided the club with an excellent packet BBS to serve as a more immediate line of communication.

Our venerable repeater was moved from the WVVX tower in Highland Park to the Watch Tower at Fort Sheridan in early 1989. The location at Highland Park was becoming a haven for too many commercial pagers and we began to suffer increasing interference from these services. As a result (and with the aid of one year’s work by Dan Kamm, technical chairman) we made the move. We were very happy to have a site 170 feet up, no outside tower climbing (but 150 famous steps inside!), no foul weather repeater work, and the U.S. Army guarding the site 24 hours a day. This proved to be an excellent move and we made many new friends as our coverage area and reliability grew. Kenosha was an easy connect from this site. Dan kept the repeater functioning very well during this period and the site was maintained until our move to the North Shore Country Day School (Winnetka) in April 1994 due to the planned closing of Fort Sheridan.

We scored a first under President Mike Anderson by holding a ‘Ham Day’ at a local Radio Shack. Reese Black and Jeff Hunter arranged with the manager of the Highland Park Radio Shack to give an all-day packet and 10-Meter demo. On April 15, 1989 employees and customers were given a glimpse into the “mysterious” world of ham radio as Mike and Jeff demonstrated operations in the aforementioned modes. A good way to make even more converts! In 1989 membership in the NSRC skyrocketed past 100, due mainly to intensive efforts by our Board of Directors and through events such as ‘Ham Day’.

By early 1990 a special sub-group of the NSRC was formed, composed of those of us interested in scanning and SWL’ing. This group met once a month for dinner, usually at the Silo in Lake Bluff, to exchange frequency lists and talk radio. Though attendance at these gatherings gradually diminished, it’s nice to know that such interests are alive in our club and any potential ‘sparks’ (read active members so inclined) might reactivate this group.

In October 1990 we scored another first by helping the Navy celebrate its 215th birthday. Around this time we were blessed by the participation of three Navy men from Great Lakes. Under the able leadership of Mike Anderson (one of the NSRC’s greatest members) a small club was formed at the Navy Base and NSRC members were invited to participate in a very memorable event. We operated several rigs on the Base’s log periodic antenna (up 150 ft.) and made many friends during this special event station operation. This was fun, informative, strengthened the recognition of ham radio and demonstrated our active commitment to amateur radio (hint for future club activities).

Returning to those thrilling By-Laws of yesteryear, our original Constitution held up pretty well for seven years. In November 1990 we voted to clarify and unencumber certain Board functions. Our VP of Programs was recognized in a broader context and his title was changed to Vice-President (he does more than just plan programs and we didn’t want a group of Divisonal VPs). Also the Board requested relief from
   1)the membership vote rule when a certain expenditure level was reached
   2) the check co-signature requirement for any expenditure over $50.
The required announcement was made in advance, pro and con editorials and speeches were offered and the membership duly voted confidence in their Board and passed all measures.

It was with sadness in our hearts that we bade farewell to two of those Board members at the January 1991 installation banquet. Mike and Rhoda Anderson (President and Membership Chair, respectively) were tireless in their efforts on behalf of the NSRC and amateur radio. As happens with military personnel, they were transferred to Hawaii and Mike’s next billet placed him on a ship in the Persian Gulf at the height of the Kuwait/Iraq unpleasantries. Many of us communicated with Mike by U.S. mail and continue to do so by packet and HF. It was a relief to all when Mike could return to Hawaii. We hope one day to see him again.

Our January 1992 banquet was considerably more light-hearted as we heard Ed Dervishian of the Antique Radio Society relate his personal experiences working with Dr. Lee DeForest in the early years of radio. The presentation followed closely the timing of WTTW’s (Channel 11) ‘Empire of the Air’, based on the book about DeForest, Armstrong and Sarnoff, early pioneers of radio. The talk was of such interest that Hap Holly recorded it for his RAIN program and as a result the NSRC installation guest lecture was heard across the U.S.

If you’re still wondering what makes the NSRC great (besides approaching 180+ members) please read the Transmitter carefully. Dave Alpert, our editor, made the May 1993 issue a standout by reprinting in his ‘Making Contact’ column the article on Responsibility. Please re-read this and consider the main point. The NSRC is great because of its active members, those who volunteer. Please make it a point to help the club retain its luster by helping out.

Well dear reader, this brings our little narrative to mid -1993, well within the living memory of many club members and therefore I will not dwell on recent events. Remember this narrative is history and as such, you may safely disbelieve every word of it…

73, KA9QJX