… of SPARK and the surrounding area.
The Southern Peninsula Amateur Radio Klub (SPARK) has been in existence since the 1960s. Prior to SPARK local hams all belonged to PARC, the Peninsula Amateur Radio Club. As radio technology advanced some members of PARC wanted to venture into new territory for the group and begin using Single Side Band (SSB) and establish an HF station using SSB. Others in the group wanted to stay with AM. The SSB advocates split from PARC and created SPARK.
In the earliest days of SPARK, the group met in a storage building behind the Holiday Inn on Mercury Boulevard, at the “Tunnel Road”, which is now I-664. Later, club meetings were held in the VEPCO building on Pembroke Avenue. Club member, Dick K4DHO, worked at VEPCO which contributed to VEPCO helping the group by allowing meetings to be held there. Dick also helped local amateur operators out by finding and reducing power and TV interference problems.
Sam, WB4JPA (SK) could be called the “father” of the SPARK repeaters and contributed to their development in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Sam worked at WGH and later had a direct hand in engineering the coax cable system for Newport News Cable – now Cox Communications. Sam was one of the good guys and was a very skilled technician and leader of The Repeater group.
Other SPARK members including Don, WB4OST (SK); Jim WA4IVM; and Wally K4OGT, and a few others teamed up to build the first 146.73 FM machine in Don’s garage. By this time, FM had become popular and was beginning to be widely used by public service as it did not have the static, we had been used to in amateur radio’s AM days. The machine faithfully supported the club, but it wasn’t the first repeater in the area. That honor goes to the 146.94 machine that was on the gantry at NASA on Wythe Creek Road near Poquoson. The 94 machine is important because it caught local Amateur’s interest in FM radio. Local Amateurs would work the 94 machine through the use of surplus crystal-controlled FM equipment converted to operate in the Amateur bands.
Many SPARK members where anxious to have another machine – especially one that belonged to the club. Some club members wanted to spend money on HF gear, but the repeater idea won out. The first home of the 73 machine was in the attic of Fort Monroe’s Chamberlain Hotel.
During this time, remote repeaters had to be controlled by terrestrial means, so it was connected to a telephone line. Having a control phone line also allowed the machine to have a phone patch capability.
Members could make non-business calls from their car or other radios. This was well before cellular phones were popular. The “patch” was often used to report accidents and other important issues with auto-dial numbers direct to the local police. Many members also had an auto-dial number programmed to their home number.
Additionally, Sam thought it a good idea to have a UHF Control Receiver for back up. Control operators could control the repeater on this special UHF control frequency. The unit was built with surplus Motorola units obtained both from the phone company and the Ramey brothers, who ran a Motorola business in Chester.
Around 1986, VHF repeaters were being installed all over the area, and transceivers were becoming available with dual band capability. Sam decided to use some of the parts and cabinets he had purchased for himself, to build a new UHF repeater in his garage. It took many hours to develop the new UHF machine but those who toiled on the task prevailed. It was installed next to the 146.73 machine in the attic of the Chamberlain Hotel. Our older members have fond memories of spending time with Sam and others, learning the ins and outs of repeaters.
SPARK’s Repeater Committee members used to ensure the repeater could always be used and would go make repairs at all times of day and night. Keeping the radio “on-the-air” is a key part of what Amateur Radio is about. When other systems fail – we’ll be there.
After Sam passed away, his parents gave SPARK the UHF 444.55 repeater located at the Chamberlain. That’s how SPARK got the 55 machine, which is still used today.
A while later, the Chamberlain was closed and a group led by Charlie WB4PVT, removed the equipment without the use of the elevators. After restoration, the equipment was put back in service. Then the repeaters were moved to their current location in the Executive Towers office building at the corner of Tower Place and Executive Drive in Hampton.
SPARK began meeting at the Salvation Army building on Big Bethel Road and had installed a roll-away cabinet with an HF station and antennas to support the Salvation Army’s shelter program. In 2022, SPARK moved the monthly meeting location to the Northampton Christian Church on Todds lane. The antennas and radio cabinet were moved to Fire Station 6 for installation of a radio station at that location.
SPARK held the WB4ABT callsign and other trustee calls over the years. The W4QR call sign became available when SPARK member, W4QR, who was a founder of the Gonset Company, passed away. He lived in the area from retirement until he became a SK.
SPARK continues to hone its skills and grow as a group, having 49 members. We have participated in every ARRL Field Day since SPARK was founded, joining with the Peninsula Amateur Radio Club and Hampton Public-service Team. SPARK is a principal supporter of the Tidewater Area Hamfest through Tidewater Radio Conventions, Inc.
SPARK also provides radio support to the annual Kecoughtan Warrior Band Classic and other public activities.