The Channel 6 Club Transmitter Hunts
In my increasingly humble opinion, one of the more popular activities which the Montgomery County CB Club sponsored, was a series of CB transmitter hunts. What's a transmitter hunt, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, a transmitter hunt is an event where someone hides and transmits a signal, while everyone else races to find him by homing in on his signal. The winner is then determined either by the shortest time, or the shortest mileage driven to find the hidden transmitter. There are many similar DF hunting activities on the ham radio bands, so it was only natural that these activities would eventually find their way to the CB scene as well. The idea for our club sponsoring a CB transmitter hunt, was born when one of our members, Black Widow, related his experiences with formal CB hunts held by another channel group in the Green Lane area 5 or 10 miles northwest of our area. He had had a lot of fun at their hunts and felt that something like this would be an activity which our club would also enjoy, as it combined CB radio with riding around in cars. Something that the younger members, especially, could relate to. He floated the idea around over the air, and it seemed to generate interest. I, being someone with some prior experience in signal tracking, especially liked the idea. So when the idea was brought up at the next formal club meeting, the club voted in favor of starting this activity. So now, all we needed to do was to create and approve a set of rules.
The first rule which was penned, was that this would be designed both as a fun activity for the participants, and as a fund raiser for the club. There would be a nominal entrance fee, with the proceeds split between a prize for the winner, and the remainder going into the club's treasury. We decided that we would pick a set of physical boundaries within which to hunt, encompassing a good portion of our local Montgomery County area, but avoiding the most congested urban sections. We also chose a meeting place situated somewhat central to the area, in the parking lot of what was then known as the Clover Mall, at the intersection of PA routes 202 and 73. Photocopies of the area map would be provided to all participants at the time of the event. The person hiding, (hams refer to him as the "fox") would be the winner from the previous event. The fox had some liberty in choosing the place he wished to hide, with a few restrictions. The rules stated that the "fox" had to hide on, or be no more than 100' from, a public street or a publicly accessible (by car) place, (so much for off-roading ;-( ) and must display their 4 way flashers while hiding. The fox was also not allowed to alter either his antenna or transmit power during the course of the event. After an hour went by, if hunters were still out looking, the "fox" would start giving increasingly more revealing verbal clues as to his location during each subsequent transmission period. Well, so far so good. The rules up to this point seemed reasonable and I was feeling my excitement growing. I was more than confident that I could easily win this contest, considering my past tracking experience. But as was typical for me back then, I let my mouth unknowingly ruin my chances........
At that time, as I've said previously, I was one of the few people in the club who had any real experience with transmitter hunting. I had tracked people before during my Channel 10 days using a D.F. loop and signal attenuation techniques, and I had been out on a 2 meter ham version of a transmitter hunt as well. As we continued our on-air discussion of the upcoming inaugural event, rather than remain quiet about what I planned to do (and what would the fun have been in that?), I started trash talking on the air like some sort of professional sports player. I made mention that I would be rigging for bear, by bringing along my D.F. Loop, and attenuator. I also made a prediction (no, more accurately I bragged) that I would probably mop up the competition. The club leadership overheard my rhetoric, thought about this for a bit, and then came to the conclusion that my D.F. equipment gave me an unfair advantage over the rest of the group, so the very next operational rule which they created, was the prohibition of any external devices to enhance tracking ability. Each hunter's radio setup had to be a standard mobile configuration. If the radio was equipped with an R.F. Gain control or a Local/Distance switch built-in, that was allowed. But no external attenuators (you could disconnect the feedline from the radio) would be allowed. You were allowed to use a standard magnet mount antenna and mount it to the extreme back of the car to act like a cheap and dirty directional antenna, but no D.F. loops could be used. Needless to say, I was quite a bit bummed that I had just been "neutered" by the mandatory exclusion of the tools of my trade. In retrospect, I should have quietly planned to bring my equipment. Then, if I had won the event, and someone complained about how "unfair" it was, then they could make the rule change. But at least that way, I would've had the win in the book. Lesson learned: It's better to beg forgiveness, than ask for permission. But even with the "anti-D.F." rule, I still looked forward to the event and started thinking about ways to get around the limitations of the rules. I was still keeping a positive outlook. But that would soon change once the next major rule became known.
In a final unmistakably fatal blow to any demonstration of actual D.F. skill as a crucial element of the event, the club decided that the "fox" would transmit only once during each consecutive 5 minute interval (I think this was done to conform to FCC rules at the time). Each transmission was to consist of a simple station to station call, using FCC call signs repeated 2 times along with a "nothing heard" signoff, for a total of three transmissions lasting less than 8 seconds a piece. Then there would be quiet until the next 5 minutes had elapsed. That was hardly enough of a signal to get a real solid fix on, especially while trying to spin a car around in a parking lot. In contrast, the transmitter hunts on ham radio usually involved sending a continuous carrier, which allowed ample opportunity to "home" in on the signal itself. In contrast, while out on our hunt, during the 4 minutes of quiet time between signal transmissions, you were basically just running off blind in one direction or another looking for a car with 4-way flashers on. It would seem then that the ultimate "winner" would not be the guy who effectively homed in on the signal, but the person lucky enough to head out in the right general direction initially and then quickly covered the most likely streets, until accidentally stumbling across the fox.
When I heard this, I was floored. After all the anticipation and excitement, I had just gotten the proverbial wind knocked out of me. This had gone from a contest of skill to one of mostly luck. How could anyone, in all honesty, call this a "transmitter hunt" when you might get a grand total of maybe 2 minutes worth of actual signal transmissions out before the "fox" was discovered by sheer luck? In my disgust, I threw my hands up and decided to boycott the event entirely out of protest. I made my objections known, and hoped that I might be successful at swaying the club leadership into backing off or changing the rules to better emphasize the element of skill. But I was unsuccessful, and I suspect that my lack of mature, tactful diplomacy skills used in presenting my case was probably the reason they refused to budge. But not wanting to back down though (that pride thing), I held on stubbornly to my boycott of the event.
Well, the night of the big event finally came. The weather was good and, as expected, the turnout was also good as several curious contestants met up at the designated meeting place. Since this was the first time for the event, Mickey Mouse volunteered to be the "fox" and once everyone was there, he drove off to hide. Even though I was officially protesting the event, I still couldn't ignore it, my curiosity predictably getting the better of me, and I stayed home monitoring the happenings from my base. When the "fox" made his first transmission, I was ready and naturally swung my beam around to find his direction, which I was actually able to do before the last sequence ended. I then looked at my wall map and figured where the most likely hiding spot would be based on his direction, signal, and available roads. Finally, after another transmission had gone by, I realized that while I was not participating in the "official" event, there was nothing stopping me from looking for the "fox" on my own, and in my own way. So I decided to give it a go. While I didn't have the time to rig my DF gear, I figured I had enough of a bearing from the beam heading to do the trick. So I quickly jumped out in the car and headed off in the direction of the strongest signal. Already 15 - 20 minutes into the event, I caught the next transmission and the +20 db over S9 signal I got, confirmed my initial assumption of where he was most likely located. I was no more than 1/2 mile from him at that point, so I began searching the streets in the area, of which there were not too many, in that sparsely populated section of Worcester Township. A minute or two later and I caught sight of the "fox's" 4-way flashers and I found him. I was shocked (well, not really) to find that I was the first one there, considering the time I had wasted sitting at my base before deciding to head out. But about 4 or 5 minutes later the first "official" hunter rolled up alongside. As more people started pulling up, I was naturally the butt of some ribbing. But by unofficially "winning", I had proven both my point and the club's, and that only strengthened their resolve to continue to "equalize" the playing field by reaffirming the rule barring D.F. equipment. As it turns out though, as successful as the first event was, it was not without some controversy. It seems that the road the "fox" chose to hide on was in a fairly new development, and consequently the road was not shown on the copy of the map which everyone was given at the start of the event, and there were some sour grapes complaints from some of the "losers" about it. But it was ruled ok, since it was a legal street. But in the future it was promised that the hiding spot would be one that could be located on the map.
I eventually softened in my protest (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em), as the event was still a ton of fun despite the marginalization of the skill aspect of it. The club would sponsor several more hunts over the next year or so. During the next hunt, I decided to bring my big Midland 13-885 base along to take advantage of the R.F gain control and the huge meter, which was far more precise than the meter in my regular mobile radio, the SBE Cortez. With the big base radio loosely leaning against the passenger side of the center console of my '67 Mustang, I also had 3 other people along with me, which made for less than ideal hunting conditions. But I hoped that I could still put in a good effort. I flipped a coin and drove off in one direction after the "fox's" first transmission. But I got a bit distracted due to the extra people, and ended up wasting time looking in an area that was outside of one of the boundaries, and I missed the next transmission. By the time I corrected my error, I had wasted too much time, so needless to say, I didn't win that one. There was also a little controversy during yet another event where the person winning found the "fox" in barely more time than what it would have taken to drive directly there. This brought up allegations of cheating, but the whole incident was quickly swept under the rug. I actually managed to win once or twice, and when it was my turn to finally hide, I tried my best to find an especially tricky spot to hide in. The place I chose was situated along a one-way gravel "road", just north of the southern most boundary, which was ruled legal (I checked first) since it was a named street and marked on the map. But its main purpose was access to a local swim club's parking lot. Most of the people who lived in the area mentally discounted this road and they drove on by while looking in other close by places. The area was surrounded by large trees and shrubbery, and I was parked far enough off of the main road, that I couldn't be seen by those casually driving by. I was also careful to orient my car so that the 4-way flashers could not be seen until you were actually on the entrance road itself. One of the clues that I remember giving was "If you enter this street from any road other than a boundary road, you are breaking the law", as a hint to the one-way nature of the street, which should also have been a dead give-away as there were very few one-way streets within the boundary area. I was already giving clues when the first hunter found me, and some people complained about my choice of spot. But they backed down when it was shown that it was indeed a public street.
The transmitter hunts faded away when interest in the club also fell off a little more than a year later. While these events fell short of my expectations as a test of skill, they provided, nonetheless, a very enjoyable night of fun for those who participated. There are some local ham clubs who offer fox hunting events, but it's a shame that this kind of activity is noticeably absent from the CB scene today.