I was asked to share some stories about my tenure as editor of the NCJ during the period 1973 through 1975, the first three years of NCJ publication. I was self-selected for the job as editor [publisher, reporter, copywriter, layout manger, subscription manager, etc.] and there were no historical precedents for how to handle the job. The only measure of success was if the NCJ continued as a publication.


In the editorial I wrote for Volume1, Issue 1, [Jan-Feb 1973] I laid out the key objective for the NCJ.  I wrote, “We believe that a genuine desire exists for more information about Radio Contests. Most of us have interest in learning about other stations, operators, etc. that we find in competition with us”.


Since that was written more than 34 years ago, the basic concepts have not changed but the mechanisms available to share such information have dramatically changed. The mechanics of publishing the NCJ are handled by the professional staff at ARRL who also deal with QST and other ARRL publications. The subscription lists and advertising copy, something that was not a part of my three years of NCJ management, are handed by ARRL staff as well. The acquisition, selection and editing of the material which appears in the NCJ, however, remains in the hands of radio amateurs whose decisions are not controlled by ARRL or any other organization. That kind of independence was something that we valued as we began publication and it is good to know that it continues today.


In the initial issues we did not have the wonderful artistic and layout support available today. Nor did we have commercial printing of issues. Since no one had a PC [not invented yet] any computerized analysis of contest data, and there was some in issue #1, had to be done on a mainframe computer using OPR [other people’s resources]. In those early years OPR was a vital ingredient. Everyone reading this should make a note to go out and buy some Wheaties or Cheerios or Yoplait or some other product provided by Betty Crocker. Although she was not aware of it she contributed “generously” to the mechanics of NCJ publication.


Gathering information for inclusion in NCJ was a daunting task. To generate the tables of 1972 ARRL SS scores that were in the first issue I sent out more than 400 messages requesting those scores using the ARRL National Traffic System [NTS]. I ended up with several Brass Pounder League [BPL] awards and I suspect I was either a hero or villain in the eyes of the Transcontinental or Regional Traffic Nets. I know that many of those reading this will have forgotten or maybe did not know that there was NO EMAIL during the 1972-1975 period. Communication was by US Mail, ATT [the only phone company at that time], by on-the-air QSO’s or through the NTS. Telephone calls ran in the dollars per minute so they were limited [another Betty Crocker contribution – but limited].


In 1973 the technological environment was sparse for easy information exchange, data analysis and printing. There was no internet. DARPA was in existence but not available to most folks. There was no World Wide Web. Postage seemed expensive at the time and we used 16 cents per issue for the first ones sent out. Since the NCJ subscription price was $1 per year, postage was an issue. There were no word processors – even on the mainframes. Minicomputers were just starting to augment or replace mainframes and some people had access to them, but personal computers were still several years away. I built my first PC using an 8080 CPU and 4 Kbytes of 1 kilobit static RAM chips using wire wrapping in 1976 – one year too late to be of value in editing NCJ material even if I had been able to code a text editing program after I finished coding the operating system.


In the first three years we used mechanical typewriters and IBM selectric typewriters to produce the initial copy and then did a literal cut and paste of the typed copy onto sheets that were used to make the offset masters. Eventually we used a new device made by Xerox to scan the pasted together final copy and transfer it to the paper offset masters. Some of the initial text was typed by me. That was so bad that I persuaded a couple of secretaries at the place I worked [you know the company by now] to do the typing for me. Since we had no money for such work and I was married, the incentive for the typists was pretty small. Happily they were “Minnesota Nice” and did the job. On the other hand, since we published every two months I did not pester them to do my typing very often.


The graphs were produced using a computer driven graph plotter at the James Ford Bell Technical Center. It helped that I had established the computing center there in the mid-1960’s, had hired all of the staff and had arranged for the writing of the computer code for plotter operation during my tenure at the Technical Center. As I said before – OPR.


While gathering information and converting it to text were personally challenging, the actual printing of the issues was done after hours using the offset printer at the Technical Center and that was done by the staff as a favor. We did pay for materials -- paper, ink, masters, etc. but did not get charged for labor. Once the pages had been printed and the ink had dried I hauled everything home and the issue assembly process began. To this day my children discuss the ‘forced child labor sessions’ used to assemble each issue. The pages would be placed on the dining room table and each child [I have five] would walk around the table picking up sheets in order and then handing them off to me to be stapled along the center fold. Every 100 issues meant 20 circles for each one of them and even the first issue had more than 250 copies. After the stapling was finished we began the cutting out of typed mailing addresses. There were no press-apply labels generated by an ink jet or laser printer since those labels and printers would not be available until many years in the future.  The cut out addresses were pasted to the outside cover of each issue. The final steps were stapling the edge of the pages together and applying the stamps.  When everything was finished I would put them in boxes and head for the post office. Although we had rented BOX 73 in the Long Lake, MN post office, there was not enough money to have metered postage and get bulk postage rates.


So much for the mechanics of each issue. The really stressful thing for me was whether or not we would be able to accumulate enough significant content to generate an issue that would be interesting. Almost as importantly, could we get information that would cause folks to subscribe to the NCJ? We had set the subscription rate very low to get initial subscriptions, about 1/12 of the rate for QST as I recall. The beginning issues were sixteen 5” by 7/12” pages. In issue #1 the content for 12 of those 16 had been generated by me! My objective was to get everything but an editorial to be contributed by others.


Happily, by issue #3 we had an Op-Ed article from George Schultz, W0UA now and WB0DJY then. George wrote about ‘over the top’ power, creative logging of QSO’s and multipliers and ignoring directions from DX stations to the guys in the pileup calling them. For example, the request by the DX station for “the Charlie Papa station only” getting responses from people who had none of those letters in their call. {some things never seem to change}.


By Issue #5 we were able to feature a six page discussion of broken calls when working JA’s. Rush Drake (W7RM), Chip Margelli and Homer Spence wrote it after the W7RM entry in a CQWW Phone DX test was found to have many broken calls and the score was revised downward significantly. These folks were well known to Contest Ops across the US – in fact, around the world. As I recall Dick Norton, W6AA now, was involved in log checking for CQ Contests [still is I guess]. He and others in California had written to JA’s that were in the W7RM log to see if W7RM was also in the JA logs. This may have been the start of serious log checking – certainly the guys involved took it very, very seriously. Today’s very sophisticated computerized log checking is a descendant of this discussion and others.


Rush and his group pointed out the challenge of working JA’s who were using 5 to 50 watts and very poor antennas. Rush had elaborate arrays for RX on the side of Foul Weather Bluff and was able to copy stations that none of the W6’s could detect were even present [hence the special log checking]. In the NCJ article it was suggested that all contest ops, and especially JA’s, should adopt one set of phonetics so that there would be a reduced chance of receiving error in SSB contests. I notice that in his March 2007 CQ column on contesting John Dorr, K1AR mentions somewhat the same thing when he advises people to drop the ‘catchy’ phonetics during the contests.


In a later issue we raised the topic of ‘assisted’ operation. Assisted back then was much different than it is today. There was neither packet spotting nor internet spotting. Our discussion was about the use of magnetic tape to record an entire contest and then going back to review the action and improve the log. Today’s descendant of this discussion is “When does the contest end?”. A topic re-discussed for the n+1 th time at the Visalia DX Convention Contest Forum in 2006.


In late 1973 or we included a note about Mike Dodd, WA4HQW, who was using a “special purpose” computer to do contest logging and keep a dupe sheet. He could also send CQ using the computer to control the radio and could send other prerecorded messages. That one got my attention and I suggested that we might need to have a special category of competition if we were going to permit the operator to be replaced by hardware. I speculated if this trend continued the operator would be reduced to working overtime just to generate the money to buy the hardware that did the actual contesting and would do the contesting without the human participating. The only instance I know of where a machine was programmed to operate a contest without a human doing anything was when Tree, N6TR, programmed a computer which operated FD all by itself. I am not sure just when that happened, but at least 25 years ago as I recall.


 Today we take for granted computer logging and duping and having the computer handle some of the exchange. In 1973 we were eight years ahead of the time that IBM would introduce their PC. The TRS-80 was at least 5 years in the future and no one that I knew of had anything more exotic than a memory keyer in their shack. I finally built a personal computer from the Intel 8080 chip set in 1976 but it was so primitive that I made no attempt to use it for contesting before 1979 or so. {I had to code an operating system before I could even use it}.  In today’s SO2R and Unlimited Category environment everything is computer based and talking about paper logging and keeping paper dupe sheets is truly antediluvian.


In an effort to appeal to the ego of contest ops and thereby get them to submit material for publication in the NCJ I started listing the calls of contributors. By the Jan-Feb 1974 issue I was listing 66 calls and we had a regular CAC column. In that Jan-Feb issue we had the results of a 160 meter survey done by the CAC. Nose, KH6IJ, was the chairman, and he and Ellen White, W1YL, provided the material. By this time it was recognized by ARRL HQ that the NCJ could be useful in communicating to a special membership group.


In May-June of 1975, shortly before the last of the issues I edited, I was able to get Jim Neiger, ZD8Z, and a bunch of other call signs, to describe operating from exotic QTH’s as he did his unusual engineering work. Jim is a good writer and his article created a lot of interest.


The last thing I would like to mention is a small inclusion in an issue in late 1975 where Klaus, DJ8RX, mentions a contest run in Germany that only lasted a few hours. That note was the seed that led to the invention of the NCJ Sprint which continues to be popular today. In fact, the NCCC has created their own Thursday night Sprint to encourage contest practice for its members and others who wish to participate. Since plagiarism is the most sincere form of compliment I was pleased to see that NCCC had done that. 


It is genuinely gratifying to see how well all of the successive editors managed the NCJ. They transformed it from something that was barely operational to a robust, publication which has worldwide interest and value. We are truly indebted to them all.


Tod Olson, K0TO

Former Editor, NCJ