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A Renewed Meaning


The term BPL, for far too many Code-free, licensed Amateur Radio operators only represent the dreaded Broadband over Power Lines; it was a feared and threatening concept.  For those Amateur Radio operators who have had licensing with Morse Code, there was another feeling about these three letters.

For them, BPL was a measurable facet of the National Traffic System:   This BPL, the Brass Pounders League, is an element within the ARRL that provided recognition for those operators who participated in a monthly, “contest-like,” competitive event.

In describing the ARRL’s BPL, the League shared the following:  From its inception, the intent of the Brass Pounders League (BPL) monthly award has been to recognize individual operator dedication in “handling” a significant amount of messages in proper radiogram format.

How does the BPL work

An operator’s monthly BPL count is self-reported to the Section Manager (or Section Traffic Manager) who issues award certificates and reports operator results to ARRL Headquarters. Summary results are published in QST.

BPL awarded-operators attaining three (3) monthly BPL awards are eligible for the coveted medallion issued by League HQ. This article restates the long-standing policy on the proper BPL counting to be used in submitting monthly counts for the award.

What is evaluated

The BPL award is given for each operator reporting at least 500 messages each month (total of received, sent, delivered and originated), or at least 100 originated messages, and is based on counting “points” for particular categories of message-handling:

Received-One point for each message in proper format received by the operator over the air. This point is earned whether received for relaying (sending) or for delivery to a third party (not including the receiving operator) addressee. A message received by the operator addressed to that operator counts as a received point.

Sent – One point for each properly formatted message sent by the operator over the air to another operator. This point is earned either when the operator is relaying a message, or sending an originated message (see below). A message that the operator initiates and sends only counts as a sent message point.

Delivered – One point for each message in proper format delivered by the operator to a third party addressee. This point is counted as an “off-the-air” function. If the message is addressed to the receiving station, it only counts as a received message, not also a delivered message.

Originated – Extra credit of one point is given for each message from a third party for sending by the operator over the air in the proper format. Originated messages earning the extra point are an “off-the-air” function in recognition of the public service value. BPL counts should not include the originated extra point for messages created by the sending operator (not a third party).

With advances in message handling, some of the luster of the once traditional has been clouded by the digital aspects of the changing methods.  For the older readers of the eDipole there are memories of both the once popular methods of handling traffic messages one very special and properly praised message handler from this area.

This was a Delaware County resident that was constantly and quietly cited in QST month after month and year after year.  These citations were earned by a husband and more so by the wife of this spousal team. The majority of these listing were for the energetic and unselfish activities of a legendary message handler Mary A. Dougherty, a.k.a  Mae Burke, W3CUL.

Born in 1911, she became a Silent Key in 1997.

She found a way to balance her many undertakings.  In addition to being described as a “wonderful housewife and champion operator dedicated to the National Traffic Service, her Amateur Radio activities earned for her the image of being a key example of how Amateur Radio is truly a Public Service.

The following text was obtained from a 2007 publication prepared by Robert R. Ballantine, W8SU.

Mae went on the air in 1932 from Philadelphia, with home brew gear made by her “Beau” Albert Burke W3VR. She enjoyed top band (160) also 20 and 40 Meters – She preferred CW and became Mrs. Al Burke before WW2. Following the war at Folsom Pa, Mae went on 10 meter phone, working much DX and phone patching for the boys overseas.

Eventually traffic got a hold of both Al and Mae kept many schedules running up to 12 hours daily. At rush times many more hours were spent handling traffic.

Not a single schedule was missed for years and W3CUL earned BPL for 100 consecutive times.

Mae figures she handled a quarter of a million messages in that period alone.

Burke’s would live in Morton, Pa. A complete station shown for each, twin Collins stations consisting of the 32V2 and 75A3’s – Both Mae and Al have awards too many to mention here however she is especially proud of the Edison Amateur Award, the fifth one issued for public service in 1956. She has handled some 312,000 messages between 1949 and 1957.


Mae Burke unique operator and gifted mentor expired in Florida November 1997 at age 86, earned a historic record of traffic handling honors over her lifetime handling overseas traffic for US Service Personnel, MARS, Red Cross and other emergency messages during the Korean, Vietnam and cold war eras. ARRL International Humanitarian Award of 1997 was awarded to the Burkes for their lifetime of public service of traffic handling and for their unique dedication to this facet of Amateur Radio.

The Board also cited both Burkes for serving as traffic handling mentors to many others. In 2000, January 10th – The ARRL International Humanitarian Award Laureate Alfred S. Burke W3VR, of Seminole Fla expired. He was age 93, an ARRL member for more than 50 years and their unique dedication to traffic facet of Amateur Radio came to an end but is not forgotten.

Ms. Mae had been monitored countless times on the air both in Penna., and Seminole Flab passing N.T.S. traffic, always heard, using that well known bug which did not sound perfect but for her heart and savvy, she will always get a 10 in our book every time!


2 Responses to A Renewed Meaning

  1. Doug Fearn Reply

    January 29, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for remembering W3CUL and W3VR. I knew Al and Mae very well after many years of passing traffic and occasional visits to their home in Morton. Most people probably do not know that Mae was an accomplished musician as well as a gifted CW operator (which is not a coincidence). Some people may have had trouble copying Mae’s idiosyncratic fist, but her sending was perfect. It’s just that she used an element spacing and length that was unique and it took some getting used to. If “perfect” code has a dot to dash ratio of 1:3, Mae’s sending was more like 1:2. She shortened the dashes, sometimes to the point that they were scarcely longer than a dot. This was very economical and allowed her to pass more traffic in a given time. Al worked for Sun Ship in their radio department and he was incredibly knowledgeable about all things rf. In the 1970s their home had multiple Collin S-Line stations, one for each band, plus many Model 19 Teletype machines for RTTY. After they moved to Florida, we kept in touch by e-mail and occasional phone calls. I still miss them both.
    Doug, K3KW

  2. Karl Collins Reply

    October 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I had the pleasure of being a part of Mae’s traffic network from 1951-54. I operated KG6FAA at Andersen AFB, Guam. We gathered messages from GIs in Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines and funneled them to the States. Our major contact for the relay stateside was Lyle Quinn, then W0TQD and now W0US). He passed on to Mae and then relayed her Pacific traffic back to us at KG6FAA. The traffic load at KG6FAA was always heavy and even heavier during holidays, but it was nothing compared to what Mae handled.

    I was honored to be sponsored to the A-1 Operator Club by Mae and Lyle. I’m proud of that certificate hanging in my shack beside a picture of Mae. After I returned to the states, I joined Mae’s network with my own call, W9LHB, while stationed in Kansas City, Mo. Yes, Mae had a distinctive fist, but you could find her in ANY pileup. What a wonderful person! I’ll never forget her!

    I try to give her full credit on my web She wasn’t “one in a million.” She was definitely ONE OF A KIND!

    Rest well, Mae.
    Karl – W4UTI

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