The Birth of the New England QSO Party

Bob Hess, W1RH

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the JUG, a publication of the Northern California Contest Club.

[This article was put together after reviewing numerous emails, exchanged during the period of 1999-2003]

Top Prize: Legal Seafood Lobster Dinner!

In November, of 1999, when I was the vice president of the Framingham Amateur Radio Association, I received an email from the guy in our club who had been running the Massachusetts QSO Party. FARA, for years and years, had been running the fledgling MAQP, a contest where we would see 25 logs submitted in a good year. Indeed, most of the hams in the state were not even aware of their state’s QSO Party.

The email I received was from Steve, N1TYH. With a newborn entering his household, he needed to resign from his job as the MAQP organizer for the Club.

Some saw Steve’s exit as a loss for the club. I saw it as a unique opportunity to do something that I had been thinking about for several years…..the creation of a New England QSO Party.

It made a lot of sense to me. Having moved to Boston, from California in 1990, I was familiar with the California QSO Party. I looked into other QSO parties and found that the really popular ones had a significant number of counties as multipliers: California, with 58, Florida, with 67 mults and Texas, with a whopping 254 counties. Massachusetts, by comparison, had just 14 counties and, with that small amount of mults, there just was not much national interest in the contest. I counted the number of counties in the New England states and it totaled 67….the same as Florida and a few more than California.

In Steve’s letter of resignation, he lamented that something needed to be changed. He had hoped that the Yankee Clipper Contest Club might have some interest, but it never happened. Steve said that contest needed a…… “promotion tour or some sort of other effort to increase participation”. My thought, which I had kept to myself at this point, was to dump MAQP and start an effort to promote a New England QSO Party.

I brought this up with the FARA Board, and they were absolutely in favor of the idea but most felt that it could never happen because it would require a buy-in from all of the New England states. In addition, our Board was not sure if the club was really capable of running a contest involving the six New England states.

While we continued to support the Massachusetts QSO Party in 2000 and 2001, I was also throwing
around the idea of a New England QSO Party to anyone who would listen. At the time, Rhode Island and Maine had not had active QSO parties for years. There was a QSO Party in Connecticut, one in Vermont and one in New Hampshire. Connecticut and New Hampshire’s QSO parties were pretty much generated the same amount of activity as the MAQP did. Vermont, with 14 counties, had an active QSO party which was run by a very passionate group of hams yet the event still yielded a relatively small amount of participation.

In the summer of 2001, Tom, K1KI, took me aside after a YCCC meeting and mentioned that he had heard that I was trying to organize a New England QSO party. It seems that he had been chewing on the same idea for several years. He had done a lot of research on the subject, as had I. Tom’s strengths were reflected in his superb expertise as a contester and his position as an ARRL director. Tom, then WB6KIL, in 1966, was also one of the founders of the California QSO Party. My strengths, I suppose, were in promotion and perhaps my ability to deal with some of the politics within New England, involving the other state QSO parties.

In short, this appeared, and was, a match made in heaven! Finding an ally, outside of the group of contesters within the FARA club, was indeed a real boost to my dream of a New England QSO Party.

The Framingham ARA had a bunch of YCCC members in the club, including Dennis, NB1B (now W1UE), Dave, K1HT (the YCCC Socre Keeper), Martin, AA1ON, Steve, AA1IZ, and Sharon, KC1YR. Various members of this group had participated in DXpeditions and all of us had done several IOTA contest DXpeditions.

K1KI got right to work following that conversation. In September, he did a study of the ham population in each county of New England and he found counties like Essex, in Vermont, with only 13 licensed amateurs, and Nantucket, in Massachusetts, with only 27 licensed hams.

On September 28th, 2001, Tom formed a NEQP email list composed of the group I had been working with and the group he had been working with. He led off the introductory email with this:

I’ve spent some time talking with Bob/W1RH (of Framingham ARA – MA QP fame) on the phone over the weekend about the work FARA has already done to move in the direction of a NEQP. Sounds like we have been working on somewhat parallel efforts.

Tom Frenaye, K1KI

The email went on to state that a small working group had to be formed and we needed to decide on a date for the contest.

On Saturday, October 6th, 2001, Tom and I, along with Steve (AA1IZ) proposed the idea at the Yankee Clipper Contest Club meeting. We told the group that our first choice for the date was the fourth weekend in August. It seemed like a good weekend for a contest, with good weather and no other major contest conflicts but we did have a concern that the contest would fall on the date of the big ARRL Boxboro convention (the Pacificon of New England). Knowing in advance that YCCC had no interest in sponsoring NEQP, we asked the club to sponsor some plaques and to help spread the word. We also announced that Sharon, KC1YR and the webmaster for Computer World, had secured the URL and started up the website and we let the group know that we had been in touch with the major contest software providers to ensure that software would be available at the time of the event.

We were on our way! We had a concept. Now we had to get to the nuts and bolts of the contest.

There were many discussions about county abbreviations. There some counties in New England with identical names, like Essex County, Vermont, and Essex County, Massachusetts and others. We decided to use the state abbreviation as the prefix, followed by the county abbreviation as the suffix. Essex County, Vermont, would be VT ESS. Essex County, Massachusetts, would be MA ESS.

Problem solved.

Then, it was down to the politics of the event.

The Vermont group said they would participate in a NEQP but would never consider shutting down their QSO party.

The Connecticut QSO Party organizers made it quite clear to us that they were NOT (yes, all caps in the email) interested in participating if the QSO Party is held in the last weekend of August. They recommended the first weekend of May, which was the date of both the Connecticut and Massachusetts QSO Parties.

So much for the first choice…..

The first weekend of May had its own problems. I should note that it is often still winter in New England in early May. Personally, my wife’s birthday would often fall on the first weekend in May….but she’s always been a terrific contest wife.

And, then there was Deerfield.

Deerfield was a mega flea market that used to be held in Deerfield, New Hampshire, but moved to another town. Everyone called it Deerfield, even though the official name of the event was Hosstraders and it was no longer in Deerfield. This was a valid concern; since many New England hams and also a lot of hams from other Northeast states attended this event.

Dave, K1HT and the YCCC Scorekeeper, was a professional statistician. Dave could analyze anything! He took another look at the contest year. The Vermont and New Hampshire QSO parties were on the first weekend in February. Rhode Island’s theoretical date was October 3rd, although the Rhode Island and Maine events were dead events at the time, however. The weekend of Dayton was ruled out as were all of the other major contest weekends.

In November, 2001, Tom received a long email from the ARRL group representing New Hampshire. Although they admitted that participation in the New Hampshire QSO Party was very low, there was reluctance to disband an event that had been going on for 60 years. In the end, New Hampshire came on board, thanks to Ed, K2TE. Ed, by the way, pushed for the third weekend in September.

So many proposed dates. So little time to make a decision.

Ed, W3TB, representing the Connecticut QSO Party came on board supporting NEQP and he also had a lot to say about the proposed dates.

It wasn’t until February, 2002, that we finally agreed on the date of the New England QSO Party. It would be the first weekend of May, and it would start at 5 PM, local time, on Saturday, giving all of the Deerfield attendees time to get back to their home stations.

[Note that the 7QP contest did not exist at this time, but I’m sure our success with NEQP might have been a catalyst for the eventual 7QP, on the same weekend in May.]

By the February, we had pretty much settled on the rules. Tom, K1KI, was a rock star in this department!

With only two months until the first NEQP, we proceeded at warp speed on promotion.

By February 24, we had flyers handed out at Ham Radio Outlet, and at various local ham clubs and flea markets. Sharon, KC1YR, had the rules posted on the website. The Florida QSO Party guys, led by K1TO, went out of their way to help us. They posted the rules on their website and, in return, we strongly encouraged the New England hams to support the Florida QSO party, which was the weekend prior to NEQP. I sent emails out to many clubs around the country and also to Ward, N0AX, the contest editor at the time for QST.

In March, Tom had confirmation from Ken, K1EA, that his CT logging software would be ready to go for the contest. K5DJ also confirmed that Writelog would ready to go in time.

In the meantime, Tom decided that he would personally put as many counties on the air as possible, so he installed a mobile setup in his VW bug. I wish I had a picture of it. It was quite the site with this huge whip sticking out of that little bug. In an email, Tom wrote:

Just finished testing my own mobile set-up for the first time this morning. Worked UA4, OK, and
9K2 on 10 meters. No ignition noise – whoopee!

By March 31st, we had commitments from a number of hams to be active for NEQP. A Reserve
Your County
page was ready to go on the website.

On Saturday, April 6th, Tom and I gave another presentation at the YCCC meeting. We had great feedback and YCCC voted to sponsor three plaques. We now had sponsors for about a dozen plaques. We also announced that we had commitments for 50 of the 67 counties at that point. I was cranking out emails like crazy to New England hams.

Jim, K1IR and the YCCC president, sent an email out to the Contest_Prez reflector (does it still exist?):

Spread the word to all your club members and beyond…

Not just another contest…the New England QSO party is way cool!

This contest brings together the previously independent QSO party efforts of the six New England states. Now, there will PLENTY of activity – all at once – to make this a DO-NOT-MISS contesting event.

By April, 2002, Ken, K1EA, was sending us beta copies of CT, running NEQP. Both Dennis, NB1B (now W1UE), Tom and I managed to find bugs. Ken also suggested a worthwhile change to one of the county abbreviations. Ken fixed the bugs as fast as we could find them.

Less than one month to go! Time to think about the design of the plaques and certificates.

I got on the YCCC reflector and asked if there was an artist who could design a certificate. I got a reply from Scott, W1QHG. We kicked several ideas around and the outcome was a fabulous design that is still in use today.

And then there was this email from some guy with the call of N6ZFO. It was sent to the NEQP email address. Seems he was a good guy, and the VP/Contest Chair of the Northern California Contest Club, who wanted to support us. Bill asked if we had a sponsor for a W6 high-power plaque and, if not, he would sponsor it. Bill ended his email with:

Congrats on organizing what appears to be a first-class affair. I’ll make a special effort, starting tomorrow, to rally the troops. The idea of a call-area QSO Party is brilliant (I suppose someone could say we started that with CQP!).

By April 16th, 2002, we were down to four counties without commitments, and testing the N6TR software. About this time, we also got an offer from K1EA to assist with log checking.

We started to talk about prizes for the top winners. From the very beginning, I wanted to see something associated with New England, as CQP associated wine with California. We kicked around various ideas, such as cartons of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Vermont maple syrup, but settled on something quite unique for the top prize……a complete lobster and clam dinner from a legendary New England restaurant by the name of Legal Sea Food.

I’ll give myself credit for this idea. Flash back to August, 1990, when I had just accepted a job at WBZ, in Boston. It was a Saturday morning, at our house in El Dorado Hills, California, when the doorbell rang and it was a FedEx delivery of a
complete dinner from Legal Sea Food, from my new boss. Inside were two LIVE lobsters, a bunch of clams, REAL New England clam chowder, and a bunch of seaweed to put in the pot when you boil the lobsters. Oh, and there were also instructions on how to boil a lobster…..something a California boy, like me, had never done. In, short, is made for a fabulous Saturday night dinner for my wife and me. 12 years later, I convinced the Framingham ARA to sponsor the top prize, featuring the same dinner. FARA is still sponsoring this dinner today as the top prize for NEQP.

On April 25th, that same N6ZFO guy wrote an email to Tom and me. Here’s what Bill wrote:

An earlier communication to you noted that CQP-NCCC wishes to sponsor a plaque for the 2002 NEQP.
Our board heartily, endorses the idea, and I now formally ask you to accept our offer to sponsor a winner’s plaque in the 2002 NEQP in the name of CQP-NCCC. This CQP plaque to be awarded to the top-scoring CA or NV station, in any entry class.

How about the N6ZFO guy? How about that Northern California Contest Club? Both made our day!

On May 2nd, just two days prior to the first contest, Tom, K1KI, sent out an email blast letting everyone know that all 67 counties would be activated and all major contest software providers were now ready to go with NEQP.

On the contest weekend, Tom did his multi-county rover thing with that huge whip sticking out of his VW Bug. I operated from my office, at WBZ, in Suffolk County using a G5RV on the roof of the building. Suffolk County is essentially the City of Boston. It’s not unlike operating in San Francisco County. Although there were 400-plus hams on the books in this county, getting someone to actually get on the air, on HF, is about as difficult as it is to do in SF County. I ended up buried with QSL requests from the European county hunters.

After the contest, we received lots of comments in the logs submitted. Some compared it to the California and Florida QSO parties. The top out-of-state scorers had around 550 New England QSOs. At least one station worked all 67 counties. There were no major software issues.

In the end, we had 260 logs submitted. Tom took on the log checking and the website article and did a fabulous job, just as he continues to do today.

One point of note, in Tom’s 2002 results article, was this:

N4PN worked very hard and found all 67 – with the last one being with W1RH/P in Suffolk County (Boston city) MA. Other notable totals were the W6YX, KA6BIM and N0HF multi-ops with 62, 62 and 60, K6LL with 63, and N4BP with 60.

In the end, Paul, N4PN, one of the nicest contesters out there, won the grand prize as the top single
operator (non-New England). That prize was the lobster dinner. As hard as I tried to convince Paul
that lobster is really, really good, he declined the prize but loved the contest.

Other notable winners included, among others, W6YX, K6LL, and KA6BIM, who won Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for making 250+ QSO’s. [I wonder who at W6YX got that ice cream?]

Vermont maple syrup went to those who made 150+ Q’s, and that included N6ZFO and K6RB.

I’ll end this with an email, dated April 21st, 2003, from that same N6ZFO guy, addressed to Tom and me:

It’s here: Thanks so much for the beautiful decanter of Vermont Maple syrup, indeed a sweet reminder of last year’s NEQP. My XYL will have some small flower inserted into the flask in no time at all.

The flavor is delectable – I’ll probably enjoy it as one would enjoy a good Scotch – neat and just a wee bit at a time.

Ah, the good old days had to come to an end. CBS transferred me to Sacramento and my days of co-running the New England QSO Party came to an end. I did, however, print out all of the 2003 certificates from my office, in Sacramento.

Blank NEQP certificate 2002
NEQP certificate 2002