Mad River History

By Jim Stahl, K8MR
(Reprinted from the April, 1985 MRRC Flash)
With minor updating by K8CC

In the beginning there was the Potomac Valley Radio Club and the Frankford Radio Club.  In radio contests, they would compete against each other, and when it was all over they would congratulate each other, and say it was good.

Over the years, FRC drifted away from domestic contests and toward DX contests.  Murphy’s Marauders was born and took on the job of providing competition for PVRC.  It was still all simple, and it was good.

In the spring of 1970, at the urging of people from the other side of the country, the ARRL Board of Directors voted to extend the limits for club territories in Affiliated Club Competitions to 175 miles.  The Atlantic Division director was not sure that this was good, and asked to be recorded as voting against.  The July 1970 issue of QST announced this change, with the Operating News column including examples hypothetical such as a New York City club which could cover from Baltimore to Boston.

Living in the center of Ohio was Dick Bennett, K8EHU (now K8MZ).  He looked at what the new radius would cover in his neighborhood.  He also considered what might be covered by careful location of the center of this 175 mile radius circle.  With a paper cutout and a Gulf road map, he discovered that it would cover such cities as Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

At the Dayton Hamvention® in 1971, K8EHU approached various “big gun” contesters about forming a club covering such an area.  On Saturday morning, April 24, 1971, a group of a dozen or so contesters ate breakfast together at the VJ Pancake House, across the street from the Dayton Sheraton hotel (later the Biltmore Towers, then Stouffer’s, and today known as the Dayton Crowne Plaza hotel) which was the downtown hamfest hotel in those days (and still is).

Over pancakes and eggs, the contesters decided to go ahead with the proposed club.  Naturally, the question arose of what to call the club?  The Ohio-Michigan-Indiana-Kentucky-West Virginia-Pennsylvania-Ontario Contest Club somehow didn’t make it.  Where again was the club center?  No, the Wapakoneta Radio Club wouldn’t do either.  What’s this river running through Western Ohio?  The Mad River?  Sold!  The group also decided to make the 1971 Sweepstakes their first serious effort in the Affiliated Club Competition, elected K8EHU the first “Big Fish”, and then left to go forth, multiply, and search for flea market bargains…

The first club membership list, published in the second issue of the Flash listed 36 members including (with today’s callsigns) N4AR, K5TM, K7GM, K7NHV, KU7U, N8AA, K8BPX, K8MZ, WB8EUN, K8IA, W8KIC (sk), K8MR, K8NZ, NA8V, W8WPC, N9RV and K8RR (sk).  Each subsequent issue of the Flash listed more new members.  The weekly net on 75 meters was bustling with activity.  By SS time the club roster had grown to 154 members.  Needless to say, during the Sweepstakes weekends the bands were filled with the sound of “GO MAD RIVER!” as members greeted each other.  Naturally, all this caught the attention of the PVRC and Murphy’s.  When the SS dust settled, it was a close finish with MRRC out in front.  As the Flash put it:

“The SS results have not been taken well on the East Coast, especially by many of Murphy’s members.  It has also been reported that many PVRC members do not like our victory, but have generally accepted the situation like the sportsmen and gentlemen they have long been respected for.  On the other hand, some of Murphy’s members are very bitter and acting very frustrated.  However, we expected this reaction.”

Murphy’s did protest.  The SS results were published in the May 1972 QST with MRRC first with 9,960,874 points from 174 entries, with K7NHV operating from the MSU club station, W8SH winning both modes.  PVRC took second with 8.79 million points from 133 entries, and Murphys’ was third with 7.36 million points from 116 entries.  The MRRC line score contained the infamous asterisk, indicating that the validity of the entry was in question and would be determined later.  There was much haggling back and forth with ARRL HQ over whether certain MRRC members were indeed within the 175 mile radius, and whether needed to have any in-person meetings at all (the rules at that time said nothing on this topic).  A QST “Stray” in the June 1972 issue announced that the MRRC had been disqualified, and the club gavel went to PVRC.

K8CC addendum: “One of the other controversies raised about MRRC’s 1972 SS club entry is that new members were being recruited to join the club during the contest(s), in order to contribute their score to MRRC.  While this did not violate any rules in place at the time, it certainly contributed to the discussions at the ARRL which led to the “four in-person meetings per year” requirement which wasn’t instituted until much later (see below).”

At a Mad River dinner the following Spring at Dayton, the then ARRL President W2HD attempted to soothe feelings, but instead managed to give one of the better “foot-in-mouth” performances in recent times.  He told the club that as an experienced contester himself, he knew that “when Murphy strikes,  Murphy strikes hard”.  But MRRC already knew…

MRRC submitted a much smaller entry in the 1972 Sweepstakes, but it was ignored.  No specific rules for club entries were adopted until 1974 a requirement for four in-person meetings per year as instituted.  By 1975, interest in MRRC was again bubbling up, based around holding the four meetings at popular hamfests within MRRC territory.  Prompted by K8MR and K8NZ, a reorganization meeting was held at the ARRL Great Lakes Division convention in October 1975.  By the time of the 1976 Dayton Hamvention®,  the club was back to full strength.  K8NZ was elected “Big Fish”, succeeding club founder K8EHU who was keeping himself busy enough with law school in the evenings.  The club’s entry in the 1976 Sweepstakes Club Competition was accepted with no issue at ARRL HQ, taking fourth place with 3.7 million points from 42 entries.  The 1997 ARRL DX tests were the club’s first effort in a DX contest club competition.

MRRC was by then off and running, quickly becoming an active force in contesting, a legitimate contender for club awards, and frequent contest/DXpeditions by its members.