GRONK Radio Network

GRONK History and Background

Back in the late 1960s, a group of friends had an idea and a dream, that blossomed to create a linked radio system. It became the first intermountain Remote Base Network, laying the foundation of nearly all subsequent linking systems. Especially in the Southwest. While certainly not the first to build Remote Bases, they pioneered the concept of a true dedicated network of them when others were merely single-site operations. Among these early participants were Steve Grimm (WB6NOJ/WB6SLR), Ed Schuller (K6CTA/WA6CTA), Craig Robbins (WA6RAT/WB6FVC), Bill Hersey (WB6OZU), Squeak Porray (AD7K/K7RBM), Skip Perry (WA6LYR), Barry Flint (W7BF/WA6RTV), Loman Atkin (W6NM/K6CRD), Terry Downey (W6PZN/W6TD), George Drysdale (WA6ALQ), Bill Kelsey (W6QC/WA6FVC), Roger Wiechman (WA6ZVP), Jay O'Brien (W6GDO), Les Cobb (W6TEE), Jan O'Brien (K6HHD), Lew Barnard (WA6ESA), Dave Walizer (K6DDW), Ross Stevens (W0XJ/W6FRE), Dave Dunkelberger (W6MKA/W9CTJ) and many others. Some early members of the SLR group met on the K6MYK and WA6TDD 2-meter AM repeaters of Los Angeles in the very early days. Through enjoying the fun of the new repeater phenomenon, came the idea to put together something of their own. "450" (our colloquialism though we're technically on 440MHz) was a brand new frontier for most. Some of the then old-timers called it "432". Most said it didn't work well at all & wasn't worth the time. These were the early days of Amateur Mobile FM. Nearly all radios used were converted surplus commercial or government units made by names like Motorola, General Electric or RCA. These were the day's "Big 3" of 2-way.

The idea came among these pioneers to build their own stations, Remote Base Stations, resulting in those like WB6SLR atop Blue Ridge in Wrightwood. FCC rules required control of such stations occur above 220MHz, and while no 220MHz equipment was readily available, 450 surplus gear was. Installed in 1967, this lead to contacts with other similar stations coming online. Another group headed by Terry Downey (W6PZN) had constructed Remote Bases on Silver Peak and Rogers Peak in the Eastern Sierras of California. The common remote base simplex channel for 2-Meters was 146.94MHz. Another common FM simplex channel was 146.76MHz. Most early single-site systems talked to each other on these channels. Otherwise, it was a mysterious nebulous universe on "450" (UHF) where few knew what the others were up to.

Frequencies on 450 were generally closely guarded secrets. In those days, synthesized VFO was a luxury beyond reach. Crystals cost money, few had test equipment, and it was a wholly different world than today. The things a typical FM guy takes for granted today were all pioneered in this era. Frequency coordination was very informal in those days, handled by one or two guys who volunteered (or took charge) of being the clearing house. If you went through the trouble of buying crystals & tuning up your GE Pre-Progress Line MC306, Motorola T44-1 or your RCA CMU15, you didn't want to end up ontop of or under some other guy! Channel wars might be fun for the first few hours, but it quickly becomes old when neither party can carry on their intended purpose! So it was avoided whenever possible. Then organizations like CARC were formed (California Amateur Relay Council), although in a state the size of California, there was some disconnect between North and South.

It wasn't long at all before the idea of dedicated links was hatched, going beyond the simple 146.94/146.76 interconnect. This began with WB6SLR linking to WA7HXO on Potosi Mountain in Las Vegas and the WA6UGQ Remote at Rogers Peak (later Cerro Gordo Peak), continuing north with WA6TTL at Silver Peak in Bishop. Likewise the newly blooming Mt. Vaca Radio Club lead by Jay O'Brien (W6GDO/W6GDD) established their own Remote Station atop Mt. Vaca north of San Francisco, soon receiving the station callsign WA6UGY. It was discovered Mt. Vaca could talk to Silver Peak via a VHF link. And along with other stations, linkage to Northern California was possible.

The control systems were relay and diode arrayed logic selected by a Stepper as used in telephony. Some functions were normally enabled and links normally on, others normally off. Each Stepper position was akin to a "Macro". The links were installed as full duplex UHF links. With additional interconnects through 146.94/146.76/147.48 or even 52MHz, communication became possible over a very wide area. This generated substantial excitement! Early frontiers extended as far north as Reno/Tahoe, Sacramento and San Francisco, south into San Diego and East into Las Vegas, Cedar City (Utah) and mountaintops in Phoenix. By 1969/1970, a conversation could be had from San Francisco to San Diego and Las Vegas, and even into Phoenix all by these interconnected radios. This was all with tube-type surplus post-war radios, hand-built control systems, and a lot of work. It was truly groundbreaking for the time! At a ham radio convention called SAROC about 1971, this was demonstrated to some Motorola engineers by Squeak (K7RBM) using his HT accessing WA7HXO. He held a conversation with an operator in the San Francisco area through the Interlink, stunning the Motorola men! They didn't believe it was possible. Shown maps of what was where, they were truly in awe of this hobbyist accomplishment.

These achievements and some hyjinks alike were immortalized in two films made in the early 1970s, titled 'Once Upon A Mountain' and 'We Cover Sagebrush'. These chronicle some of the goings-on from those early years of the radio system. These films were spearheaded by Lew Barnard (WA6ESA) of the MVRC group.

During the mid '70s, Loman (W6NM) was residing in the Central Valley of California. Around 1976, he first installed a Remote at Shirley Peak near Lake Isabella. Dissatisfied with its coverage, he scouted other sites finding an ideal one: Jordan Peak near Camp Nelson. Initially located within the Jordan Fire Lookout in 1978, the WB6UBN Remote enjoyed a strong path to WB6SLR at Blue Ridge with local coverage of near the entire San Joaquin Valley! Loman had obtained a Special Use Permit from US Forestry for this co-location. Loman received word in 1980 that his equipment would need to move out. Planned upgrades, additional users and heavy microwave relay were planned leaving no room for us. Loman proposed developing a separate shelter under his existing permit. The local Communications Supervisor, Forest Supervisor and District Ranger all approved. Not long thereafter, a personnel change resulted in challenge to Loman's permit. One new official wasn't keen on the project. Loman, being very meticulous and strong-willed, succeeded in securing final approval. The GRONK building at Jordan Peak was built and activated in 1981. One member Lyle Bradt (K6QG) would regularly work it from Stockton, an amazing distance. Located with the historic Jordan Lookout, which dates back to the 1930s, its roots with a history extending as far back as the 1860s, Jordan Peak has been a dear place to us since day one. And a special place overall for Amateur Radio.

Other groups took notice as well, most notably the Cactus Intertie System, which began in the early '70s & grew into the largest privately owned non-commercial/non-government radio system in the U.S. Many other groups and systems came along also. Some were short lived, others around a good while, though many have faded. A few still remain. Also pioneered among our group were some of the control system architectures, the relationships of radios to one another, and the methods of over-air remote control as they later evolved with others like Cactus.

Our name, 'GRONK' was as a nickname of Terry Downey (W6TD/W6PZN). The old Johnny Hart comic strip "B.C." gave inspiration, whereas the radio signals of the remotes were like calls of the dinosaurs from high in the ancient mountains. The green dinosaur seen in the strip "B.C." had a limited vocabulary, and his sound was "GRONK!" At the time, "B.C." was a big hit with its humor & commentaries. And so we all became GRONKs with Terry as the Head GRONK! You may have noticed the B.C. comics at the bottom of our pages, which this ought to explain.

Over the years, members and principles have moved away, and sadly passed away in more recent years. Gary Belda (WA6ENS) became custodian of the GRONK network in the early-mid 1990s, working successfully to maintain it as Terry & others had aged & weren't as spry to tackle the mountaintops. George (W6ALQ) had moved back to Buffalo, NY with his company and while his support never wavered, his ability to participate was seldom. In 1999, Gary (WA6ENS) and Matt (W6XC, ex-W6KGB) met on-air and had some brief QSOs. A few months later in 2000, they met in person for a coordination meeting and Matt had the opportunity to inquire about joining. Matt had been involved in construction, maintenance and operation of repeater & remote base systems for several years already of his own or with other friends. This meeting with Gary began a great working partnership. Unfortunately this was cut short by Gary's sudden passing around New Year's Day 2003. This began a new transition for the group. Its future was uncertain; there were some individuals who didn't have the group's interests at heart. Understanding something needed to be done, Matt (W6XC, ex-W6KGB) volunteered to continue work and administration of the radio system with the blessings of Terry (W6TD), Loman (W6NM), George (W6ALQ) and Steve (WB6SLR). During the period 2003 to 2005, this transition took place and thus began the "second era" of the radio system under his leadership. Without this effort, the radio system would've become a memory falling victim to unscrupulous scavengers. Instead of this, he resolved to continue & build upon its legacy.

Resulting from similar partnership, the BobCat Radio system owned by Bob Clark (KE7RC, ex-WA6KCV) was absorbed in 2009 with Bob's move to Arizona. The Crossbar Radio Network was also partly absorbed into the GRONK Network in 2014. As groups and interests have changed, through working together these opportunities for mutual benefit have meant positive continuity. Thus, the dream, despite some difficulties over the years, nevertheless remains alive. Vital to this is support from our membership. Technically, this is a Private radio system. The genesis of that is two-fold, the first being Part 97 itself governing Auxiliary Stations, which a Remote Base is; per FCC rules, Auxiliary Stations must be under the control of and used by only those stations who are authorized. Unlike a Repeater Station, the Remote Base is a different animal. Second, unlike the Repeater, a Remote Base began as an extension of a personal station and evolved into a multi-user platform. Given the scale of work and expense required to construct & maintain these systems, it's only understandable that some degree of limited access occurs.

The network occupies over 20 locations to date. Nearly all stations operate mobile relay pairs within the 440-450MHz band. A mobile relay is like its cousin, the repeater, but within the context of a remote base auxiliary station. Links are generally fully duplex within the 420-450MHz band. Remotely steerable radios are available from a few sites in a variety of bands from 6 Meters to 1 1/4 Meters (220Mc). A 10 Meter FM remote was available in previous years, and has been considered for reinstallation.

We also sponsor open 6 Meter, 2 Meter and UHF repeaters in the Ventura County area in part through our partner the SeaSide Radio Association. Additionally, we sponsor or provide technical support for many VHF and UHF repeaters, remotes, other linked systems in the region, and their respective clubs or associations. Part of the radio amateur's code is to be helpful. We happily lend a hand to as many groups as possible. This spirit of cooperation for the common good is essential to our hobby's survival. Part in parcel with this is further support of emergency communications. GRONK enjoys unique coverage opportunities in certain areas that could prove vital in times of disaster. In such times, we will serve the community first.

One surely wonders by now, how do you guys make this happen? How is it sustainable? As you can imagine, it takes the commitment of key people. We have a cadre of members who want to perpetuate the Amateur Radio hobby to its fullest. Also are the "principles" of these radio systems. These are those who sacrifice family & friends for work parties at sites when something breaks or needs tweaking. This can be 6 hour (one way) drives, and maybe another 6 hours at the site itself where attention is needed.

Vital to most endeavors in life is our old nemesis, "money". Radio systems are unfortunately no exception. In fact, they involve quite the lot of it. We have a membership dues structure and accept other contributions to cover our month-to-month expenses, which are significant when tallied up over the course of a year. Site Rental cost for a single location can be over $150 per month. This is the last thing someone does if they expect to "make" money. This is a member-supported, non-profit, informal association.

For another look at early Remote Base history, read this article by Bill Kelsey (W6QC/WA6FVC) and Dr. Gordon Schlesinger (W6LBV/WA6LBV) circa 1977: The Remote Base: An Alternative to Repeaters

last rev: 10/2/19