In the woods of Massachusetts, pairs of contestants huddle in tents filled with communications equipment. Their voices soar through the air, riding waves into the atmosphere, as they comb through static and noise for a response from the other side of the world. They’re searching for loot—in the form of other voices in the sky. The rarer their contact, the more valuable their treasure. Joining them in their quest is author J.K. George, an experienced radio operator himself, who guides you through the exciting world of amateur radio competition and the intriguing characters of the 2014 World Radiosport Team Championship. The competitors hail from across the planet—from youthful challengers to veterans with decades of radiosporting experience. You will meet fascinating personalities not only among the teams themselves but also among their “widows”—spouses left behind for the allure of the airwaves. They battle computer malfunctions, getting lost, and staying at the top of their game for 24 hours in a hot, stuffy tent. The final scores bring surprises, disappointments, even a recount, and decades-long friendships will be stressed in the fight for the crown of amateur radio—the ultimate “contact” sport.
|Publisher:||Greenleaf Book Group Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
J.K. (Jim) George (N3BB) has been an avid amateur radio enthusiast, with special love for Morse code and radiosporting, since his teenage years—over fifty years ago. He started his hobby listening to short-wave broadcasts and long-distance AM radio stations. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech, where he was president of the VT Amateur Radio Club and was inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering after serving as Chair of the Advisory Boards for both Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as the College of Engineering. He is an avid Virginia Tech sports fan. He completed his graduate school at Arizona State University, specializing in semiconductor materials physics. George’s professional career was primarily at Motorola, where he worked in the semiconductor business for nearly forty years and served as corporate vice president for nearly fifteen years. Following his retirement, George was a founding member and served for several years on the advisory board for KUT-FM, the public radio station of the University of Texas at Austin. George enjoys reading and writing and has been a member of a small men’s book club in Austin for over a decade. He and his wife live in the Hill Country west of Austin, and have three grown children and five grandchildren. His first book was Reunion, a novel about a difficult relationship between a father and son, as well as life-long friendships within a unique high-school peer group.
Read an Excerpt
A Story of Champions, Airwaves, and a One-Day Race Around the World
By J. K. George
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2016 James Kennedy George, Jr.
All rights reserved.
* * *
Five hundred people took a collective deep breath, and many squirmed a bit in their chairs. The constant buzz of conversations — in multiple languages — eased off, and then quieted completely.
Doug Grant, the World Radio Team Championship (WRTC) 2014 chairman, was ready to get started. "Now to a key milestone," he said as he leaned on the podium. He paused and looked out at the sea of participants crowded into the ballroom of the DoubleTree hotel in Westborough, Massachusetts. "By tradition, the defending champions will draw first."
From where I was standing at the rear of the huge room, I could see everyone crane to see the champs. At the back of the room, the Russian team, Vlad Aksenov and Alexey Mikhailov, began threading their way through the maze of tables to get to the front. They'd won gold medals in the 2010 WRTC competition in Moscow, in a nail-biter with a tough Estonian pair. (The winning margin was only 0.3 percent.) If any hard-to-read tensions from the old Soviet Union might have resurfaced four years ago, none had been reported. Aksenov reached into what appeared at a distance to be a large glass fishbowl and pulled out a fat envelope.
"You've selected site 12A," Grant announced in a crisp New England accent. "And your referee is" — he dipped once again into the enclosure — "K7 Golf Kilo."
He didn't mention the referee's name, Denis Pochuev, since most people knew him by his radio call sign. Pochuev, a 43-year-old expert in software security now living in San Francisco, was born in Moscow and grew up in the Russian-speaking region of eastern Ukraine. He was known to this group as K7GK. (The beginning K indicated his current status as an American.)
The first crucial element of the WRTC, the most widely publicized and broadly followed radiosporting event in the world, had begun. The remaining fifty-eight teams would now get to draw their sites and referees. Chairman Grant called out the next team to draw: "Next up: Lima X-Ray Two Alpha and his partner, Yankee Oscar Three Japan Radio."
To most people, LX2A and YO3JR would be some sort of cryptic code. But to the men and women packed into the ballroom, these translated easily into the call signs of amateur radio stations licensed respectively by the countries of Luxembourg and Romania. Philippe Lutty, a 32-year-old civil engineer from Luxembourg with academic-looking glasses and tousled hair, led the way to the podium and selected an envelope.
"Philippe," Grant spoke slowly and waited a moment for the din to subside. "You have selected site 15P." Translated, that meant he and his teammate, Andy Ruse, a psychologist from Romania with two previous WRTC competitions under his belt, would be operating from a campsite carved out of the Myles Standish State Forest, more than seventy miles away from the headquarters hotel. "And your referee will be KC7 Victor," Grant continued.
The next team called was led by Mike Wetzel, a bearded electronics whiz and competitive tennis player in his 60s who operated almost exclusively from his brilliantly engineered home station near Indianapolis, Indiana. A group from British Columbia followed, then a Slovakian pair. A Finnish duo drew fifth.
The large room was less hushed now, with some of the tension broken. The procedure started to feel routine. As each team went through the site selection process, announcements were made, photos were taken, and the little entourage made its way to the side of the room, where an additional info package with directions and maps was provided. If needed, a driver was assigned from a pool that had been put together by an amazing volunteer network.
The ninth team to select their site and referee was the first "Special Team." Only eight of the fifty-nine teams hadn't qualified in a complex and strict meritocracy, based on numerical "points standings" from three full years of prescribed contests. Those nonqualifiers included the defending champions from the prior WRTC; two wild-card teams, invited based on some last-minute gyrations in the qualification standings; four sponsored teams; and a "Youth" team of under-25-year-olds designed to encourage younger radiosporting enthusiasts.
The Youth Team leader was a 23-year-old Italian university student who had traveled with his parents in order to compete and also to tour the United States. Filippo Vairo was the quintessential picture of a young Italian, with an outgoing personality, a shock of unruly dark hair, and free-flowing, enthusiastically accented English. Vairo had never met his teammate, a pleasant and somewhat reserved 22-year-old graduate student from Pennsylvania named Paul Whitman, until they both arrived at the hotel. The men proved to be compatible. Whitman's studies in diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall underscored both his congenial personality and the wide diversity of his interests and talents in a highly technical hobby.
In the twelfth position, Tom Georgens and Dave Mueller represented the first of four sponsored teams. In plain lingo, "sponsored" teams bypassed the prescribed rugged qualifying procedure, and they bought their way in. The WRTC was supported by a wide range of financial contributions from many radio clubs around the world, by equipment donations and in-kind support from suppliers, and by more than four hundred volunteers — mainly from New England, but also from other regions in the United States. However, additional funding was important to meet the $750,000 level needed to conduct a first-class event. The Boston organizing committee had set the minimum level at $50,000. Only four teams had been allowed to enter in this fashion, and the leaders (and operating partners) had been required to demonstrate world- class radiosporting acumen, in addition to providing, either directly or via sponsors, significant financial muscle.
Georgens, 54 years old and the CEO of a large data storage firm, was without a doubt an elite radiosport competitor. Having no station in his home residence, he usually operated from a spartan rural building he owned on the Caribbean island of Barbados. His teammate, Mueller, was a 42-year-old career man in the US Coast Guard who had attained chief warrant officer rank. Yet with a young family and, as he said, living "on coast guard pay," he was hardly wealthy. But his track record in American radiosporting in general, and specifically in previous WRTC competitions — a silver medal in Brazil and a fourth-place finish in Finland — made him an acknowledged international force. Clearly they were a team to be reckoned with.
By now the room had settled into a sort of rhythm, as Grant continued with the station site draws, followed by photograph taking and by friends crowding around to offer best wishes to each group. The fifteenth position in the process featured a Lithuanian team. The team leader was a 58-year-old telecommunications engineer with more than forty years' worth of serious radiosporting that included two previous WRTCs. His 38-year-old partner would be competing in his first. Their American referee, a federal judge from the southern state of Georgia, was familiar to almost everyone there. He was beyond reproach — a proven veteran of decades of topflight radiosporting.
At number 21 came an American team whose leader was a 68-year-old retired engineer for the Clear Channel broadcasting company. His teammate: an electrical engineering graduate and former professional French horn player.
The parade of international luminaries, in terms of world-class shortwave communications operating skills, continued with a team from Japan. The hobby of amateur radio has been expanding rapidly in many parts of Asia. Yet, in countries such as China and Japan, the conditions of high population density, crowded and expensive housing, and difficulty building a competitive station are daunting. Europe and North America continue to be the areas where most of the radiosporting enthusiasts are located. In fact, only nine of the fifty-nine teams overall came from outside these two continents.
The random order continued with teams from Italy and England–Northern Ireland. Next, at number 28, was a twosome from Hawaii. They represented Oceania, since the state of Hawaii actually counts as a separate "country," by international convention, because of its great distance from the mainland.
The team drawing in position 29 brought about a hush in the crowd. Everyone watched closely as two Americans, 33-year-old Dan Craig and 31-year-old Chris Hurlbut, made their way to the podium. One of the favorites to win the event, this team had placed third in Moscow in 2010. In addition, Craig had won the silver medal in Brazil in 2006 and had finished a strong number 4 in 2002 in Finland, both times teaming with Dave Mueller, the coast guard officer who was paired this year on a sponsored team with business titan Tom Georgens. With Craig's record of finishing numbers four, three, and two, it didn't take a math whiz to extrapolate down to the next number. The team drew an operating site in the massive Myles Standish State Forest, located an hour and a half to the southeast, with someone very well known in radiosporting circles, the Moscow-based Igor "Harry" Booklan, as their referee. If they were able to knock off the defending Russian champs from Moscow, Craig and Hurlbut would be doing it under the watchful eyes of an expert — and a Russian, to boot!
By coincidence, two German teams selected positions 35 and 36. The first of these included two experienced competitors: Manfred Wolf and Stefan von Baltz. Wolf, who qualified in the very competitive Central Europe region, had helped build a club station on a mountaintop in Germany; he'd selected Stefan von Baltz, a 38-year-old ophthalmologist who'd been an active amateur radio operator, both on a casual basis for informal conversations over the air and as a radiosport enthusiast, since his teenage years. Between the two, they had experience in three previous WRTCs, including operating together in the 2000 Slovenian WRTC. Von Baltz had competed in the 1996 event in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he was a veteran of nearly twenty years of elite international competition. This was a team many felt would contend for a top spot, and the crowd paid attention as their site in a remote portion of a Massachusetts state forest was announced. Their referee was "Wes" Kosinski, an electronics vocational professions teacher at a high school in Poland.
Next up was the first women's qualifying team ever in any WRTC event. Like Manfred Wolf, Alexandra "Sandy" Räker had qualified in the crowded Central Europe area. In her case, she took part mostly in team competitions, usually from large stations in Bavaria and Luxembourg. Räker was nothing if not determined. A former agent of the German version of the FBI, the 38-year-old had returned to her small hometown south of Hannover to head up a criminal investigation unit.
Räker's teammate was Irina Stieber, a 41-year-old marketing and sales professional who worked for a mainline newspaper in the German state of Saxony. She'd grown up near Dresden, located in the former East Germany, where she competed in a unique sporting event common in the old Eastern Bloc that had been allied with the Soviet Union. She became an expert in high-speed telegraphy, or HST, one of the designated sporting events, and was an authentic Morse code phenom. Although they had no prior experience in high-profile WRTC events, both women felt they had complementary skills, and they were committed to showing well against the "big guns" of the hobby.
The women drew a site on the grounds of a former state mental hospital, not far from the headquarters hotel. There was a noticeable buzz of approval in the room when their referee was announced as Rusty Epps, from the San Francisco Bay Area. The high-profile figure on the WRTC executive committee was a true inside player in amateur radio. A former corporate attorney and general counsel for a major telecommunications company, he had a low-key personality and avuncular demeanor that put people at ease. Epps and his longtime partner, Bill Vinci, were a standard fixture at all WRTC events.
At this point, thirty-six of the fifty-nine teams had made their way to the podium and taken care of site determination, the referee, the phalanx of photographers, finding drivers, and so on. A massive array of equipment — of bags and luggage, of radios, computers, and the supporting items that constituted two complex radio stations — began to dot the hotel lobby. These competitors and their entourages began loading cars and SUVs for the drive to their site.
As the room began to empty, the tingling atmosphere surrounding the start slowly changed as the procedure continued for the final twenty-three teams. Among them was another sponsored team, backed financially by George DeMontrond, a square-jawed, six-foot-three Texan who looked like he could be cast as the hero in a Western. He was a presence in the business community of Houston, where he owned multiple car dealerships and RV centers. In addition, he had been prominent in the socially delicious Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (the city's self-described "signature event"), and served as a board member of the Houston Grand Opera. Besides these demands on his time, he was a lifelong (since age 12) amateur radio enthusiast who had planned, financed, and overseen a massive contest station on the family's old-money ranch near Hempstead, Texas. DeMontrond had come to rely on a team of antenna and tower specialists who had gotten into what was now a full-time business building and maintaining amateur radio stations nationwide, since many of the hobby's enthusiasts were getting older and had disposable income at the same time they were losing (if they ever had it) their ability to climb fifty or even one hundred feet up towers in order to install antennas and make all the connections that keep electrons flowing.
John Crovelli, a somewhat crusty and terse New Jerseyan, had gained DeMontrond's confidence for two reasons: his capability to build and maintain the world-class amateur radio station at the ranch and his status as a superstar radiosporting competitor. Crovelli operated from both the United States and the Dutch island of Aruba, where he rented a house and maintained an amateur radio contest station in the abrasive climate of the Caribbean. He had competed in four previous WRTCs. He had also tried hard to qualify from his region of New York and New Jersey but had fallen short. So, he was pleased when DeMontrond asked him to partner in the final open slot for a sponsored team. The Texan was primarily a voice operator, so he would focus on that, while Crovelli, who could do both tasks equally well, would handle Morse code.
Another team in the final third of the site draw included the most prominent public figure of all, a man who was sought out by reporters for National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, and major regional newspapers. Scott Redd, better known to the radiosporting community as K0DQ, had retired from the US Navy as a vice admiral. After a stint as CEO of a high-tech educational firm, he returned to Washington to take a key role as the first director of the US National Counterterrorism Center. Redd's patience and calm presence masked a steely competitive spirit that had netted him eleven world championships in major specific radiosporting events, as well as induction into the CQ Contest Hall of Fame in 2008.
Redd's teammate and actual qualifier from the extremely competitive mid- Atlantic region (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) was Ken Low, who worked as a financial advisor for high-net-worth families. Low had lived in both the United States and Europe because of his wife's work with the US State Department. He had an undergraduate degree in engineering but had worked on Wall Street, at least electronically, for thirty years. Besides his lifelong interest in amateur radio, Low was one of the foremost Americans competing in the Eastern European–centered high-speed telegraphy — also a specialty of Irina Stieber of the German team. He had led an American team in every international HST competition. Yet, since he and Redd were equally balanced in terms of voice and Morse, they had high hopes of doing well.
Excerpted from Contact Sport by J. K. George. Copyright © 2016 James Kennedy George, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 SITE SELECTIONS,
Chapter 2 THE WOMEN'S TEAM,
Chapter 3 HAM WIDOWS' BALL,
Chapter 4 QUALIFYING — IT'S HARD!,
Chapter 5 FINDING SITE 15W,
Chapter 6 GETTING SET,
Chapter 7 MEANWHILE, AT OTHER SITES,
Chapter 8 ONE FINAL OBSTACLE,
Chapter 9 A BAD TRIP,
Chapter 10 THE FIRST HOUR,
Chapter 11 AND THEY'RE OFF!,
Chapter 12 SATURDAY MORNING,
Chapter 13 AROUND THE CIRCUIT,
Chapter 14 SATURDAY AFTERNOON,
Chapter 15 DUSK,
Chapter 16 OVERNIGHT,
Chapter 17 MORSE MAGIC,
Chapter 18 TREASURE HUNT,
Chapter 19 CLOSING IT OUT,
Chapter 20 BACK AT HQ,
Chapter 21 DECISIONS, DECISIONS,
Chapter 22 THE AWARDS,
Chapter 23 ONE HAPPY TABLE,
Chapter 24 A LOOK BACK,
Appendix THE RESULTS OF THE WORLD RADIOSPORT TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am a radiosport enthusiast so this book caught my attention. I knew it would be of interest to me but was somewhat skeptical if this highly technical past time could be made interesting to the average reader. I was wrong. I have read a lot of thrillers on the best seller list and I think this book has every bit as much drama as they did. Jim George does a great job of explaining the technical stuff in an easy to understand manner while making the characters interesting. I could picture myself in those tents in New England. The dramatic finish was worth the wait. I recently read “ The Boys in the Boat” and found it compelling even though I knew nothing about crew teams and racing. I feel the average person will feel the same about this book regardless of whether they know anything about amateur radio.