L-R Roland Bibeau, Norm W1AUT, Ray Lawless .

Blackstone Valley Amateur Radio Club History

The BVARC was founded in 1953 by a very small group of local hams whose goal was to stimulate interest in, and share their knowledge of Amateur Radio. This group met with a member of the Narragansett Association for Radio Amateurs (W1AQ) to discuss how to set up a charter. The W1AQ group is now called Amateur Radio Association of Southern New England.

The discussions with them led to a charter, constitution, and by-laws that were adopted, and filed with the State of Rhode Island. Thus the Blackstone Valley Amateur Radio Club, Inc. was created. The original signatories of the charter were:
  • Ray St. Onge W1IHW
  • Lionel Parenteau W1ZEZ
  • Dave Pascal W1ZFV
  • Norm Thibault W1AUT
  • Warren Greene W1DOR
  • Bob Beaudet W1YRC

Stone HouseDuring this early period, the club met weekly on Friday evenings and conducted classes in ham radio and most of the W1D series of calls were issued to graduates of the classes. Ray St. Onge, W1IHW, was appointed trustee of the BVARC, and obtained the club callsign, W1DDD, without any special request to the FCC. It was strictly a sequential issue. The club raised money in the early days by running very successful ham and bean suppers.

HRO SixtyLionel Parenteau, W1ZEZ, and Fathers Grenier and Boudreau secured a permanent meeting place at the Holy Family Church's parish house in Woonsocket, RI. The club occupied the entire second floor of the church's Stone House providing a radio room, library, sitting room, and a full kitchen. Club station W1DDD consisted of a home brew 500 watt clamp tube modulated eighty meter rig, home brew plate modulated kilowatt amplifier on twenty meter AM and CW, Hallicrafters SX-71 receiver, a home brew twenty meter rig with a pair of 250 TH tubes in the final and a pair of 810s in the Class B modulator, a Johnson Viking Ranger to drive the kilowatt, National HRO-60 receiver and a home brew ten meter transmitter. W1DDD worked the world with this station!

Many older members recall these years in the Stone House as BVARC’s golden years. The quarters weren’t fancy but more than adequate for a wide variety of classes, guest speaker and demo programs, exam sessions and of course, a world class DX station. Golly, we had fun in those years.

Early Field Days:
Click to Enlarge

At the operating position is Warren Greene, W1DOR. The young fellow smoking a cigarette behind Warren is Clark Lawless, now KC0ZEE (can't remember his W1E?? or G?? call. On the right is either an Hallicrafters SX-99 or SX-100 receiver. It's most likely an SX-100. Moving to the left is a Viking Model 122 VFO with a desk lamp on top of it. Moving further left, behind Warren is a D-104 microphone and still further left, behind Warren is a Johnson Viking II transmitter (180 watts on CW, 120 watts on AM phone) I think the club owned the receiver but the Viking II, Model 122 VFO and Astatic D-104 microphone all belonged to W1YRC. They were destroyed in my August 19, 1992 fire.

The can of Budweiser in Warren's reach is upside down. Some people preferred to open the bottom because they believed it was cleaner, having not been exposed to dust and handling as much as the bottoms. Today, we must open the can where the snap tab is. Beer wasn't packaged as it is today. There was a lot more handling by (possibly) unwashed hands, loading the cooler in the store, taking them out and putting them in a bag, etc. before the customer took the cans home and snapped the church key opener into its steel top or bottom. (My father's drug store sold beer and I worked there for several years, from age 10 to about 18. So, I learned a thing or two about beer.)
Bob - W1YRC

View the entire Early Field Day slide show

The antenna system at the Stone House included a bat wing “WonderBar” ten meter dipole made from a TV antenna (November 1956 QST design), a full size wide spaced twenty meter home brew Yagi, constructed out of one to four inch diameter irrigation tubing for its elements and boom, using ordinary auto muffler clamps (hardware from Sears Roebuck and built by W1YRC). It was mounted atop a fifty ft tall utility pole and gave W1DDD a great signal on 20 meter CW and AM. Its most frequent operator was Dave Pascal, W1ZFV. He sometimes operated the station through the night on Fridays. He was a machine and could operate literally for hours without any break at all. He certainly made W1DDD famous on 20 meters. W1DDD also had a "Happy Accident" ten meter ground plane (January 1957 QST design) and a Windom off-center fed all band dipole as many of its members had during that late 50s, 60s period. Isn’t it funny? Now, fifty years later, the off center fed antenna is once again a popular antenna?

Field Day has always been an important activity of the club. Our first several Field Days were held at Bob Beaudet's father's 13 acre farm on Diamond Hill Road, just a mile into Cumberland. Other sites included the Diamond Hill Rod and Gun Club which we’ll always remember as “the quarry” where RF couldn’t escape and later, the top of Logee St, across from Mount St. Charles, the Branchaud residence on Farnum Pike (Route 5), an undeveloped hill-top field in Slatersville, Buck Hill in Burrillville and for the last several years, at the No Scituate Senior Center (formerly known as The Chopmist Hill Inn) on Rt 102, just south of Rt 6 in No Scituate. Without any reservation, some of many members’ fondest memories of his or her time in the club were from this annual summer time event of Field Day. It’s an event combining emergency preparation, technical “on-the-fly” know-how and family social fun all wrapped into the last full weekend every June. See elsewhere in this website for many pictures from Field Days past.

Over more than fifty five years of existence, BVARC has had many Presidents. The early leaders were:

  • 1954 Lionel Parenteau W1ZEZ
  • 1955 Ray St Onge W1IHW
  • 1956 Ray St Onge W1IHW
  • 1957 Phil Bernard W1WMW
  • 1958 Lionel Parenteau W1ZEZ
  • 1959 Norm Thibault W1AUT
  • 1960 Ray St Onge W1IHW
  • 1961 Roland Bibeau K1LZW
  • 1962 Joe Beaudoin K1ORM
  • 1963 Norm Thibault W1AUT
  • 1964 Gordon Fox W1YNE
  • 1965 Bob Beaudet W1YRC

In the late 60s, club activity slowly declined and we couldn’t even gather a quorum to call a legitimate meeting to order. This happens to clubs, when they follow the economy and conflicting social interests. President Bob Beaudet, W1YRC, held Board of Governors meetings once a year and kept the charter active, waiting for the day when new members could be attracted and new interest developed.

All clubs move through cycles and follow the economy and other influences. BVARC had only been incorporated for a decade and its days might have been over. There wasn’t enthusiasm among the membership to even attract a quorum. That’s very sad but normal. In the future, we must provide programs and try to avoid apathy and disinterest.

The Next Generation Begins

The Presidents during this period were:

  • 1982-84 Brian Jacobson KA1FXY
  • 1985 Rick Ferland KC1R
  • 1986 Leo Lemieux N1CEF
  • 1987 Rick Fairweather K1KYI
  • 1988-89 Leo Lemieux N1CEF
  • 1990-93 Steve Anthony WA1POX
  • 1994 Dave Reid AA1CE
  • 1995 Max Reid N1LYA
  • 1996 Bob Alberg AA1JR (N1BU)
  • 1997-00 Armand Lambert K1FLD
  • 2001-03 Bill Whetstone WA1RI
  • 2004-08 Norm Thibault W1AUT
  • 2009- Bruce Wood KB1KKF

In 1982, newly licensed ham Brian Jacobson, KA1FXY, met fellow pilot Ray St. Onge, W1IHW at North Central Airport in Lincoln, RI. One day Brian asked Ray if he knew of any local Amateur Radio clubs. This conversation eventually led to the rejuvenation of the BVARC. Brian, Ray, Dick Berard (KA1CGL), Leo Lemieux (N1CEF), Jeanne Berard (KN1L), and Fred Klockars (WA1CNI) compiled a list of local area hams and invited them to an organizational meeting at a local American Legion Post on Main Street in Woonsocket, RI. Shortly after that meeting, the club was formally revived and regular meetings were held once again.

After several months of meeting in the Legion quarters, Bill Kilcline, K1YQZ, arranged for the club to begin meeting at the Woonsocket Red Cross Chapter House on Coe Street in Woonsocket since the American Legion Post, in the back room of a Main St bar was hardly an ideal setting for the club to meet and attract families and new members.

After about ten years, in 1994, the RI Red Cross consolidated its programs and its RI footprint. This caused them to suddenly decide to close its Coe Street office and sell the building. Once again, BVARC found itself “on the street”, looking for a new location to call home. Of course, for our first 40 years, we had our own quarters in which we could safely install equipment, hang certificates, pictures, our license on our walls and store things away for a later use. Equipment for Field Day, classes, code training, station W1DDD, etc could all be kept behind a locked door. We soon learned that our future meeting location would not provide any of these luxuries.

Through the effort of Fred Klockars, WA1E, BVARC was able to meet in the auditorium of the Fogarty Unit of Landmark Medical Center, in North Smithfield just south of Park Square on RT 146A. This hospital facility was later renamed the Rhode Island Rehabilitation Hospital and BVARC continues to meet in this facility. Unlike, our previous “homes”, we must use shared or common space in the hospital to conduct our meetings. It is not optimum but it is suitable to conduct meetings and large enough to conduct special programs. Meetings are held in the hospital’s McAvinn Auditorium.

We cannot store anything in the hospital or install any station equipment. We have stored our station equipment, Field Day tents, supplies, antennas and whatever else we own in donated space of many different members; N1BU, N1MIU, K1MO, KB1KKF, W1TBR, W1BRU, W1YRC and others. But without a place to call home, keeping track of our “stuff” is a constant challenge.

Of course, every ham’s personal experience as a ham starts with obtaining his or her license. Early hams had to travel to the FCC in the Customhouse in Boston to take their exams. It was not a simple matter with a very restricted schedule of one certain day per month and 30 day wait for a retest if you fail a test. Frankly, it was a terrible experience and probably a deterrent in that era to anyone who wanted to become a ham. We did have a fair number of “pirates” on the air in the early days. A pirate is an operator who does not have a license and is using someone’s call without permission or authority.

Click to view VE exam SlideshowThe FCC created a field testing program and quickly abandoned it in the 1980s and under the power of the Goldwater Wirth Bill passed in 1982; the Volunteer Examiner (VE) program was born. A VE team was quickly assembled in Providence. Potential new hams from everywhere in the area had to travel to Providence to take their tests, much better than monthly runs to Boston. In about 1987, BVARC formed its own VE team to make upgrading matters easier for our members and to attract new members. Of course, the local focus of our reasons for establishment and maintaining a VE team has long ago been exceeded.

Bob, W1YRC chaired that VE team until 1998 when his employer, Raytheon deployed him to Dallas. During those years, the Portsmouth VE team under Jack Garforth N1JK and the Kent County team under Ken Franklin KF1O were formed, using the BVARC team’s practices as a standard to copy. In 1998, Bob Jones, WB1P took over the team and the BVARC team has provided great service since then in the Slatersville Congregational Church on the last Saturday morning of every month. Candidates have come from many different states to be tested and in 2007, the team tested famous contester, Champ E21EIC from Thailand. Clearly, this was our best DX. Champ obtained his first US license with BVARC and was granted KB1OVL. He upgraded before returning to Thailand and now holds the Extra call KY1A. But, his first license was earned at BVARC. Picture is in the photo section of this website.

One of our long time members, Art Burton, N1LRR was diagnosed with a terminal problem and donated his entire station to the club in 2008. He felt that the club had done a great deal for him over the years and this was his way of repaying. Of course, this was an incredibly generous act on Art’s part and not one that BVARC ever expected or encouraged. Since we have no club quarters, keeping the equipment which consisted of HF and VHF gear, amps, tower, beam, etc., was very difficult if not impossible. We have neither place to set it up nor any place to even store it. The decision was made to conduct a silent auction amongst BVARC members. This was done and within a few weeks of spirited bidding, all the equipment was auctioned and added to various club members’ stations. All funds collected were donated to the club treasury in Art’s memory. The club purchased a new Icom IC-746PRO and ultra silent Honda generator with some of the proceeds. This equipment will be used at Field Day and lighthouse activations.

Click to view Watchhill Lighthouse SlideshowShortly after 2000, BVARC membership took considerable interest in bringing radio equipment to area lighthouses, setting up an HF station and making contacts with Amateurs around North America and the world. BVARC joined the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) and became member #1385. The society offers awards for contacting lighthouses around the world and requires that in order to activate a lighthouse; a station must be within a 1000 meter radius of the claimed lighthouse or at minimum, within sight of it by day or the reach of its light by night. This means that you don’t have to be very close to the lighthouse at all. Regardless, it’s a great deal of fun and attracts many members to participate during favorable weather months.

BVARC has always taken great pride in the strength and integrity of its leadership. The last three Rhode Island’s ARRL Section Managers since about 1993, including the current one, W1YRC (2001-2011) were former BVARC Presidents. BVARC is very proud of this fact. BVARC produces good leaders.

Today, two of its original founders in 1953 are still with us; Warren W1DOR and Bob W1YRC. The obvious duty that all club members should take upon themselves is to diligently pester all our old timers to learn from their experience before they are also not with us any longer. Our original members have a wealth of experience from which newer members can build a stronger and better club.

In Rhode Island, there are nine ARRL affiliated clubs but a few of them are not holding meetings and cannot be considered active. Of the remaining seven, BVARC is the only one in northern RI and has a somewhat unique personality. Does a club have a personality? Oh yes indeed. A new ham to the area will visit a club and learn quickly whether or not he or she wants to become a member of that club. BVARC has a friendly country home personality and hopefully not a harsh “take it or leave it” persona as some have. The club can certainly be improved and guided into new areas in the future. Newcomers are welcome to lend their skills and talent to the leadership of BVARC. Over the years, the club has lost many of its leaders and must rely upon new and younger members to succeed.

We have lost Ray St. Onge, W1IHW (later W1HW) and Norm Thibault, W1AUT in recent years. Members could always count on these members to direct the club and watch over things to assure that we didn’t overlook anything. But, they’re Silent Keys now. Some older members are still active and able to offer guidance and suggestions. They have done their work in the past. The leadership is now in the hands of new members. The future is a challenge for these new members. There are 57 years in our history. You don’t want to be responsible for it to end here. You want to build the next 50 some years. Best of luck and 73.

Here is an introductory Messenger from 2007 (some info is out of date)

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