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The Un-Club

David Gauger, W9CJS

Sometimes the best way to reenergize a club is to deformalize it.


Most of us have been, or are, in one or more clubs. Perhaps you are a member of one or more such groups. My experience with clubs is mixed, some good, but frankly, most have been poor to bad. Let me describe what I call our Un-Club a club-like group who have widely divergent activities and interests but who are drawn together each week by our love for ham radio. Perhaps our experience will help you to generate more interest in your club’s activities.

False Start

Some 10 years ago, Chuck Towner, AE9CT, sponsored a meeting in Palatine, Illinois of many of the hams in the area to discuss boosting interest in local ham club activity. I volunteered to help and we held one meeting to try to pull a club together. It didn’t seem to jell and despite Chuck’s considerable effort, interest was simply not there. While pursuing this effort, Chuck and I decided to meet for breakfast and chat about other courses of action.

We Grew

Chuck and I hit it off well and several others soon joined us at the restaurant until we had a nice congenial group of half a dozen hams, all eating breakfast and drinking too much coffee. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that this group was in essence the fledgling beginning of an “Un-Club.”

Why do I say Un-Club? Well-run clubs are delightful, but in my personal experience most ham clubs fall short of that goal. I recall plainly how I attended a meeting of a local ham club where we discussed the method for electing the president for the entire meeting. I never returned to that club. They were caught up in the machinery of the club rather than promoting and emphasizing its purpose.

In our Un-Club breakfast group we weren’t interested in a club we just wanted to get together weekly, enjoy the fellowship and the food, and talk about many things, including ham radio. Interestingly, this format must have attracted others because our numbers steadily grew.

Helping Hams

In Palatine, Illinois, there is a very strong sense of volunteerism for community events. To that end, and spearheaded by newly appointed Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Coordinator Tom Smith, KB9ZTL, (a recently retired commander in the Palatine Police Department) Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training was established.

We conducted CERT training for a many civic minded citizens who could then support the activities of neighbors and the local police and fire authorities. CERT training included search and rescue, damage estimation, triage assistance for medical people and CPR certification. In addition, CERT trained volunteers became available for emergency traffic control and to act as eyes and ears for the police during parades and special community events.

EmComm Communication

In one of their Simulated Emergency Tests the CERT participants found that the Family Radio Service radios being used didn’t have sufficient range to keep them in contact with the control station. In considering the problem, we realized that if we all got ham licenses, we could use higher power for fixed or mobile stations and also access the local repeater, thus greatly expanding the communications coverage.

Training Classes

As a result, Chuck advertised a 7 week class for participants to earn their Technician license using ARRL®Ham Radio License Manual and the Instructor’s Manual. Interest was significant and immediate. We held our first class and perhaps 10 people passed the test for the Technician license.

The success of the first class led to additional classes, twice per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Each class has had enrollments of 10-16 students and, in most cases, those who stuck out the 7 weeks passed their Technicians test.

Most classes were for the Technician license, but we’ve also offered General class theory and Morse code. To date, we’ve held six classes and have over 50 licensees to show for our effort, including several General class and three Extra class upgrades. Most of these new ham radio licensees have become active members of Palatine’s rapidly expanding ARES®/RACES group, which exists, in part, to support the EMA structure and the CERT trained volunteers.

A number of our licensees have taken the ARRL Introduction to Emergency Communication (EC-001) online training courses and in some cases have finished all three levels of training. Others are currently working toward that end.

SMART Saturday

Chuck works as manager at the park district facility and during the winter months the facility is lightly used and we meet there on Saturday mornings. He has named it SMART (Saturday Morning Amateur Radio Time). These are great times to get together and play with the rigs, portable antennas and so on.

Often times we’ve spent a couple hours helping newbie hams program their handheld transceivers, which as we all know can be a bit confusing to the neophyte. On another occasion, a number of us built and tuned twin-lead J-pole antennas for the 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands.

Meanwhile, back at the restaurant, newbie hams have joined our group. Many who are still working cannot attend, but retirees and some wives can and do join us. Our typical attendance at breakfast runs 10-18 people. Occasionally, some have brought to breakfast a piece of unneeded ham hardware and have asked if anyone can use it. Often it’s just what someone in the group needs, with the added bonus of being free.

For several years, Bill Farmer, K9BTF, has spearheaded a Field Day effort that has grown over the years. At our last Field Day we had three pop-up trailers and over 30 participants. Visitors included a number of scouts, a local Palatine councilman and other notables. Operating under the special event call W9P we scored 4384 points in the 2A category. Another year we participated in Winter Field Day and a few of us operated from the author’s home using SSB and PSK all on battery power.

Are we a club? In the strict sense of the definition (An association of persons for some common object, jointly supported and meeting periodically. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary), yes, we are a club.

Organization, What Organization?

No one has ever suggested that we formalize our group with officers and a bank account. What drives the group is the willingness of various members to step up and spearhead an activity. Tom, KB9ZTL, as Palatine City emergency coordinator has helped with civic approvals for Field Day sites and training sessions at the EOC Emergency Center.

What’s the Appeal?

What is it that keeps the group going? It is probably the lack of formal organizational structure as much as anything. In our Un-Club members have the freedom to participate or not, in any or all activities. We don’t concern ourselves with dues or minutes, but only with the breakfast camaraderie just plain fun.

So What Might Breathe New Life Into Your Club? Think about these:

If your club is atrophying; if it is staid and lacks interest, perhaps it needs less structure.

If the officers sit at the front table and the members are an audience, then something’s wrong.

If the treasurer takes 10 minutes to detail where every penny went, then something’s wrong.

If the same people are in leadership roles time and again, then something’s wrong.

If your club is so focused on winning Field Day as to exclude newer members from operating various modes because of established teams, then something’s wrong.

Perhaps a breakfast meeting would be an answer for your club. Food attracts everyone. Eating is a pleasant and necessary activity, so why not make it a ham oriented meal. It may be on a weekday such as ours, or a weekend whatever fits your situation.

If you hold your Un-Club at a restaurant then you have:

No need for a speaker

No postage for newsletters and dues reminders

No bank account, no records keeping

No expenses to pay, no treasurer

Perhaps something here rings a bell with you. Perhaps you see ways to improve what we’ve done or at least adapt some ideas to your situation. Few hobbies have such a wide variety of activities and eclectic areas of interest as ham radio. The possibilities are endless. EmComm, Field Day, construction, antennas, mobile, satellites, EME, contests, conventions, training, hamfests and the list goes on.

Why not try an Un-Club.

Dave Gauger, W9CJS, an ARRL member, was first licensed in 1948 and has held W9CJS since then except for a short period as KF9X. Dave was educated as a teacher with a BS from Northern Illinois University and an MS in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught in public schools from 1958-1963 and then became chief electronics engineer at Littelfuse, Inc until his retirement in 1995. Now he teaches physics, electronics, aviation, photography and ham radio at a private school.

Dave and his wife have six children and one, David II, is WB9BMM. During the 1970s his musical family entertained at the Dayton Hamvention three different years as The Gauger Brass. Dave spoke at Dayton once on the subject of WEFAX (weather fax) reception using a five turn helix antenna on an azimuth-elevation mount. You can contact Dave at 3900 Bluebird Lane S, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008,