THE OLD KENTUCKY
HAMS AMATEUR RADIO GROUP
THE OLD KENTUCKY HAMS
KCARC Editor’s Note from the 'Hamcall' February 2016: A month
before the 2016 annual winter meeting, I asked Hank W4HTB, the
current president, about the history of The Old Kentucky Hams
organization. He had a folder containing this article and two drafts
of it written in 1982 along with a shorter version edited by Tyla
Groce N4PWT in 1991 and given to Warren Harris W4PKX to be read at
the annual meeting. Another even shorter version appeared in the
‘Hamcall’ in February 1989. Below is what appears to be the final
version by Bob Jolly with input from Hansford Scott found in a
letter sent to Bob in May 1982 containing information about the
first meetings of the group.
This webpage for The Old Kentucky Hams has been placed on the KCARC
website to help preserve the history of this organization.
HISTORY OF THE OLD KENTUCKY HAMS by
Bob Jolly K4ORC
Founded in 1946
Thales, a Greek philosopher, started
talking and writing about little particles of matter called the
“electron” during the period of 600 B.C. Many years later, a French
physicist, Charles A. Coulomb, used all the information he could
find on the electron, experimented with them, and established an
electrical charge which these little electrons exhibited. Andre
Marie Ampere, Conte Allessandro Volta, and Dr. George Simon Ohm also
made contributions to the electronic phenomena. Through the efforts
of all of these inspired men, and others, the foundation for
electronics was laid.
Communications up to this time had
been by word of mouth, foot, horseback, and ships. A very slow and
cumbersome method. Marchese Guglielmo Marconi saw the possibility of
improving communications by communicating over wires by the use of
telegraphy. Although telegraphy was a tremendous improvement in
communications, the wires were difficult and sometimes impossible to
string in some areas which prompted the idea of transmitting
information through the air without the use of wires.
Since radio waves emanated in the air
everywhere, anyone possessing the necessary knowledge could build a
radio receiver and transmitter, so the amateur radio hobby began.
However, money, radio parts and radio knowledge was limited so it
was easier to get started by using telegraphy which brought about
another problem. Some people just couldn’t send intelligible
telegraphy, not even with their left foot, hi.
Thomas Edison invented the electric
light bulb and later the electronic tube was developed to improve
the “state of the art” of electronics. However, many of the people
preferred to get started with simple equipment, and especially the
kids, and one of the most simple receivers was called the ‘crystal
detector”. It consisted of a coil of wire, a couple of condensers
usually made from tinfoil, a crystal (galena), a cats whisker for
the galena, and a pair of headphones.
Kids started getting spankings for
coming home from school covered with coal dust after looking through
coal piles looking for pieces of galena. Cats also took on a
different appearance when they started losing their cat whiskers to
the receiver sets, hi, and strands of wire started disappearing from
fences. At this time, people who smoked cigarettes were even
encouraged to smoke more. The tin foil from the empty packs was
needed to make condensers.
So many people were tinkering with the
new phenomena of electronics that it became necessary to establish
licenses in order for the government to have some control over it.
But this didn’t deter those who genuinely interested and a young man
by the name of Joe Anderson became licensed as W9EI who later became
Neal McGown’s “Elmer”. Neal became W9FZL.
Neal McGown later became “Elmer” for
another Bowling Green man, Johnny Gerard, who lived in Frankfort,
Kentucky, and also Hansford Scott who lived in Auburn, Kentucky,
during the early ‘30s. After they became licensed they talked on
the air almost daily and became known as the “Corny Crackers”, and
of course, others joined the small net as time passed by. Johnny
Gerard was W4TFK and Scotty was W4NGZ.
World War II came along and when the
Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was caught with its pants
down. The fleet was virtually destroyed and there weren’t nearly
enough men in the military to handle the task at hand.
Communications was one of the most essential things needed. Hams
rose to the call and needed very little training to become
functional immediately. An offensive was gradually mounted and
victory in Europe came May 8, 1945, and victory in Japan occurred
August 15th of the same year.
With World War II over, the veteran
hams were anxious to get home and get their rigs back on the air and
find out how each other fared during the war. The tales were often
too lengthy to tell on the air so it was decided to have a meeting
at Mammoth Cave for a real “eyeball” and “rag-chew”. Neal McGown,
Johnny Gerard, Hansford Scott, and Alex Carter got together and
organized the first meeting, and what is now “The Old Kentucky Hams”
was born. About 60 to 70 attended the first meeting. They arrived
on Saturday before the first Sunday in June of 1946. They had
dinner in the dining room of the old hotel (now razed) and then
retired to the screened-in porch of the old hotel to continue their
rag-chewing, eyeballing with rocking chair copy into the wee hours
of the morning and of course "spring water” was consumed to keep
throats wet and spirits high.
The festivities of Saturday night were
followed by a picnic on Sunday in the picnic area behind where the
new hotel is presently located. Scotty furnished a truck which was
filled with cold drinks and beer in ice at Alex’s in Bowling Green
and brought up to Mammoth Cave on Sunday. Admittance to the area
was $1.50 per adult, kids free. Tabs on the tickets were used for
the drinks and the ticket was used for a drawing at 3:30 p.m. Adolph
Abraham and another ham from Lexington, Kentucky, rounded up the
prizes to be given away at the drawing. Johnny Gerard did an
excellent job of serving as MC.
The day was spent rag chewing and
swapping, selling, and trading of radio parts and equipment which
was followed at 3:30 by the drawing of brand new radio goodies.
This weekend at mammoth Cave was simply called a “Ham Reunion” for
many years. The popularity of the reunion grew and grew … even
though the date was kicked around for several years to keep from
clashing with other hamfests.
At the time of this writing, 1st
Sunday in June, 1982, 35 years after the original meeting, the
organization is still going strong. Harry Carroll, W4AEE, designed
and printed impressive “The Old Kentucky Ham” certificates as proof
of membership. At first, one had to be a licensed ham for twenty
years to qualify for one of the certificates, but times change and
now the certificates can be had by attending a reunion, pay a
nominal fee of $1.00 and have a valid ham license. The park
management doesn’t allow the swapfest anymore so the picnic on
Sunday was ceased. So what is known as the “The Old Kentucky Ham”
reunion on the 1st Sunday in June is now actually a get
together in the new motel followed by a banquet on the Saturday
night before the 1st Sunday in June. However, something
new has been added. A winter meeting and banquet is held the last
weekend in January of each year.
The impressive “The Old Kentucky Ham”
certificates are now valued in the memory of the “infamous four”,
Neal McGown (W9FZL, W4KBY, K4EI), Johnny Gerard (W4TFK), Hansford
“Scotty” Scott, (W4NGZ), and Alex Carter (W4CMP) who had come to
Bowling Green from Knob Lick, Kentucky.
It was through the efforts of this
infamous four and many others through the years that helped develop
Ham Radio to the state of the art that it is today so the present
generation and the generations to come can enjoy the fruits of their
Information about OKH Group from Mike Carroll, W4AEE
In March, OKH President, W4HTB, received the
following message from W4AEE:
Greetings, Henry (or maybe you go by Hank)
Quite by accident sometime last year, I wandered into
the Old Kentucky Hams page of the KCARC website. It was a
pleasant surprise and stirred many memories!
In the 1960s as a new ham (WN4POG, 1963, age 12), I
attended many of the Mammoth Cave gatherings with my grandparents,
Harry (W4AEE) and Maude Carroll. They were close friends with
Neal (W9FZL/W4KBY/K4EI) and Margarette McGown, Scotty (W4NGZ) and
Ruby Scott, Johnny (W4TFK) and Pearl Gerard, Earl Jago (W4YYI), and
Doc (W4NDY) and Blanch Strode. I always enjoyed visiting with
those folks and hearing all the yarns they'd spin, as well as
talking with them mornings on-the-air via the "Corn Crackers' Net"
(informal) on 3932 kHz. SSB.
I've attached hereto a write-up of my remembrances of
the hamfest at the Cave, and of the Old Kentucky Hams group, of
which I was a charter member. In fact, I'm in the orange,
background montage on the certificates, the young fella with others
in the second photo from the left, in the bottom row. That
photo was made one Saturday when K4EI, W4NGZ, W4TFK and their XYLs
stopped by for a visit at my grandparent's home in Goodlettsville,
I still have some of the original, blank OKH
certificates and the negatives used in making them. Harry was
the designer and printer of those. If the group would like to
have what remain, I can send them to you.
73 and All My Best to the OKH Group
Mike Carroll, W4AEE
Below is an article Mike sent about the OKH group or
click here for
More About the Old Kentucky Hams Club of the 1960’s
by Mike Carroll, W4AEE
Although he lived in Madison,
Tennessee, my grandfather, Harry Carroll, W4AEE became fast friends
with several Ham Radio operators in KY during one of the Ohio River
valley floods of the late 1930's when they all assisted the U.S.
Corps of Engineers by passing health and welfare traffic on 75-meter
Harry continued to have QSO's
with those fellas until WWII shut everyone down for the duration.
After the war, they resumed regular QSO’s on various 75m.
After meeting informally at
various QTH’s and other locations in south central Kentucky, the
original group (then numbering only about 12) started an annual get
together each June at Mammoth Cave.
The OM’s, and some of their XYL’s (my grandmother, included), would begin the weekend by meeting
Saturday afternoon at the old, white, wood-frame Mammoth Cave
Hotel. That evening, they would gather after supper and spend
several hours sitting in the rocking chairs and rag chewing on the
long, front porch. (I remember a tame raccoon that would come out
from under the porch and gently take from hands whatever morsels of
food he could get.)
On Sunday morning after a big,
Kentucky ham breakfast, the guys would go over to the parking area
behind the hotel (and some years to the parking area near the old
cabins on the other side of the present cave visitors center) where
a rather small tail-gating hamfest would commence. Usually other
area Hams who had not stayed over the night before would come, too.
Then late on Sunday afternoon, the group would disperse to journey
By 1961, Harry and his friends
had transitioned from AM to SSB and started QSO's early mornings on
3932 kHz. where they pitched their radio tents for 15+ years. They
called themselves "The Kentucky Corn Crackers Net." or just
“Corn Crackers.” Whoever showed up first was official net
control for that very informal gathering of OMs throughout Kentucky,
S. Indiana and S. Ohio, W. Virginia, and N. Middle-Tennessee.
Later on, about the time I was
first licensed in 1963, Harry and his 3932 buddies (by then they had
become my friends, too) decided to form a rag-chewing radio club,
calling themselves the "Old Kentucky Hams."
In his professional life, Harry
was a printing engraver, lithographer, and offset plate maker. So,
the group naturally turned to him to design and print the club
membership certificates, a copy of which currently appears on the
The Old Kentucky Hams webpage, which I recently discovered. The
finished certificates were sent to the club president who was, at
the time, Johnny Gerard, W4TFK, in Frankfort. Johnny filled in the
blanks and signed the certificates proudly distributing one to each
member. I and my granddad were “charter members.” I still have his
and my certificates at my QTH in Franklin, TN.
Early OKH group members
- W4ADO Friday Wolfe, Harlan, KY
- W4AEE Harry Carroll, Madison, TN (originally 5BB, Shreveport, LA,
- W4AZY Carl Newman, Peewee Valley, KY
- W9BC Bev Howard, Evansville, IN
- W4CMP Alec Carter, Bowling Green, KY
- K4CSP Sadie Jo Miller, Hopkinsville, KY (daughter of W4NDY & W4NOW)
- K4EI Neal McGown, (previously 9FZL, W9FZL & W4KBY), Bowling Green,
- W4JHU Marvin Carver, Russelville, KY
- W9KVE, Lefty Covert, Evansville, IN (former chief of police)
- W4KWO Doc (Asa) Adkins, Lexington, KY (an MD, as I recall)
- W4MWR Ernie Farmer, Lexington, KY
- W4NDY Doc (E. A.) Strode, Winchester, KY (a dentist and husband of
- W4NGZ Scotty (Col. Hansford D.) Scott, Auburn, KY (former mayor &
owner of Scott's Auburn Mills)
- W4NOW Blanche Strode, Winchester, KY (wife of W4NDY)
- W4ODK Adolph Abraham, Lexington, KY
- W4QJU Bud (Vincent) Wahking, Louisville, KY
- W4TFK John Gerard (previously W9TFK), Frankfort, KY (former mayor)
- WA4TTC Sherman Ferguson, Central City, KY
- W4YYI Earl Jagoe, Owensboro, KY
- W4YZF Hugh Garner, Louisville, KY
- WA4VCL,. Mike Carroll, Goodlettsville, TN (now W4AEE, Franklin, TN)
an aside, I will mention that John Gerard, W4TFK, one of the OKH
group’s founders, was the young man who crawled into Sand Cave to
string a phone line down to (fatally) trapped, Floyd Collins.
Floyd’s family, the doctors, hopeful rescuers and a number of
newspaper reporters talked with him via that phoneline until the
poor guy died from hypothermia and dehydration on Feb. 13, 1925.
Floyd and his predicament were an international media event. Also
noteworthy are two Hams who were responsible for getting the news
reports quickly from the cave to the outside world. One set up a
portable, CW station at the scene while the other located his rig at
the Western Union telegraph office at Cave City. These men were
Homer Ogden, 9BRK, and Basil Rauth, 9CHG, both of whom had come down
from Jeffersonville, Indiana to help out. –W4AEE]
Hansford "Scotty" Scott W4NGZ
At the left, is the
a scanned image of the original letter that Hansford
Scott of Auburn sent to Bob Jolly to help with the
writing of the history.
Click the image to
enlarge for reading.
The Old Kentucky Ham
Scanned copy of The
Old Kentucky Ham certificate for proof of
membership. This certificate was issued to
WB4FLB on February 2, 1980 by Woodring "Woody" Fryer W4HKT,
President and Vonda Fryer K4AML Secretary-Treasurer.
Click the image to
enlarge for reading.
The Old Kentucky Hams Amateur
Radio Group Website
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January 28, 2020