According to information complied from club minutes by CARC past president Bob Gault, the club’s inception occurred about three months earlier on March 28, 1962, when a group of aspiring hams met after the last radio operator class was given by Civil Defense at the old Bradley County Courthouse. They agreed to form a club and a temporary organization was set up and committees were named to draw up by-laws and a constitution.
Among the charter members enrolled in March 1962 were David Carr, Robert Carr, Rodney Carter, Glen Clayton, Kenneth Cole, Raymond Coleman, Charles H. Daugherty, Henry Gatlin, Stephen Gatlin, James B. Hay, James R. Hicks, Steve Keasler, Larry G. Ledford, Mike Pierce, Warren B. Pirkle, W. L. Pittman, Don Rose, Jim Ruble, David Smith, Fred Smith, T.G. Spruiall, Ben Stephens, Jack K. Stewart, Jimmy V. Still and Joe Wilson.
Glen Clayton and Larry Ledford are the only two charter members who are still active in the club.
Clayton’s interest developed accidentally enough in the 1950s when he lived on Georgetown Road. WCLE had a radio tower nearby and he knew some of the engineers who worked there.
“Dad was building a house and I’d slip across the field and watch the boys down at the radio tower,” Clayton said. “I got interested through Bill Stewart who was building radio transmitters for amateur radio.”
Ledford became interested in amateur radio while he was still in high school after seeing another ham’s equipment and “I just wanted to get in on it,” he said in a recent interview. “Plus, I’d stopped at the library and checked out a book on amateur radio. I read that and that got me interested.”
Even before then, he ordered radio kits from a catalog. His interest in ham radio led him to a career as a broadcast engineer at WCLE and stations in Athens.
“I got that because I was a ham,” he said.
It sounds strange to him now when he says it, but it was a thrill to talk via radio to someone in another part of the world.
“Now you can pick up a telephone and talk anywhere in the world, but back then, if you could talk to somebody on the radio, that was a big deal,” he said.
Citizen Band radio had been around a couple of years, but anyone who was involved in CB and then tried ham radio knew the difference, he said.
Their desire was to work together to enhance interest in electronics and to provide for the common good of the community. No minutes can be found of those early meetings but membership rosters were kept to show who was involved in the organization.
While most were licensed hams or would later receive their ticket from the Federal Communications Commission, licensing requirements would lead some to choose means of communication with a less stringent licensing process. Back then, people were required to learn Morse Code, which scared most aspiring hams to death.
“We had a lot of people who signed up for the course. A lot of people showed interest and I’d say a third of them just walked out the same night. It wasn’t what they were interested in,” Ledford said. “One fella wanted to know if they were going to learn how to fix radios.”
In the years that followed, many of those who accepted areas of responsibility would later become leaders in the club and serve in various elected positions. The club evolved into an organization that was not only a place to exchange ideas but some of the younger members were able to learn from older hams. Some had been involved in studying electronics for several years, later focusing their interest on amateur radio and the opportunities it offered.
Back then, the Heathkit brand was popular. The company provided a radio in a kit and the operator put it together.
“They made some good stuff, but when you’re in high school, that was a lot of money,” Ledford said. “I’d have to earn the money in the summertime and buy and build it in the winter.”
Clayton, 72, recently upgraded his license to Extra Class and his grandson, Cody, earned his amateur ticket at the age of 13.
“When he did, I had my call sign changed to Bill Stewart’s call sign and I gave my grandson my call sign. We’re trying to make it a family deal with amateur radio,” Clayton said.
Other than an interest in electronics and providing information during disasters, there is a sense of achievement from talking to other hams from every state in the U.S. and all other continents and countries.
“That’s difficult to do because they are creating new countries all the time,” Ledford said. “We had one guy here in town and there was another in Middle Tennessee who had worked every country that was possible until they came out with new ones. That takes a lot of time and dedication.”
In those early years, membership continued to grow as newly licensed hams joined the ranks of the Cleveland Amateur Radio Club. The first club minutes available are from Jan. 9, 1963. At that time, meetings were held at the Bradley County Courthouse. That year a club member hosted a meeting in his “hamshack” to show off his amateur radio gear.
Meetings were held twice a month, a practice that time hasn’t changed. Nowadays, meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.
One of the early accomplishments was attaining affiliated club status from the American Radio Relay League, an amateur organization headquartered in Connecticut. A 1965 letter from F.E. Handy confirmed the club’s acceptance into a select group of amateur radio groups around the country.
Cleveland is part of the Tennessee section of ARRL. Tennessee is part of the Delta Division, which also includes Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Clayton currently serves as vice president of Delta Division.