HISTORY by KF4RO
The Sun Belt Service Net, which originated in 1992, was a spin-off of the North Florida Phone Net (NFPN) on 3.950 MHz., that met each night of the week, to pass emergency and formal traffic. Mrs. Bonnie Seigler, -N4EWF- was a very active member of the NFPN and many other nets. Her popularity was so great, that every time she would check into the NFPN a large number of NFPN members would want to say “Hi Miss Bonnie.” This was understandable due to her being on so many nets and operating as a Net Control Station (NCS) for most of these nets over twenty plus years. As we all know in amateur radio, it is difficult just to say ‘hi’ to a friend and also difficult not to acknowledge someone who has acknowledged you. A dialogue of some duration is unavoidable.
“Miss Bonnie” realized that this activity was causing an interruption on the NFPN and that itwas becoming more frequent. To prevent any future interruptions on the NFPN, she left the net along with a few of her close friends who started checking-in with each other on 3.958 MHz., each night of the week. After a couple of weeks, she found herself running a net. Theword had spread quickly that “Miss Bonnie” was now on 3.958 MHz., each night at 8:00 p.m. EST! The demand for her to be on the air each night became so great she had to enlist the aid of some regulars on the net as Net Control Stations so she could have a break. The fine amateur radio operators who were kind enough to lend a hand were, W7YWF- Howard Hampton, Yalaha, Fl., KB4WEC- Bob Carpenter, Baldwin, Fl., WA4NDA- Nils Millergren, Wewahitchka, Fl., KF4RO- Dave Phillips, Middleburg. Fl., and WD4ARW- Shirley Phillips, Middleburg, Fl. Through their efforts the number of check-ins began to grow. After a month of operation it was evident this group had become a full fledge net. In May 1992, the search for a Net Manger needed to regulate the assignments of Net Control Stations and to represent the net for registration purposes with ARRL, was undertaken. We were also searching for a name for the net. It was the desire of the NCS’s and “Miss Bonnie” not to identify the net as a Florida net. We were focusing on names that would identify a region. The“Sun Belt Service Net” was considered by all as the best name to identify the Southeastern region of the United States. Operations thus identified this region as our normal operating area and where we received the most check-ins.On June 15, 1992, KF4RO stepped forward and volunteered to take the reigns of leadership and function as the first Net Manager for the Sun Belt Service Net. The net was registered with ARRL as an independent and directed net on June 20, 1992. The purpose of the net wasdefined to be , “for promoting amateur radio, building upon the traditional foundations of friendship and community service and promote goodwill among amateurs”.
We did not establish the net as a traffic net, nevertheless, we would handle traffic when it was brought to the net and we had personnel on frequency to handle it. The unofficial purpose of the net was to provide a HF frequency where amateur radio operators could check-in and checkup on their friends. We also provided a contact point for radio operators who were confined to their homes, etc. . . . providing an outlet for them to enhance their well being and giving them the respect they so deserved. Sometimes it is difficult to understand that a simple hello from someone outside their normal environment can provide much happiness to their life. Whenever we received a report that a member was sick or in the hospital, the SBSN would send a “get well” card, KF4RO and WD4ARW donated the cards and postage for this service.
In July 1992, it was decided to move the net to 3.990 MHz due to deliberate QRM on 3.958 MHz. Shortly after we moved the net, we still experienced some QRM. We determined that this was coming from the same source that was on 3.958, but by not giving recognition to the QRM, it soon subsided. As the net passed through its’ first year of operation, many NCS’s fulfilled their obligations and moved on. “Miss Bonnie” also chose to leave the net. For a time, it became very difficult to get others to take on the dedication of an NCS. All our lives are naturally filled with family and careers, therefore, our availability was normally stretched to the point where there wasn’t free time to take on the responsibilities of an NCS.
In June 1993, KF4RO began the search for a new Net Manger. By July 7, 1993, no one had stepped forward to take the position of leadership for the net. As a result of mounting career requirements and the pursuit of a graduate degree, KF4RO had to announce to the net that we had not filled the position of Net Manger and he could no longer provide the dedication required to continue. The net would continue to operate with the current NCS’s until they chose to terminate that position. At this time the net had more than 400 regular members with an average of sixty-eight to seventy-five check-ins per night and an average of 2,100 check-ins per month. The net continued on for a few months when W8CXU- Frank Prager, obligated his time and superior leadership to the net. If it were not for his tenacity and the loyalty of one dedicated NCS, KC4SRO, -“Q” (John Quarnstrom), the longest serving NCS in the history of the SBSN, the net would not have survived.
HISTORY by W8CXU
Thus, as recorded by KF4RO, the net had reached the end of the beginning. In just fourteen months it had grown to the high status of a well recognized, well ordered operation running on a seven day a week schedule.
The move to 3990 kHz was accomplished by negotiating an agreement with a group already utilizing the frequency that started at 8:45PM, or so. It was an informal session. However, they had the right of first choice due to their longevity on this frequency. Dave- KF4RO- had worked out the agreement which permitted the switch to 3990, but there were times, regrettably all too often, when the Sun Belt Service Net operated beyond 8:45 PM. The spirit of the negotiation had been breached. This resulted in numerous on-air confrontations. Even so, the net continued daily operation under this condition--but at a price. Net Control Station operators began to drop out. The agitation factor escalated. Something had to be done to calm the situation.
It is now the summer of 1994. The aforementioned time conflict was ongoing, but, thanks to a select few people who served as Net Control Stations, net schedules were met. The principal persons who carried the load were Q-KC4SRO and Frank-W8CXU. Starting with his role as NCS, Q maintained a manual log of check-in stations. This was to prove invaluable for in July of 1994, there began a computerization of these data. By September, it was routine to log in every check-in, change of call, change of QTH, etc., to the computer database. Almost six hundred call signs were entered into the database. All was going well-- except for the time conflict problem.
In October 1994, Net Management, in a move aimed at solving this problem, took steps to curtail individual type QSO’s occurring during roster calling. Rosters were also pared to limit calling only those most active net members. And, thanks to Don Surbaugh, then WB8LVH-now WN4Q, one of the members of the informal group using the frequency after 8:45PM , an understanding was reached that our net would endeavor to respect the 8:45PM limit as best as possible. With the changes made this commitment was not difficult to meet as check-ins were numbering between 70 to 85 per night and fitted easily into the allotted time frame. As will be pointed out below the explosive growth of the net has necessitated operation hours to extend beyond 9:00PM on a regular basis. But more on that later.
With the chaos of the past few years, plus a drastic swing in band conditions, matters for concern increased. A succession of net members stepped forward to fill the NCS gap, but few remained for a long period of time. Net check-ins were now approximating 85 to 100 per night. The database had grown to over 1000 entries. Erratic band conditions coupled with past chaos, caused the few who volunteered as NCS’s, to remain but little beyond six months. (It should be noted here that ours was not the only net suffering these conditions.)
In view of the fact that NCS’s were becoming scarce, a decision was reached to discontinue weekend operations during the daylight savings period in 1996. Additionally, net operations were suspended for three nationally recognized holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. This practice was repeated in 1997, with still another change in net operating hours being instituted, namely, continuing the practice of no weekend hours in the future.
Two other operating changes were made in late 1997...moving the net start time from 8:00PM to 7:45PM and eliminating a call for “early check-ins” after 8:00PM. These changes were made to facilitate those who have other nets or activities to attend. But even so, the net began to run consistently pass 9:00PM. The reason for this problem was due to the increase in check-ins to an average of 150 per night plus an influx of formal and informal traffic.
Supporting data reflects the growth--1997 average check-ins equaling 90, taking 55 minutes---1998 (to date) check-ins of 150 on average taking 70 minutes. (Those of us who keep these records cringe as to what might happen if all the most “actives” suddenly decided to check in on a regular basis! A two-hour net??!!??) Fortunately the gentlemen with whom we had our frequency sharing agreement had reduced their operating time, thus eliminating further contention. Nonetheless, it remains the declared policy of the Sun Belt Service Net to attempt to clear the frequency as close to 9:00PM as possible in accordance with our arrangement.
(Note : What appears above was written in late 1998. I’d like to add here that two of our current members-W4FGW-Fred and George-AA2FU (now a NCS) were original members of the old Florida net and the newly created Sun Belt Service Net back in 1992. S/ Frank –W8CXU 11/16/00)
For concluding remarks, we would be totally remiss not to mention the impact of W3IHZ’s contribution to the nets success. He has been a mainstay in picking up the net and calling the roster in emergency situations. His work to place this document in a computer-readable format is to be commended. We wish to thank him for his part in helping us maintain the existence of the Sun Belt Service Net.
We look to the future hoping that more members will come to our aid as NCS operators and to a net, even more dedicated to its’ stated purpose of trying to-- “promote amateur radio and build upon the traditional foundations of friendship and community service, and to promote good will among amateur radio operators.”
by KF4RO and W8CXU)