A short history of the Pennsylvania QSO Party

When writing the history of the party, I had to make a few decisions about how to approach the task. The last time a history was written was in 1996 – an engaging piece by an earlier party administrator, Doug W3HDH, so a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then,
and much has changed.

I've decided to work my way forward chronologically, with little side trips to the present day on occasion.

So let us go way back our humble beginnings, in a different day and age. The Party originated in 1957 - not by the Nittany Amateur Radio Club, but rather under the auspices of the Harrisburg Radio Amateur Club, and in 1966, the Nittany Amateur Radio Club took over administration of the Party.

Beginnings - 1950's and early 60's


From an earlier chair, Doug Maddox

During the 1950's there were a lot of new hams coming on board, and with many of the radios of the day, the idea of working DXCC or even Worked All States was a tough task for many. AM was the dominant voice mode, but Single Sideband was gaining traction. At the same time, the CQ USC-CA worked all US counties awards were beginning, and becoming popular.

Various States had started QSO Parties that helped the County hunters to achieve their goals, and in some geographical areas, such as the New England QSO Party, sprung up.

In 1957 the Harrisburg Radio Amateur Club, spearheaded by Howard German W3IMN, thought that Pennsylvania should join the mix, and created the Pennsylvania QSO party. Over the years, the various State QSO Parties have expanded well beyond just serving the USCCA hunters, and have taken on a life of their own.

back to me.....

Not as much is known about the early days of the party as we would like to know, so if anyone has any tidbits to offer, we'd love to hear about them.

The mid to late 60's

Long time party chair Doug Maddox relates:

“My first time in the contest was in the 1968, 12th annual - we assume annual? (party) "Ancient Modulation", AM- still dominated but SSB was beginning to make its appearance. I was K2GLQ at the time and operating portable 1 in Eastern Massachusetts. The sponsor by then was the current one, the "Nittany Amateur Radio Club".

It was a different age, and by way of comparison, in 1968 there were 30 PA stations sending in logs, and the winner was WA3BGN, with 297 QSOs, 61 ARRL sections and DX countries. In what sounds odd now for a State QSO Party, the multipliers were ARRL sections and Each DX entity worked. The Out of state Winner was one of 90 logs received, and had 153 PA QSOs and 34 counties.

The 70's and Doug Maddox

In The Pennsylvania QSO Party, participation is – not surprisingly – tied to the sunspot cycle. At the time that Doug W3HDH moved to State College and became party chair in 1975, there were only 35 logs submitted, and the following year, only 30. This was definitely the low point of the party.

Consideration was given by the Nittany Amateur Radio Club to simply cancel the party altogether, but it limped along, with the rationale that 30 logs isn't terribly difficult to check and adjudicate. But it seemed a pity that the party could just disappear through bad propagation and resultant lack of interest. Doug had different plans.

The minds met, the gears ground, the smoke cleared, and in the 1979 party, we started handing out plaques for the first time. This was a pretty big change, because before 1979, a Callbook was the top prize. The first winners were Bill Gillenwater N3AOT – now K3SV - and Jim Watson VE3DAP. The stage was being set.

The 80's

Doug wasn't finished yet. In 1980 Pennsylvania Contesters were polled to find out what they thought was needed for the party. From the replies they received, they formulated some new rules. What was once 3 points for out of state, and 1 point for in-state QSOs, a new system of 2 points for CW contacts on 80 and 160 meters, 1.5 points for and 1 point for SSB or FM.

In addition, there were propagation issues during the party date in mid-September. It wasn't summer propagation, and it wasn't fall propagation. It also conflicted with the September ARRL VHF contest. So we picked up our bags, and we moved to the second full weekend in October.

Another implementation was the Club Award. The first award was a Gavel – donated by Bill Collins W1PA, the the first club winner was the Penn Wireless Association.

The Club Competition was a real spark to the party as many clubs wanted to compete with each other for In-State bragging rights. The Party was preparing to move into what would be it's golden age.

The 90's

For the 1992, Party, we instituted something brand new -The Bonus station. The first bonus station was organized and run by the Nittany ARC, and was set up on the grounds of the Boal Mansion in Boalsburg, PA – just outside of State College PA. The initial operation garnered 550 QSOs, and The Nittany Amateur Radio Club continued to host the bonus station through 1995, The station was popular enough that other Pennsylvania clubs began clamoring to host a station, so it became a permanent part of the party, hosted by a different club or group every year. We have tried to always have a spin for the host station, whether it be an important anniversary, or a novel idea. The main criteria is to generate interest, and I have found it to be critical to the party during the low portion of the sunspot cycle.

But all good things must come to an end, and 1999 was Doug's last year at the helm, when he moved to Indiana.
Here is a listing of bonus stations from 1992 to the present:

Pennsylvania QSO Party Bonus Stations

1992-1995 – Nittany Amateur Radio Club
1996 – W3OK Dauberville DX Association
1997 – W3SGJ Beaver Valley Amateur Radio Association
1998 – K3YTL Murgas Amateur Radio Association
1999 – W3HA Carbon Amateur Radio Club
2000 - W3YA Nittany Amateur Radio Club
2001 – K3CSG Scranton Pocono Amateur Radio Club
2002 – W3FRC Frankford Radio Club
2003 – W3KWH Steel City Amateur Radio Club First multi station effort
2004 – W3UU Harrisburg Radio Amateurs Club
2005 – K3YTL Murgas Amateur Radio Association
2006 – N3SH Wireless Association of South Hills
2007 – W3P – Nittany Amateur Radio Club 50th Anniversary
2008 – W3OK Delaware Lehigh Amateur Radio Club
2009 – N3KAE The KQX Group
2010 – K3MJW Skyview Radio Society
2011 – K3SMT
2012 - W3SC Schuylkill Amateur Repeater Association
2013 – W3ZGD Hilltop Transmitting Assn
2014 – W3TDF QCWA Chapter 17 Ray Bilger Celebration
2015 - W3C by the KQX Group
2016 - W3UU The Harrisburg Radio Amateur Club

2000 and later – winds of change

We had a number of new administrators for some years after Doug left. Woody Brem K3YV, John Walter K3JAW, and Chuck McMullen K3CM, making a return visit to the helm for a couple years. These also turned out to be years of change, and perhaps upheaval.

In 2003, with the W3KWH bonus effort by Steel City ARC, we experimented with the first multi-location bonus station. It was a rousing success, and many clubs have also done the same since then. The organizers have enjoyed the planning and effort to bring off the multi station bonus stations, and have served as a point of interest during the lean years. They also enjoy a little competition - and competition - with each other to put together great stations.

This was not without some controversy however, as reflected in the run-up to the 2007 party. When a number of operators let us know in no uncertain terms that they did not like the multi station efforts at all. But overall, they have had a positive effect on the party. So now, we regularly have multi location bonus stations, and there have been some memorable ones.

In recent years, we have added promotional items, such as the Worked all county plaques, the T-Shirts, the now discontinued 100 QSO personalized coffee cups, and more recently, QSO party caps. All of the proceeds help along with donations and sponsored plaques, to fund the party. Unfortunately, sales fell off to the point of all the promotionals that we could no longer meet minimum order requirement, and now only have the worked all country plaques as a promotional.

We are now getting to the time when I took over as party chair, so I can write more from memory than referencing other people's work.

2005 to the Present

I took over the reins in 2005, after maintaining the web pages for some years before that. The previous chair resigned, there was no one else stepping up. Believing in the importance of the party, I volunteered. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. All I had was experience with relational databases, and I enjoyed the party. Ya'll had yourself a completely unqualified Chairman!

Fortunately, the Party People put up with me until I figured it out.

I was tasked with bringing the party into the 21st century. This was an interesting bit of work, trying to keep the party going through a solar minimum and update without alienating too many people. I love the history and the continuation of traditions, but we were getting a little creaky in a few areas. But you either move forward, or you move backwards, there is no stasis.

The first shot was on December 5th 2005, when I announced the addition of PSK31 and RTTY to the party. It was interesting, as I learned the passion many of the Party People have for their party. This generated a lot of controversy, even internationally. I considered going into the witness protection program for a time.

Next up, the twice a year mailings were eliminated. This was a major labor and money saving move as well as an overall improvement, as pdf files are both more convenient, accessible year round, and a clever Op can extract a lot of data from a pdf. PDF's as well, are printable on demand.

Early in my tenure, we replaced the simple summary sheet we had been using with an interactive pdf form, that will score the party automatically for you.

Not all the changes were unpopular. The 1.5 point CW QSOs for 40 meters and up, went away next. We changed that to 2 points per
CW QSO on all bands This was a huge nuisance for
many logging programs.

We instituted some more plaques as well. The PSK31 and SSB only plaques were added, and in a long needed correction, a portable multi-op Plaque was added. There were several multi-Op Portables in the party every year, but only portable singles were eligible for a plaque. The mobile class was split into Mobile-Single and Mobile-Multi to allow better competition as well.

A 20 Meter “Good Neighbor” plaque was created to help stimulate out of State Operators, and in conjunction with the AZQP, the PAQSO Party has instituted a “Top Arizona Operator” award for operators from that state who compete in both parties, as well as them giving out an award for the Top Pennsylvania Op who also competes in the Arizona QSO Party. A spirit of and demonstration of cooperation between two Amateur Radio events held on the same weekend.

Finally in the 2014 party, we eliminated the dreaded mailed in summary sheet requirement. The mailed in sheet was necessary for the party, not because we were intentionally staying behind the times, but because without that sheet, no one bought promotional items or made donations.
The party would have simply gone away, unless we had someone willing to underwrite everything.

It was easy to see that many people operated in the party, but didn't submit logs. This was clear from the submitted logs, and some Ops who would have won their section or county didn't because they wouldn't enter. And that's just not right. So we opened a web store where people can donate or purchase promotional items, or WAC plaques, and sponsors can pay for their sponsorship. But if anyone prefers the way we have been doing it, they can do it in the manner they prefer.

Submitted logs increased. That was good. The web store failed, and we don't sell promotional items any more.

Mobiles and Rovers, have become the lifeblood of the party, providing the rare counties for the rest of us, and a lot of fun for their participants. I've operated mobile in several of the parties, and it's a lot of work, but it's a blast. Just be careful trying to drive through Renovo on party Saturday, because the Flaming Foliage Festival parade is the same day, so you'll sit in traffic for a bit.

For the future?

We really do enter a new age now. With the ending of promotional sales other than 67 county plaques, we'll be getting by on sponsors contributions and donations. But the party is going well, participation wise, and we appear to have weathered the bottom of the solar cycle. We'll try to continue to ride the line of modern Ham radio combined with tradition. And we'll have our party people to give us the good feedback we need to do just that.

PAQSO Party Chairs

If I can see far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.
And here they are:

Harold German W3IMN – 1957 - ?
Harty Weiss WA3KWD – 1972
Doug Maddox W3HDH – 1975 -1988 and 1993 – 1999
Chuck McMullen K3CM / Ron Gibson N3BMV 1989 -1992
Woody Brem K3YV – 2000
John Walters W3JAW – 2001
Chuck McMullen K3CM – 2002 – 2004

Anyone knowing any other party chairs to help fill in the blanks is encouraged to contact me, so credit can be given where credit is due.

- 73 Mike N3LI -