About SPARK and the Community...
The Southern Peninsula Amateur Radio Klub (SPARK) has been in existence since the 1960s. Prior to SPARK there was PARC, Peninsula Amateur Radio Club. As radio technology advanced some members of PARC wanted to venture into new territory for the group and begin using Single Side Band (SSB) and establish an HF station using SSB. Others in the group wanted to stay with AM. As it turned out some split from PARC and created SPARK and jumped into SSB.
In the earliest days of SPARK the group met in a storage building behind the Holiday Inn on Mercury Blvd. at the "Tunnel Road," I-64. Later, club meetings were held in the VEPCO building on Pembroke Ave. A club member Dick (K4DHO) worked at VEPCO, which contributed to VEPCO helping the group by allowing meetings to happen there. Dick also helped local Amateur Operators out by finding and reducing power and TV interference problems.
Sam, WB4JPA(SK) could be called the "Father" of the SPARK repeaters and contributed to their development in SPARK in the late 70's and throughout the 80's. Sam was a local man who worked at WGH and later had a direct hand in engineering the coax cable system for Newport News Cable - now Cox. Sam was one of the good guys and was a very skilled technician and leader of The Repeater group.
Other SPARK members including Don, WB4OST(SK), Jim (WA4IVM), and Wally (K4OGT), and a few others who later left the area, teamed up and built the first 146.73 FM machine in Don's garage. FM had become popular and was beginning to be widely used by public service and did not have the static we had been use to in the AM days. The machine faithfully supported the club but it wasn't the first repeater in the area. That honor goes to the 146.94 machine that was on the gantry at NASA. The .94 machine is important because it caught local Amateur's interest in FM radio. Local Amateurs would work the .94 machine through the use of surplus crystal controlled FM equipment converted to operate in Amateur bands.
Many SPARK members where anxious to have another machine - especially one that belonged to the club. Some club members wanted to spend money on HF gear but the repeater idea won out. The first home of the .73 machine was in the attic of the Chamberlain Hotel on Ft. Monroe. During this time remote repeaters had to be controlled by terrestrial means so it was connected to a telephone line. Having a control phone line also allowed the machine to have a “Phone Patch.” Members could make non-business calls from their car or other radios. Remember this was before cell phones were popular and the “patch” was often used to report accidents et cetera, with auto-dial numbers direct to the local police. Many members also had an autodial number programmed to their home number. In addition, Sam thought it would be a good idea to have a UHF Control Receiver for back up. Control operators could control the repeater on this special UHF control frequency. The unit was built with surplus Motorola units obtained both from the phone company and the Ramey brothers, who ran a Motorola business in Chester, VA.
Around 1986, VHF repeaters were being installed all over the area, and transceivers were becoming available with dual band capability too. Sam decided to use some of the parts and cabinets he had purchased for himself, to build a new UHF repeater in his garage. It took many hours to develop the new UHF machine but those who toiled on the task prevailed. It was installed next to the 146.73, in the attic of the Chamberlain Hotel. Our older members have fond memories of spending time with Sam and others, learning the ins and outs of repeaters.
Our Repeater committee members used to ensure the repeater could always be used and would go make repairs at all times of day and night. Keeping the radio "on-the-air" is a key part of what Amateur Radio is about. When other systems fail - we'll be there.
After Sam passed away his parents gave SPARK the UHF 444.55 repeater sited at the Chamberlain. That's how SPARK got the .55 repeater, which is still used today.
A while later the Chamberlain was closed and later a valiant group, headed by Charlie (WB4PVT), removed the equipment, without the use of the elevators, and after restoration the equipment was put back in service. The repeaters were moved to their current location in the office building at Tower Pl. and Executive Dr.
SPARK began meeting at the Salvation Army building on Big Bethel and had installed a roll-away cabinet with HF station and antennas to support the Salvation Army's shelter program.
SPARK held the call WB4ABT and other trustee calls over the years. W4QR became available when SPARK member, W4QR, who was a founder of the Gonset Company, passed away. He lived in the area from retirement until he became a SK.
SPARK continues to hone its skills and grow as a group having about 20 active members. We have participated in every Amateur Radio Field Day since SPARK was founded. SPARK is a principle supporter of the VA Beach Ham-fest through Tidewater Radio Conventions, Inc. Along with 12 other clubs, SPARK made donations to start the Amateur Radio display at the Virginia Air and Space Center and continues to support that effort.
SPARK also helps conduct parades and other public activities in the local area. During severe whether you can bet a SPARK member (or several of them) will be communicating with local officials and are standing by to support communications needs when called upon.
There's more to Amateur Radio than simply having a bunch of antennas on your car or house. Many Amateur Radio enthusiasts like the excitement of making contacts with people in distant lands or in the next town. Still others get involved in Amateur Radio to help their neighbors, town, city, and perhaps even their state. How? Well, read on...
Amateur Radio operators often get involved in Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES). This service consists of licensed Amateur Radio operators who use their skills and equipment to help out in times of need or in emergency situations. While cellular phones are handy every-day devices, sometimes they just don't work. In situations like these Amateur Radio operators save the day. You can learn more about ARES at the ARRL web site.
Another service you might be interested in is called Amateur Radio Civil Emergency Service (RACES). This type of service replaces regular Amateur Radio Service in times of national need - like during a war. You can read more about RACES at usraces.org.
Often Amateur Radio operators support their local community more directly through direct services during community events, e.g., parades, shows, marathons. In Hampton, VA the Hampton Public-Service Team (HPT) organizes to do just that. You can find their web site at w4hpt.hamptonva.net. The HPT meets monthly on the last Saturday. The meetings start at 8 AM. Check our calendar for specific dates.