Virginia Fone Net History


At the Virginia Phone Net picnic this year, I noticed on the VFN banner the words "founded 1934".  I wondered if that was correct.  1934 was pretty early for a phone net.  So I took my primary sources for the 1930-35 era, essentially the QST Virginia SCM (Section Manager) column, and the Virginia Section Net Bulletin, sometimes called "The Virginia Ham" which was published by then Section Manager Bob Eubank, W3AAJ between 1932-34.
First, a few background/historical notes.    In 1934 the United States was in the middle of the depression, and very few hams could buy ready made receivers and transmitters.  Virtually all hams built their own equipment, including receivers.  A CW transmitter could be built fairly easily, but AM phone required more circuits, tubes, microphone, and test equipment to check the voice quality required by FCC.  Many hams did not have the capability or money to built phone transmitters.  Of the 450 hams licensed in Virginia in the beginning of 1934, it seems apparent from the notes from stations reporting monthly to Section Manager W3AAJ that only about 50 were on AM phone. 
It is interesting to note that in 1934 the first ARRL phone contest was held, and won nationally by W3CNY in Roanoke, with W3GY in Lynchburg coming in second.  Also, in November, 1933 the ARRL began issuing "Official Phone Station" appointments.  They could only be obtained by passing a short "exam" on passing message traffic on phone.  So even though hams had been operating AM phone stations since the 1920's, it was only beginning in the 1933-4 period there were enough phone stations on the air to start to provide activities, such as contests and message handling for them.  Note that Virginia was in the third call area prior to 1948, so all calls are W3's.
So, did the Virginia Phone Net originate in 1934?  Yes!!!
From the December, 1933, The Virginia Ham, headlined, "First Virginia OPS",   "Johnny Orth, W3GY, passed examination and is now our first Official Phone Station.  He is planning a fone net and for his fine work, we are here awarding him the position of "VIRGINIA CHIEF FONE ROUTE MGR".  All Virginia fone stations should write W3GY 4101 Fort Ave. Lynchburg, Va abt net"
 Now, in  1934 many folks worked half-time or full time on Saturdays, and with most stores closed on Sundays,  Sunday afternoon was a perfect time for hams to operate, and it had become customary for Virginia hams on both CW and AM to operate on 80 and 160 meters on Sunday afternoons.  
In January. 1934 two phone nets were started.  Both were named "The Virginia Phone Net."  The first, according to the February 1934 edition of The Virginia Ham states "Chief Phone Route Manager and Examiner (for the OPS appointment) W3GY has an 80-meter phone net working every sunday.  Write him about joining".   In the same issue, Joe Fischer, W3CFV--later W4CFV and a member of the VFN until his death in the 1990's, notes that this net meets at 2pm and that he is crystal control on 3785 kHz.  There is no question that this net is the direct descendent of today's VFN.
The second,  also called "The Virginia Phone Net" met on  160 meters, on Sunday at 1:30pm.  The Virginia Ham notes that there were 8 members of the net and that Net manager was W3AHC. 
The nets in 1934 were quite different than today's nets.  Virtually no hams had VFO's,  and all used crystals to control their frequency. A crystal was only on one frequency and were fairly expensive. Many hams only owned one or two crystals on whatever bands they operated on. Thus, a net control  had to tune up and down the band, 100 KHz or more, to receive checkins. This was difficult and made nets time consuming, even if receivers were much broader than today.  Net controls quickly learned what frequencies the active stations in the net were on, and would listen for them.   
Early members of the 75-meter VFN from 1934 include a number of OT's that I remember from VFN picnics in Richmond during the late 1960's.  Doc Tamer, W3BAD-W4BAD,  Bill Snyder W3CIJ--W4WG, and already mentioned Joe Fischer, W3CFV--W4CFV.  I believe W3BIG was another ham who was active in the VFN in the 1970's but I no longer remember his name or W4 call.  Other active hams in 1934 on the VFN included manager W3GY, W3CNY, W3AHC, W3CAK, and W3BTM.  The Virginia Ham quit publishing in July 1934 and there are no further references to the VFN.    When did the VFN become a 7-day net?  Guess that will be part II of the series.   

73  Pip WB4FDT, Executive Secretary, OOTC.