Some Sadness for Ham Radio
Tom Wilbeck – N5KGN
I lost two of my ham radio “heroes” this year. I guess we always think that people we admire will last forever, much as I did about my father, who was suddenly taken from me in 1964. I was once again shocked to learn that both of these fine gentlemen and ham radio operators became SKs.
The ham radio men to whom I refer were Bob Shrader, W6BNB, and Walt Maxwell, W2DU. I was fortunate to have had personal contact with Shrader, but sadly was never able to have a one-on-one discussion with Maxwell, though I had made attempts.
Mr. Shrader received his ham radio license in 1932. In 1933, went to sea in the Merchant Marine as a radio operator and sailed worldwide until 1939, when he became a deputy sheriff. While in that service, he was a radio operator and patrol deputy. In those days, even law enforcement departments had CW operators! He left there for a stint as an instructor at the Merchant Marine Academy in New York where he taught radio and electricity subjects. He returned to the Sheriff’s Office in 1945. In 1946, he began teaching at Central Trade School, later known as Laney College. In 1969, he retired from teaching and became a volunteer fireman. He later became Chief of that department and later, Director of another fire department.
Bob wrote Electronic Communications, in 1959, as a textbook for trade school and college level electronics courses. He also wrote many QST articles and was still writing QST articles in 2010. After his retirement from teaching, he also wrote a book, Amateur Radio, Theory and Practice.
I first became familiar with Mr. Shrader when I obtained a copy of the fifth edition of, Electronic Communications, which was published in 1985. While I was part-time teaching at Kilgore College, a fellow instructor gave me a stack of text books. Some were old editions that the college had previously used and some were samples from publishing houses. When I first cracked the cover of this book, I knew it would be a reference for many years to come. It covered radio in its many forms, including Amateur and Marine; radar; telephone systems, both wired and wireless; and television. It will be unlikely that I would ever part with it.
A few years ago, I emailed Bob and thanked him for writing the book. He was very cordial and appreciative. We corresponded several times before his becoming an SK in April.
Walt Maxwell was born in 1919 in Florida. His father was a ham and moved the family to Michigan where Walt grew up. Walt was first interested in radio in 1922 while watching his father build equipment. Walt built his first receiver at age 6 with his father’s help. Walt graduated from college with a degree in Math and Physics. He then dabbled in music and theatre sound systems and worked at a radio station. He received his first callsign in about 1940.
During WWII, Walt worked for the FCC. He worked on monitoring stations until 1944, and was then an electronics instructor in the US Navy. All the while, Walt had been playing music in ‘big bands’, a habit he continued for most of his life.
After leaving the Navy in 1946, and having his own business, he served as chief engineer at a broadcast station until 1949. Then he joined RCA Laboratories as an engineer. In 1960, he was in charge of the antenna laboratory at Astro-Electronics Division of RCA. While there, he designed and tested many successful antennas used on satellites, including the ECHO and TIROS series of birds, as well many other space related projects. He retired from RCA in 1980. After retirement, Walt maintained an active life of consulting, researching, testing and writing.
Where I first became aware of Mr. Maxwell were some QST articles in which he was quoted, and some ‘letters to the editor’ which he wrote. I purchased one of his books, Reflections II, Transmission Lines and Antennas. While much of the book was over my head on the first read, going through it again and again made it clearer. His writings answered many of my questions about things I had experienced with antenna systems that just didn’t square up with popular opinion.
Aside from his books, which in addition to the above included an earlier edition of Reflections II, and and a later work, Reflections III, Walt also wrote a great many articles published in QST. He was always a bit controversial, as he had very definite beliefs and sought to “straighten out” anyone who didn’t see it his way. The thing about Maxwell was, though, that he could always back up his beliefs with actual laboratory findings or with multiple authoritative sources that agreed. While I really don’t honestly believe that Walt was right 100% of the time on the subject of antenna systems, I think he was on the most important ones. And those seem to be where he always drew a firestorm. Whatever, he convinced me that, with a non-resonant antenna and a transmatch, you can have an effective radio station that is capable of operating in many parts of the Amateur RF spectrum.
Walt Maxwell became a Silent Key at his home in Florida in July of this year.
In my opinion, Amateur Radio lost two heavyweights of wisdom and knowledge. I hope I can somehow reflect the contributions they have made to the hobby and my enjoyment of it.