Gene Mitchell was first licensed in April of 1958 as KN3DSM. Within a year, he upgraded to the General Class license. His interest in electronics and radio started from cub scouts and the cub scout manual in 5th and 6th grade, building a crystal set and then a short wave radio. He also built an aircraft and police receiver from a kit. It was a classmate in 8 th grade, W3DNS John Ferebee, that showed him ham radio. That triggered his interest in getting a ham license. Gene learned morse code the hard way, passing notes to John in class, written in morse code. A member of the Frankford Radio Club, Frank, W3IXN in Narberth, gave him his Novice test. He built his first 80/40 meter cw transmitter from one of the ARRL manuals (How To Become A Radio Amateur). He also used a loaned Gonset Communicator and even had a 2 meter transceiver made by Springfield Enterprises, early on. After almost a year, he obtained his General Class License and it was on to HF. His favorite band was 10 meters, around 29.15. He also enjoyed 20 SSB. He is a life member of the ARRL, AMSAT, and PARA. He is also a member of the Roosters #601 on 3990. Early on, he was also a member of Philmont Mobile Radio Club. Gene also has held memberships in the Newtown Square Amateur Radio Club and the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Radio Club.
Gene notes that he believes ham radio is responsible for keeping him out trouble and guiding him in many of the things he did after school. He also believes that it taught him how to speak in front of groups and make his personality more outgoing. Before ham radio, he hated "oral book reports" in school and it showed.
Gene's ham station operates on all amateur bands from 160 meters thru 23cm using voice, data, and television. He also uses several handheld radios on various bands as well as his car station. Most of his home station as well as his mobile equipment is made by ICOM, a leader in ham equipment. Gene also has commercial service equipment from when he maintained his own commercial 2 way radio system.
In 1957, Gene had taken a trip “Around the World” with his parents, missing the first 8 weeks of 9th grade school. He did assignments while traveling and made it though the year (9th grade) at Bala Cynwyd Jr High. The following year at Lower Merion Sr High, Gene found school tough. His parents attributed his lower than usual grades to his Ham Radio activities, rather than missing the semester at school. They decided to send him off to private prep school to get him away from Ham Radio. He spent the next 3 years at St Peters School in Peekskill, New York. It didn’t take him long to meet local hams there on the school's day out, Monday afternoons. He first found WA2FTO, a local vet across the street from the school. He began hamming on Monday afternoons. He soon found a local group of high school hams including WA2AKK, Barry. After a promise to learn pi to 25 places as a requirement of joining their little group, they built a 75 meter voice transmitter in a coffee can and gave it to Gene. It really worked. Gene was now on the air right from the school. Gene, by the way, made the honor roll numerous times while at St Peters, even with his ham radio.
While at St Peters, Gene was given the task of reporting the school sport's scores to the local and NYC newspapers. It later became apparent that Gene was destined to write several other stories, including an article for 73 Magazine and others mentioned below.
It was in 1962 that he earned his 2nd class radiotelephone license, before graduating from high school. He thought at that point that he might go into broadcasting or commercial 2 way radio. Many of the other hams in the local area and Main Line Phila area, also were getting commercial licenses and Gene wasn’t going to be left out. Gene got to know Vern Wilson, FCC Engineer in Charge of the Philadelphia office, and actually worked with him on at least two occassions to determine radio interference problems in the area.
Gene spent 11 summers (starting in 1954) near Wolfeboro, New Hampshire (Lake Winnipesaukee) at a private boy’s camp, Camp DeWitt, taking short wave and then ham radio with him. He always wanted to go to an “overnight camp”. He formed a radio club, setting up his ham station, and was responsible for licensing at least 6 others, including the director of the camp, K1IQO Fred Allen, and his son, Ted. Gene submitted pictures and articles that were published in the "Main Line Times", a suburban Philadelphia newspaper, on two occassions. He also used a portable to communicate from Mt Major back to the camp, clear across Lake Winnespaukee on one occasion. Gene kept in touch with many of his suburban Phila ham friends over 75, 40, and 20 meters from camp when conditions were right. Gene was part of a group that carried a sailboat up Mt Washington and sailed it on the “Lake of the Clouds”, just below the peaks. He has hiked to the top of Mt Washington, by the way, about 4 times. He has also climbed 20-25 other mountains in New Hampshire.
Gene went to Hartwick College in Onietta, New York in the fall of 1962. It was time to buckel down. No radio equipment until thanksgiving vacation. Although there was one active ham student, (and with a car and 2 million antennas) Gene had little time to even try to spell ham radio. This was the Viet Nam war time and everyone was going to college to avoid the draft. Students were told that half of them wouldn't be there next semester. There was a weeding out process and only the better students would survive. Gene met a student (Dave) from Valpo Tech doing graduate work at Hartwick one night in the cafeteria lounge. After that conversation, he decided he didn't belong at Hartwick because he wasn't doing well and didn't like it, and it was time to change. He called Valpo Tech for a catalog and more information. At the end of January, Gene was off to Valparaiso.
While at Valparaiso, Indiana, Gene felt quite at home. There were many hams as students. There was also a ham club and station at the school (W9SAL). This area ( the Chicago suburbs) was the birthplace of 2 meter FM. Motorola had a surplus/used equipment outlet store only miles from the school. Gene quickly obtained equipment and he became active on both 6 and 2 meter FM. One of his favorite activities, while there, was fox hunting on 146.52, which took place every Friday night. Everyone had built their own homebuilt DF loops. Gene used the school ham station on HF to keep in touch with his many ham friends at home. He remembers talking to Fred, W3PHL many times from W9SAL. The school station was very active on 2 meter FM as well. He also built an auto-patch as one of his school projects, operating between 146.94 and 52.525 MHZ with Motorola 30D stacked units. The autopatch used dual pulsing tones to dial, since touchtone and its equipment were not available.Gene also found time for roller skating in his first months there, which became a regular Friday night activity. It was the organ music that he really liked. He wondered why there were no big and modern rinks near his home in Merion. That would later that Gene along an interesting path.
While in Valparaiso, in his second year, Gene also became a part-time "Special Deputy Sheriff" for Porter County under Sheriff Bill Seidel, starting as a radio dispatcher and also riding as a partner on weekends. This came out of a friendship with one of the deputies, John Seabeck, and while Gene was visiting the station one night, a problem arose in the adjacent jail and all personel were tied up, and while that was taking place, one of the patrol cars was calling for assistance. Realizing he was the only available avenue for the car in trouble, Gene answered and dispatched help on both the main channel and the Intercity channel. Indiana used a separate base and mobile frequencies that were not repeated, and cars used a separate car to car frequency that worked only for short distances. He understood the 3 channel system, had watched it being used, listened to it from school, and had the FCC license required. He was commended for his action and became a part-timer. He was later assigned "Unit 6-31" with a two-way police radio in his own car. He attended a training seminar for police communications and later attended a full-blown evening police school that included investigative work as well as finger printing.
Gene also became a DJ for WVTI, the school radio station and later the "chief transmitter engineer" as well. Gene graduated from Valparaiso Technical Institute in Indiana in June 1965 with an Associate Degree in Electronic Engineering. Gene came away from Valpo Tech liking roller skating, broadcasting, police communications and police investigative work, communications maintenance, and designing communications systems.
One of the first (of 3 known) 2 meter repeaters in the Phila area, not including Gene’s 6 to 2 meter repeater, and the birth of the PARA system, was a split system between his parents house in Merion and K3JPB in Newtown Square in 1966. The receiver was in Newtown Square (K3JPB's home) and the transmitter was at Gene’s. It was at an ARRL Convention and Expo in North Jersey that the first duplexer for PARA was found and purchased. The duplexer was a turning point in PARA's technology. Gene was instrumental in merging 2 radio groups, the Main Line VHF Association and the Las Voyagers to form PARA, the Philadelphia Area Repeater Association. Gene was also responsible for obtaining a site for an early repeater of PARA’s (146.94mhz) at the Berwyn Roller Rink in 1969.
After graduation from Valpo Tech (VTI), Gene went on to work for A T & T Long Lines for over 6 years. He worked in the 4A long distance switching, the 4 wire 5 crossbar switching for the government's Auto-Von system, the Auto-Von test board, and the microwave radio room. Gene was able to get Bell to donate a rack cabinet and many touch tone receivers for PARA and other clubs in the area through various channels when Western Electric discarded them.
Gene also went on to improve his auto-patch by switching to 449 mhz when he moved to Devon, one of the highest locations on the Main Line. His 449/446 mhz auto-patch system, which included a Motorola HT with a Strumberg Carlson touchtone dial attached to it, became an "issue" with the Bell System (September 1971) for awhile. The handie talkie was labeled a "Blue Box" by Bell System investigators and county detectives until it was later determined that it was not. This happened because he associated with another person who actually had a blue box and was being watched. Since Gene worked at AT&T, he reported it to his boss as well as someone in the District office. Neither understood what Gene was reporting. After it was determined that Gene's equipment was not a "Blue Box", "Ma Bell" was still on the offensive because she didn't like any non-Bell equipment connected to the phone lines. Gene even had a special coupler that Bell provided, but Bell didn't like the idea of Gene's system. The system was written up in 73 magazine and other ham groups were building similar systems. These autopatches were the start of today's Cellular systems. doing radio-phone type calls similar to cell phones today. He demonstrated his "auto-patch" system to a group of hams (PARA) at the GE Space Center, King of Prussia in 1969. Today, anyone can connect any telephone device as long as it is type accepted. Hams all across the country have been using "auto-patches" ever since this incident.
Gene was involved with Lower Merion Civil Defense for many years and became The RACES Radio Officer in 1967. The township had purchased about a dozen Motorola 2 meter pack sets and handie talkies that Gene made operational on 2 meter FM. Gene obtained a certification to train others in Radiology Monitoring. He is also presently a member of the Chester County ARES RACES (CCAR) group.
Gene was the first ham frequency coordinator for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware area starting about 1966. His information was fed to a database maintained by Gordon Pugh, W2NH, (formerly W1JTB and W2GHR), also a Bell employee and engineer in New York.
Gene had dreams of one day building a roller rink. Those ideas started while in Indiana. There were no good rinks near his home in Pennsylvania. He liked skating, and especially the organ music. He traveled hours to rinks all over. He even designed a set of plans. Initially, he had ideas of owning a rink and still working for AT & T, since a rink was primarily an evening and weekend business. After the incident with the Bell System, that dream actually became reality. An attempt was made to purchase land in Tredyffrin Township, but the zoning board turned it down. In May of 1972, he found and purchased land that was zoned properly, and in June, he started building the roller skating rink in Kimberton, Pa, which he designed himself. He hired an engineer from Schlosser Steel to finalize the plans. It was a 23,000 square foot building on 4.5 acres along PA Rt 113 with a plastic coated hard wood maple skating surface. The main skating area was 180 by 80 foot. The sound system was one of the best of any roller rink. There was live organ music on many nights. Skaters and other rink owners came from all surrounding states to see and hear the sound system. It opened November 29th, 1972. A Grand Opening on December 1, drew almost 900 skaters. His rink was modern, very well equipped, and very electronic and eventually computerized in 1977. He was one of the first to have a large computerized electronic changable sign in a rink.
By early spring of 1973, he set up a commercial repeater at his house in Devon, 640 feet elevation (one of the highest spots in Chester County), with an "auto-patch". In 1977, he purchased two Apple II computers. One was used for payroll and accounting while the second was used for controlling the heat, lights, air conditioners, and fans. Gene also connected to the “Source”, the for-runner of AOL and CompuServe. He also had his ham station at the rink. He even hosted PARA board meetings there.
He married Maria in 1973 and they had a boy and girl, now both grown up. He served as a Scout Cub Master while is son was involved in the scouts and demonstrated ham radio to them.
Maria worked as a key-puncher for Bethlehem Steel and later Unisys and National Liberty. She is a registered nanny and cared for a local doctors children until they were old enough to go to school. For the last 5 or so years, she has worked at Eagles Crest Vineyard and Farm as an animal care-taker.
Mike is N3QLZ, also a PARA and ARRL member. Mike likes APRS and his portable Kenwood D7. Mike first worked for a company in Downingtown using Autocadd and scanning blueprints into it. He also went to West Chester University taking programming courses until his hours at work took over. He is still working towards his degree through Delaware County Community College's on-line program. After a year, he moved on to Web Access in Newtown Square where he was one of 3 employees doing web pages and maintaining web servers for the pages. Web Access was bought up by US Interactive (originally in Great Valley Parkway) in Gulph Mills, either doing web pages or maintaining their web page servers on the Internet all day. USI grew to almost 800 employees locally (they also had offices around the world) before the e-web business collapsed. Although he could have stayed to the end, he left and went with Esavio in Berwyn, a consulting company providing network services to big companies. He is presently with the McGrail Group in Great Valley providing network services to their customers as well as training for and installing "Gold Mine", another powerful contact management software package. Mike obtained most all of the top Microsoft certifications for Windows/NT and networking on his own.
Anne first worked at Spring Mill Veterinary Hospital, starting part time right when it opened, and doing everything from office and accounting to medical and surgical assisting. She was lured away to be a supervisor and care-taker on a private farm (Eagles Crest Vineyard and Farm) caring for everything from alpacos to almost zebras. The farm also runs a foundation to care for homeless cats. In Feb 2002, she left the farm and returned to Spring Mill Veterinary Hospital. She was associated with "Illusion Ranch" for a about a year, another farm that breeds and sells Alpacas where she does limited work in return for boarding her horse. In May 2003, she returned to Eagles Crest Farm part time.
Gene built a house in 1977 on top of Bacton Hill (Malvern-Chester Springs), 700 feet elevation. It included a 70 foot Tri-ex tower with an additional 20 foot mast. The location had been carefully selected for his ham activities. The tower collapsed within itself September 1998 from cable failure that raises it. PARA had a "16" repeater input on this at the time.
Gene has been in Rotary Club since 1975. He was in the Phoenixville Club till 1993 when he switched to the Exton Frazer Rotary Club. He has served on both Boards and was President of the Exton Frazer Rotary in 1996-97 and again in the year 2002-03. He received a "Presidential Citation" for his work from the District Governor recently at the annual "Leadership Ball". He believes strongly in participating in community service. His dad was in Ardmore and Pompano Beach Rotary Clubs and his Uncle was in Garberville, California Rotary. Gene grew up knowing Rotary exchange students from other countries.
Gene is also responsible for starting the web page not only for the Exton Frazer Rotary Club, but for the Rotary District 7450 web site (www.rotary7450.org) as well in 1996. He is now co-chairman of the District Technical Committee. In April, 2000, he received a Governor's Citation and in June, a Presidential Citation for his work on the Rotary District and Club Web Site.
Gene has served on the board of directors for PARA, the Philadelphia Area Repeater Association, for many terms back in the mid-80's and again recently in 1999. He was elected president for the 2000-2001 and again the 2002-2003 term. He was recently reelected to the 2004-2005 term. PARA is a 501C3 non profit corporation. His major accomplishments for PARA include the planning of the merger that formed PARA, the demonstration of the autopatch and the planning and initiating the PARA autopatch, the building of the equipment shed on Valley Forge Mountain, the major upgrade of all PARA equipment back in the 80's, the startup and operation of PARA's Packet system for several years, the planning of the ACC controller and digital voice recorder for Valley Forge including the fund raising for both projects, and the first web page for PARA back in 1995. He is presently working on obtaining grants to fund the updating and expansion of PARA's extensive system.
Gene started a computer bulletin board back in about 1982 called The Fifth Dimension using an Atari ST 520 computer. His son Mike later took it over until the Internet made BBS activity dwindle. Gene then revived it as a computer modem testing device which he still uses. He also started a ham radio packet bulletin board on 145.07 mhz back in the mid-80's. He ran that until it became "un-fun", as he put it, after some "crazies" made mis-using it a habit. He shut down just weeks before the FCC got involved in citations to offenders who were posting illegal notices on the other packet systems.
Gene started RV camping in 1984 with a unit inside the back of his pickup truck. He then purchased a 24 ft Sunline 5th wheel camper. When his sister unloaded their '86 30 feet Pace Arrow Class A unit after only a few months and 6000 miles of use, he jumped on the opportunity. The campers were all equipped with HF and VHF ham equipment. In 1997, he downsized to a Class B camper van, realizing the kids grew up and were no longer interested. After selling the van, he began missing camping. He claims he will get back into camping in the form of a trailer in the near future.
In 1987, after 15 years, he sold his roller rink because of the "insurance crisis". Liability insurance was not available at any price for rinks and his bank required it. He operated the rink from 1985 to 1987 without liability insurance, a very uneasy situation. Gene still occassionally skates, usually at Pheasantland, West of Boyertown.
In 1988, he opened his present business in Frazer, building, repairing, and upgrading computers. His little store, Gene's Computer Outlet on Rt 30, is a one man operation. As always, he is right on top of the technology. Most of Gene's business, about 95 percent, is now upgrading and repairing computers. Because of all the low cost junk, he finds it hard to compete with the name brands so he concentrates on repairs instead of sales. He has attempted to sell lost cost cheap quality computers, but claims they always come back to bit him. He now only sells high end computers with Intel motherboards.
He also teaches for "Adult Night School for Chester County", which he has been doing for over 13 years. His courses include “Building and Understanding Your Own Computer” , “Backing Up Your Computer”, and also a course in "Fixing Windows". He has also demonstrated computer technology to groups including the Exton PC Council, based at the Exton Chester County Library. It was at one of these demonstrations that the Adult School program of the Main Line found him. After a year with the Main Line Adult program, The Adult Night for Chester County enticed him over there. He also gives talks and demonstrations to Rotary Clubs and other organizations on ham radio and computer technology.
In March of 2003, Gene started to work at 1420, WCOJ, "The Voice of Chester County" on Sunday Mornings. He plays 4 programs on tape of religious programming, controls 2 remote broadcasts of live services, engineers a Live Program in the studio (1 1/2 Hr), and now hosts the Contemporary Christian Music Show from about 1220PM to 1PM, unless there is a Phillies game, which might cut short the time. He records 10 second weather announcements that are used throughout the remander of the day, evening, and early Monday morning. Before and after each program, he inserts recorded openings and closings from the computer, as well as inserting "legal IDs on the hour. He also "Board Ops" a couple of Phillies games a month, inserting local advertising and IDs. His voice on the radio has found many old customers from the roller rink. He also occassionally sets up and engineers some "on site remotes". Most recently, Gene was asked to take charge of all Sunday Religious programming. Gene likes this part time job very much. Effective October 2004, Gene is now hosting Computer Corner on WCOJ, Wednesdays from 7-8PM.
Gene wants to share ham radio with schools and other organizations and also bring amateur radio more to the public's attention. He has written several news stories about ham radio that have recently been aired on WCOJ. He claims that the youth today do not know what ham radio is all about and what they are missing. Gene enjoys surfing on the Internet, but he also enjoys amateur radio even more, so he is usually listening and talking on his ham set at the same time. The thrill of tuning in distant short wave broadcast as well as short wave ham stations is greater than just surfing the Internet. There is more of a challenge in trying to identify the distant stations , when to listen for them, and listen to some of the propaganda that is broadcast to the world. Radio doesn't crash like Windows and you don't have to be on-guard for viruses.
Update: WCOJ was sold in 2008 to the Catholic Radio Network. Gene creates the Fifth Dimension Radio Network to continue the computer show. Shortly after, WCHE 1520 picks up the show on the airwaves again while the show continues remotely. In 2007, Gene sells the building in Frazer where his computer store/shop is located and moves to his home on Valley Hilll Rd.IN 2008, Gene had bilateral hip replacements and only missed one computer radio show, but it continued without him on that day. Gene closed Gene's Computer Outlet in about 2017 but continued the radio show. In the spring of 2020, Gene sold the Valley Hill house and moved to Honey Brook, Pa but the show still continues from that location.
Gene can be found on ham radio at 146.76 mhz, 443.9 mhz, 146.985 mhz, and 1520AM.