"Big Frank" Cuevas, W6AOA (sk), DX Amateur Radio Operator

I n   T r i b u t e

Big Frank” Cuevas

W6AOA (sk)

© 2004, 2005, 2010, 2018 Cliff Cheng, Ph.D., AC6C     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 Big Frank Cuevas, W6AOA (sk), about 1974 in a group photo of the Southern California DX Club


When I was a kid, I was a Novice class amateur radio operator and had the callsign WN6JPA.  I was fortunate to meet one of the world’s most accomplished DX (distance) amateur radio operators.  His name was Frank Cuevas, callsign W6AOA.  I met Frank around 1975 or 1976. 

“Working DX” means contacting amateur radio operators as far away from where you are as possible.  “Rare DX” is a refers to a place where there is/were few amateur radio operators.  Contacts are confirmed by QSL cards, postcards from one operator to another which verify contact was made.  If one collects QSLs from 100 countries, one is eligible for an award called the DX Century Club (DXCC).  The top DX-ers in 2010 have over 380 countries; accumulated over several decades.  Frank had worked all the countries. 

“Big Frank” was a Past President of the Southern California DX Club (So Cal DX Club or SCDXC).  SCDXC met near my home. They met monthly at what was then the Great Western Bank building at La Cienega and Wilshire Boulevards, in Beverly Hills, California; I lived in a modest LA neighborhood not far away.  (The building is now the Larry Flynt Building – home of the Hustler pornography empire.)   Frank was a former President of the Club, in 1962 and a Charter Member. 

The So Cal DX Club is a specialty ham club – just focused on DX.  Going to these meetings was very exciting for a young Novice.  Listening to tales of working rare DX and DX-peditions inspired me.  I had the dream of going on DX-pedition.  Hearing them speak of DX and collecting QSL cards reminded me very much of stamp collecting.   

Depending on who you ask, Big Frank was either world’s top DXer or was tied or second to Don Wallace, W6AM.  In those days, Frank was one of the very few hams had worked over 200 countries; by the mid-1970s.   I was Novice, I was too inexperienced and too young to know anything about this controversy.  I admired the achievements and experience of both them had.   

What I do know was that Frank helped out a young boy, me, by mentoring me (elmering).  Frank took a liking to me.  May be he sensed I really wanted to learn.  He let me log for him during sweepstakes and other contests.  He taught me a lot.  I was very fortunate to sit, watch and learn and occasionally get to ask a question or two of someone so experienced!  

Frank was a secondary elmer to me.  I already had a Novice license.  Frank’s elmering was focused on operating HF, especially on DX-ing and contesting. 

Big Frank was the John Wayne of hams.  He had an awesome work ethic of doing whatever it took to get the job done. 

He was also very generous.  He always took a suite at the ARRL Southwest Division Conference.  He always invited friends to share his liquor and snacks.  Frank could sure hold his liquor. They would play poker late into the night.  He did the same at the Visalia DX Convention and the Dayton-Hamvention.  I did not get to go to those; too expensive and it was during the school year.   I recall at one Southwest Convention which was too far to drive back and forth, my friend Fred Massey, WB6OYD and I drove up together, well he drove and I tagged along – I was too young to drive.  We could not afford a hotel room, he was in college and I was in junior high school, so we planned on sleeping in Fred’s car.  It was cold.  Big Frank came out in the middle of the night and invited us to sleep on the sofa of his nice warm suite.  When we got up there the room was thick of smoke, there were empty beer cans and liquor bottles, a few passed out hams already on the sofas.  Frank shooed them back to their own rooms.  Fred and I appreciated that Frank provided us with a warm place to sleep. 

At one DX convention, Frank was surprised for his birthday.  300 DX-ers sang happy birthday to him as Brandy, an unclothed woman to jump out of cake (CQ, Sept., 1973).   This event added to Frank’s lore as a guy who liked to have a good time. 

He had an instantly recognizable gravely voice; the deepest voice I ever heard!  This was one of his secrets to his “big signal.”  Frank liked to tell people his secret was a good ground.  As he told it, before he bought his house, he conducted several soil tests to determine conductivity in several neighborhoods he was considering buying into.  He determined the best conductivity in the LA area was Hawthrone – the South Bay city south of LAX (LA Airport), south of the 105 freeway and east of the 405 freeway.   I think the Signal One CX7A, stacked 204BAs on 20M, 4 elements beam, atop of a very high tower (can’t remember how high) and a Henry amplifier helped him too.   

The CX-7A was way ahead of its time.  It was totally solid state.  Most of the radios of its day were hybrids.  The CX-7A is a direct forerunner of today’s $12,000 plus contest rigs.   Buying this was this rig was one of Frank’s many smart moves.  But more than the state-of-art equipment was a cunning he had.  He had an uncanny ability to know when the band would be open – beyond what can be known in propagation theory.  He taught me to hear things most people would miss.   

Frank’s son, Skip was the first Novice to Work All Continents (WAC) in 1956 (see my website on Novice History, www.novicehistory.org some of which is also published in my column in QCWA Journal.   

Frank was also active on 2 meters.  He drove a big Cadillac, the kind with the fins on it.  This was fitting for someone who lived large.  I do not recall if he had an HF rig in the car.  I do recall taking to him on 2 meters.  He was active on the Bel Air repeater, which his employer owned.  Frank worked at Henry Radio, which was a ham radio retail store in LA.  You could set your watch to Frank’s routine.  He would be on during his commute to West LA from Hawthrone and on during his commute back.  He would also talk on 2 meters during his lunch break.  I recall there was a jammer who liked to target Frank.  It is generally thought that you not acknowledge jammers; acknowledging them encourages them for they seek attention.  Frank did not do it that way.  He would get angry and cuss at them – over the air.  On 20M where Frank was King a jammer would have no chance against him.  But on 2M a jammer could harass Frank. 

Glenn Rattmann, K6NA recalls Frank was the gateway station for the Kon-Tiki Transpacific rafting expedition in 1947 from Peru to Polynesia (San Diego DX Club Bulletin, Jan. 2010, pp. 5).  Frank had a 20M CW sked with them daily and helped support the expedition. 

Rest in peace Frank. 

 

 

Cliff

Cliff Cheng, Ph.D., AC6C

Los Angeles

March 2010

Revised August 2011

 

 

 

 

© 2004, 2005, 2010-2011, 2018 Cliff Cheng, Ph.D., AC6C

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED