Most of the credit for the rejuvenation of the current W4UVA ham club station goes to the efforts of Mike Benonis, KI4RIX, who with the encouragement of our longtime club trustee Lee Moyer really got the ball rolling on recreating the ham club on grounds. More details will be put here soon, but it is believed that the first get-togethers were held sometime in 2006. For the first couple of years, the club had meetings in Thornton D-wing (usually room D115 or D223). There was no shack at first, and any and all vestiges of past clubs were completely gone by this time. At some point in 2007, Mike had learned of some potential club space — a small room located in a decommissioned nuclear reactor on grounds — and the club began to store its few donated items there.
Appropriations monies from student council eventually began to build up a skeleton of a club station by fall of 2008, and we obtained our Yaesu FT-897D along with a multiband OCF dipole for 80 — 10 m. We were able to then have a few demonstrations outside of the Thornton D-wing, with the OCF strung in some trees and often WF7I at the microphone (or key!). This attracted some interest from professors and other students and was very fun. Later we also obtained our first handheld HT, the Icom T90-A.
W4UVA held its first licensing exam in November 2008. At this session, Mark Colombo (our 2010-2011 president) received his first amateur license, a technician class. Mike Benonis upgraded to extra and four other new members received their first radio licenses. It was a great success for us.
Eventually the building manager at the nuclear reactor, Paul Benneche, informed us that there was space in a 2-car garage that was no longer being used, and that our club could locate in there! This was a huge boost to our group, since there was a lot of potential for growth in that big space. And, interestingly, the door to the garage was already labeled as “Electronics Shop” from its use when the reactor was still online! A few years prior, the garage had been used by another student organization, the “Legends” car team, and so there was a lot of auto-related hardware still in the space. At first, there was also a lot of old reactor building paperwork being stored in there, but over time and working closely with Paul, we were able to help relocate most of it by fall 2009, and by the summer of 2010 the entire garage space was ours!
There have been several attempts at installing HF and VHF antennas on the rooftops of the reactor, but due to the tremendous costs involved, negotiations, people’s schedules and many other factors, it thus far has not been realized in any substantial way. However, the woods adjacent to the reactor building have been accessible for our group, and we’ve had the joy of installing both our OCF dipole and a dedicated 40 m dipole high in the trees on the hillside, with amazing results. And we have managed to get a small TV antenna installed high on the reactor silo, as well as some temporary satellite dish installations on the lower roofs and yard. For now, we are quite happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish and especially happy with the large club space (now also occupied by a repaired old sofa, some carpet, a recliner and several chairs!). We hope to have a solid foundation for many years of future W4UVA club history, and that we can surpass the “days of yore” of the 70’s gang!
The Tower Project
An ongoing effort was made to come up with a tower for the W4UVA ham club. This started as early as 2008 and took until March 2012 to finally complete. Some of the early inquiries were made by Mike Benonis and Dan Tran but the bulk of the effort was led by Bert Herald. Money was obtained through a generous donation made possible through the efforts of Dr. George Cahen in the engineering department as well as some funds from Marge Sidebottom of the UVa emergency communications network. Bert worked with Dr. Cahen and facilities management for over a year to finally make the tower install happen. The tower chosen was a US Tower 72 ft crank-up model and it was installed right by the shack at the nuclear reactor. An existing Cushcraft 2m/70cm yagi was installed as well as a new SteppIR 20-6 m yagi, all fed with high quality low loss LMR-400. Thanks also must go to the building manager Paul Benneche, for helping to trim some local trees that would have otherwise blocked the antenna, and for general help in protecting our cables crossing the road into the woods.
The performance of the SteppIR was breathtaking on the HF bands. DX that had been marginal was now easily reached. Sadly, the antenna suffered some damage in 2013. Hopefully it can be repaired and back in service soon.
Every good school ham radio club should have a tower, if possible. It is hoped that this one will serve current and future generations of the W4UVA club for years to come.
Current station details
Details of the station’s current configuration and equipment can be found here.