Spring 2008 Issue

In Search of the Legendary Fred Fish

For more years than we can remember, Fred Fish, W5FF, was a sometimes eccentric legend in New Mexico. Among his many accomplishments was working 488 grid squares in the contiguous U.S. Recently, the ARRL created the Fred Fish Memorial Award for anyone else who might accomplish this feat. Here W5WVO discusses a survey that revealed the grid squares most needed in order to earn this new award.

By Bill Van Alstyne, W5WVO


Fred Fish, W5FF, remains the only amateur to work and confirm all 488 grid squares in the contiguous 48 United States on 6 meters.

I had been on a lengthy hiatus from amateur radio, but when I relocated to New Mexico in 2002 I decided it was time for me to get back in the game. As soon as I was issued my new 5-land call and returned to the air—and on a new band for me, 6 meters—I started hearing about Fred Fish, W5FF, and his wife Lee, K5FF. Although apparently no longer active on the air, their many VHF firsts were still being talked about on the Magic Band. During that first summer, I scarcely completed an E-skip QSO in which I wasn’t asked if I knew Fred, or if I knew why he was no longer on the air. At the time, alas, I didn’t know the answer to either question, but it seemed that Fred had literally put New Mexico on the VHF map for many years—not to mention a lot of other places around the U.S.!

Beyond that, though, it quickly became clear to me that Fred was very much loved in the VHF amateur community, not just as a talented and capable amateur, but as one of those rare human beings who is always ready to go above and beyond to help somebody else. It was that sense of the man that continued to grow in me over the next few years. While Fred left many VHF operating firsts behind him when he passed away in 2005, the most fondly recounted tales I heard on the air were about Fred’s kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm for amateur radio.

Usually, when a person does something remarkable for the first time, many others immediately get on the trail blazed by the pioneer and follow in his or her footsteps. While this was the case for many of Fred’s operating accomplishments, Fred remains the only amateur to work and confirm all 488 grid squares in the contiguous 48 United States on 6 meters.

Working Them All: The Fred Fish Memorial Award

Why has no one yet repeated this feat? One obvious explanation is that it is very, very hard! But beyond that, I realized, a clearly defined 6-meter operating target was needed, something really challenging toward which amateurs could work well beyond 6-meter VUCC. I felt that a good way to get this started might be to foster a prestigious operating award for duplicating Fred’s singular accomplishment, and to get it sponsored in high-profile fashion.

I posted the idea on the VHF e-mail reflector in August of last year, and almost overnight I had a nucleus of three other enthusiastic amateurs—Sean Kutzko, KX9X; Kevin Kaufhold, W9GKA; and Paul Kiesel, K7CW—whose talents would synergistically mesh to make this happen. Others contributed as well, but the four of us formed the core that eventually brought the Fred Fish Memorial Award (FFMA) into being as a fully sponsored ARRL operating achievement award that would be the logical capstone of the VUCC program on 6 meters.

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