From Father to Son

January 28, 2013 Tom W1PDI

Tom, W1PDI, sent me this story a couple of days ago. I love stories like this, and I hope that you will, too…….Dan

Tom W1PDI in 1967

The author in 1967, copying Morse out of his Dad’s Heathkit HR-20. The rest of the station consisted of a DX- 40 transmitter, an AM-2 SWR bridge and an SB-600 speaker.

If I was a little older at the time, I might have guessed what my dad was up to. The signs were there: a Knight- Kit Span Master shortwave radio for Christmas in 1962, followed by a pair of Knight-Kit walkie talkies the following year and a CB radio–yes, another Knight-Kit– as a Christmas gift in 1964. To this day I can still remember my CB call sign, KKB1757.

It was early in 1966 that my dad had something else to share with me–a Morse code practice oscillator he had built. That’s when things started to become a little clearer and make sense. He suggested that if I learned both the code and some basic technical information that I could take a test to move up from my CB radio status to obtaining a ham “ticket,” just like he had.

Growing up, I can remember all kinds of radio equipment around the house. My dad’s ham gear was set up in an attic loft, along with many years’ worth of QST magazines neatly organized by year. And how could I forget his framed Amateur Radio license, which he’d had as long as I could remember?

I studied the ARRL How to Become a Radio Amateur handbook, learned the required 5 WPM code requirement, took my test and received my Novice license, WN1GLS, in the spring of 1966. Even before my license arrived, Dad excitedly began to assemble and set up the necessary Novice equipment in my bedroom. It included his Heathkit HR-20 receiver, a DX-40 transmitter that he brought home from work one day and a matching Heathkit AM-2 SWR bridge. We re- routed the Lattin Radio Labs 5-band dipole lead into my “shack” and now I was ready to operate. All I needed was my license.

Two Hams for the Price of One
For me, one of the great byproducts of becoming a ham was that it renewed my father’s interest in the hobby. My dad, who was a long time engineer at radio station WELI in Hamden, Connecticut, even started a local ham radio club that was sponsored by the station and he was trustee of the club’s license, WA1HRC.

During the next few years we held our club meetings in the radio station’s remote building, where the emergency on-air studio was housed. It was there that we built and operated our club station of Heathkit equipment. I recall how we built other equipment, including a 15 meter Yagi one Saturday at the radio station after my dad convinced the broadcast station to purchase and erect a 50-foot crank-up tower. We participated in several Field Day adventures and even made a few trips to ARRL Headquarters.

My interest in Amateur Radio faded when I went to college in 1972 and my dad lost interest soon thereafter. He soon left his position with the radio station to start a two-way radio sales and service company that eventually led to a very successful commercial mobile/cellular

In 1981 I returned to the air and was active for a few years, and again this renewed my father’s interest in returning to the hobby. As a birthday gift in 1982, I presented him with the exact same equipment I was using at the time: a Kenwood TS-520SE transceiver and matching AT200 antenna tuner.

By 1983 my level of activity waned once again and I sold my equipment. My father kept his gear and was active until around 1988. During his “active” period I helped him put up a 160-meter long wire. Dad constructed some RTTY equipment and wrote an article about the experience that appeared in the June 1985 issue of 73 magazine.

QST–Calling All Amateurs
After my dad retired and he and Mom moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1991, I always assumed that he sold his equipment, among other things, prior to the move. My father passed away in August 2002. Shortly after, I made it a point to notify the ARRL and requested that he be remembered among other silent keys in QST.

John, W1PDI

John Miller, W1PDI (SK), at his operating position in 1984, with a Kenwood TS- 520SE transceiver and some homebrew RTTY gear.

Later that year I received in the mail the December 2002 issue of QST, which surprised me because I hadn’t been a member of the ARRL in well over 30 years and I hadn’t seen a copy of QST since the early 1980s. But in that issue my father’s listing appeared in the silent keys column. To this day I am not sure who sent me that issue of QST.

For several weeks I found myself going through that issue of QST over and over again, looking at the advertisements, reading articles and trying to understand some of the unfamiliar terms that were nonexistent 20 years earlier. All the while I asked myself, “Why was it that I hadn’t thought about getting back into the hobby again? If I had done so earlier, maybe I could have renewed my father’s interest for a third time.” We could have scheduled contacts and my children would have loved the opportunity of “getting on the radio” with their grandfather.

In early December 2002 my mom came to stay with us for a few weeks. One day she noticed the issue of QST that I had been thumbing through and said something to me that seemed to make time stand still. She said that my father had kept a lot of his ham equipment and asked if I wanted what he saved. When I asked why he kept the equipment, her reply was simply, “He wanted you to have all of it because he had hoped someday you would become interested in ham radio again.”

Because of that December 2002 issue of QST, my interest in returning to the air was already there. But now, learning that I had access to some equipment and that it was kept with the hope that I might someday want to return to the hobby, well, the timing was right. Arrangements were made to have the equipment shipped to me in January 2003 and I was back on the air by early February.

The Final Courtesy
Not only did my father keep the Kenwood equipment I had given him as a birthday gift 20 years earlier, but to my surprise the packages of equipment that arrived that day included more than I ever could have imagined.

That shipment also included nearly all of the original equipment that my dad had set up for me when I first received my Novice ticket: the Heathkit HR-20 receiver, my DX-40 transmitter, matching SWR bridge, my first code key–with his call sign and mine still on the

mounting board–and even the SB-600 Heathkit speaker that I bought while still a novice. Also included were QSL cards my dad received over the years, all of his logbooks, his original Vibroplex bug from 1947 and a handful of his own original QSL cards from 1946. What a treasure.

Life is full of odd circumstances. If it were not for the unexpected December 2002 QST showing up in the mail, plus the fact that unknown to me Dad had kept his ham equipment, I seriously doubt that I would be back on the air today enjoying Amateur Radio like it was 1966 all over again. Well, maybe not exactly like 1966, since Amateur Radio certainly has changed since then.

As a way to remember my dad, in April 2003 I applied for and was granted the amateur call he held from 1946 to 2002, W1PDI. I just had to keep my dad’s call sign in the family. It’s good to be back in ham radio, but I just wish I had the chance to once again renew my dad’s interest in the hobby that he first introduced to me nearly 40 years ago.

Tom Miller, W1PDI, was first licensed in 1966 as WN1GLS, and upgraded to General a year later at the age of 13 with WA1GLS. He continues to operate the equipment he inherited from his father and is very active on a number of nets, including the 3905 Century Club and OMISS. He enjoys contesting, QSO parties and paper chasing. Miller’s other interests include spending time with his children, sports car racing and baseball. He lives in Bay Village, Ohio, and can be reached via e-mail at w1pdi@arrl.net.

Two generations of W1PDI
W1PDI QSLsAlso included with the equipment my dad kept were a dozen or so old QSTs from the 1950s and ’60s. In one issue, January 1965, on page 74, was the announcement of the commemorative Amateur Radio stamp, first released in Alaska. It was in this issue that I found a block of the commemorative stamps my father must have placed there to preserve them. That, along with it being the stamp’s 40th anniversary, is what prompted me to design my current QSL card. On the back of my new card, I’ve included a tiny version of the lightning-throwing baby in the corner and a note that my dad held my current call sign from 1946 through 2002.

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