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While awards for ham radio achievements go back as far as the 1930's with the IARU Worked All Continents, ARRL WAS, and CQ Magazine's WAZ and Prefix awards, the serious pursuit of working all USA counties didn't really take hold until the "re-birth" of ham radio after WWII. During the 1950's Clif Evans (K6BX) founded the "Certificate Hunters Club," (CHC) to assist amateurs working for these awards and other challenges, including working counties.
In the 1950's and 60's, most county hunting was contacts between fixed stations, but there were (and still are) counties with no fixed ham radio operations, so mobile and portable operation was then (and still is) a "must" for working all counties. The 4,000 members of CHC represented more than 175 DX countries and pursued many awards. In the USA, chapters of the CHC encouraged county hunting. The emerging availability of mobile ham gear, including surplus and home brew rigs, made the "impossible dream" goal of working all USA counties seem reachable ... someday.
On 3943 kHz, one of the earliest CHC nets was a hotbed of county hunting activity, as was the CHC Flying Hams Club Service Net on 14340 kHz. Hosted by three YL's: Tillie (KØRGU), Valerie (K2KQC), and Orma (W9BJH) ... and Clif (K6BX). This net was mostly fixed SSB stations, but the occasional mobile check-in was given priority. One source of county hunting information was a newsletter published briefly by Bing (WØGV, who was easily recognized by his habit of calling everyone "Good Buddy," a phrase otherwise rare on the ham bands). County hunting was also a focal topic in CQ Magazine. When Clif joined CQ, the USA-CA awards were created and the first 26 applications for USA-CA 500 were numbered 1A through 1Z. The first USA-CA 1000 awardee was K4AI in 1962.
As more and more activity occupied the CHC nets, the inevitable turf "discussions" emerged, focusing on objections to the increasing county hunting activity on 14340 kHz. In November 1966, that "schism" led to the creation of the "Independent County Hunters Net" (ICHN) on 14336 kHz, where it continues to operate to this day. The founders of the ICHN were WA4BMC, K8CIR, and WB2FVO. The ICHN was still dominated by fixed stations, but the number of mobiles putting out counties increased every year. A 40 meter net on 7225 kHz was also very successful in attracting mobile ops.
Within a year after Ed Hopper took over as USA-CA Custodian at CQ Magazine, the first USA-CA for all USA counties was awarded to Clif Corne, Jr. (K9EAB), who finished them all on November 9, 1965, even though polio confined him to an iron lung. In 1969, the ICHN held its first "eye ball" QSO in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Out of the discussions held at this meeting and an ongoing need for a club to promote mobile county hunting awards, the Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club, Inc. (MARAC) was formed in Kansas City in March, 1970, by Ella Koons (WØAYL), Jack Scroggin (WØSJE), Mike Baustain (WAØKQQ), "Skip" Skaptason (WAØWOB), Cleo Mahoney (WAØSHE), Clyde Stottlemyre (WØYLN), and Joe Bidnick (WAØPJX). Within a year, MARAC grew to over 100 members. The objectives of the club were to promote mobile operation, to provide incentives for county hunters who had earned the USA-CA award to remain active, to publish a newsletter, and to sponsor awards related to mobiling and county hunting.
Another county hunting pioneer was Bill Nash (WØOWY) founder of the B&B Shop and publisher of the County Hunter Handbook and special logbooks and directories. B&B created several awards, including the Five Star Award, and maintained a computer database for county hunters called PEACH. By the mid-1990's, several computer logging programs were available for county hunting, including the venerable KWIKLOG by Willis (KJ4EJ). Today, MARAC offers a sophisticated windows-based award tracking software called (appropriately) LOGGER to its members for a modest fee.
While MARAC sponsors awards for "best net control," the "hands off" tradition pertaining to the county hunting nets is deeply rooted in MARAC history. As explained by MARAC co-founder Skip (WAØWOB), "When we established the goal and criteria for MARAC in 1970, we all agreed that we would steer away from any attempt to manage or in any way interfere with the operation of the county hunting nets. That was left up to the independent group running the ICHN." The founders also agreed that MARAC would never sponsor or operate a net ... a resolve that has been maintained to this day.
In the 1994 Edition of the B&B Shop's Handbook, the County Hunter History (edited by Arnie - K9DCJ and Bob - KØAYO) shed some further light on the long-standing avoidance of entanglement in the ICHN net ops by MARAC. While the two groups joined forces to sponsor social events (the third annual ICHN convention in Kansas City, MO held in 1971, was also the first MARAC annual convention), MARAC and ICHN remained separate. According to Arnie and Bob, "MARAC fully supports the County Hunters Net without interfering with its operation or its independence. This is especially important since the net was formed in the first place as a revolt against the over-dominance of a club."
In addition to its corporate Charter and Bylaws, MARAC maintains a set of formal rules and procedures governing its awards. The rule about net sponsorship is simple: "MARAC has no Net Operations and does not endorse or control any Net Operation." There is a rule that defines how net control activities can be used for MARAC awards, but this rule does not govern how a net must be operated. The rule states "For purposes of MARAC awards, credit for service as a Net Control Station (NCS) or Assistant Net Control (ANCS) can be earned for assisting mobile stations to make contacts with other county hunters, including maintaining control of a net frequency, keeping a list of active mobiles, announcing mobile call signs and counties, and providing relays. NCS and ANCS time may not be claimed when a net is not operating (open session)."
There is always a lot of discussion about the role of MARAC in county hunting activities other than sponsoring awards and county hunter conventions and mini-conventions (regional "eye balls"), like the one in Charleston, SC on Oct 23-25, 2008. The idea of setting more consistent standards for net operations (rather than leaving that up to the independent ICHN county hunters) is tempting and even promoted by MARAC members who disagree with how some nets operate. But when the ramifications of "policing" net operations (or trying to manage net schedules and net controls) are discussed, the wisdom of the founders of MARAC always prevails. Even though ICHN operations are sometimes controversial, and on occasion contentious, the nets remain independent and the MARAC volunteers can focus on their primary objectives … sponsoring county hunting awards and social gatherings.
de David Splitt, KE3VV
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