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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Knack Story -- Tom WX2J

RTTY Model 15

Hello Bill,

Greetings from a fellow ham in Northern Virginia. I have enjoyed the SolderSmoke podcast for a few years now, and I just heard your recent presentation to the Vienna Wireless Society. We have a lot in common so it is about time I reach out to make your acquaintance.

I was born in NYC and grew up in Northern NJ. I was first licensed in 1969 as a high school student (51 years ago! Goodness!). My novice callsign was WN2JFX, and I progressed from Novice and then to General and Advanced as WB2JFX, and then eventually to Extra (in about 1990 -- while the 20 WPM code requirement still existed). At that point I put in for a 2X1 callsign and received WX2J, which is a nice twist on my original call.

I was fanatically active in my early years in ham radio. My Elmer (George, K2VVI, SK) set me up with a DX-40, and my parents provided a brand new Hallicrafters S-120 (you could copy the whole 40 meter band without changing the frequency!). I think I Worked all States as a Novice and learned that the human brain is the most amazing audio filter on the market. When I made General, George lent me an old Hallicrafters SX-25, and then I was really in good shape. Besides CW, I was also very interested in RTTY. I had my own Model 15 leaking oil in the basement and had a blast watching the magic of that thing printing messages out of thin air. I have always been a home-brewer, and one of the first serious things I built was a two- or three-tube RTTY demodulator from the Handbook. Aluminum chassis, chassis punches, tube sockets -- the whole works. I have no idea what the real inductance was of the inductors that went into the filters but somehow if the signals were strong enough, and on 850 Hz shift, it could actually demodulate signals. I probably still have that thing around here somewhere.

Another local ham bequeathed me his entire collection of 73 magazines - 10+ years starting with the first issue (~1960). I read them from cover to cover so many times I probably have them memorized. I became a real fan of Wayne Green, W2NSD, who was always ornery and controversial but a very interesting guy. I met him at a hamfest many years later and we had a great chat.

In any case I wanted to mention some other things that resonate with me as I listen to your podcast. As a kid growing up in the shadow of NYC in those years, you can bet that the Jean Shepherd broadcast was a regular part of our life. My dad used to listen to it every night -- 10:15 p.m. I believe, on WOR -- and we both used to greatly enjoy his stories of lighting up the fuse panel and nearly blowing up the house as he and his old man were playing with radios, etc. It was a common theme in our house too when my ham radio signal would blast into the TV set or I dangled new antenna wires off the house and out of the trees -- "You're going to blow this house up!" I studied electrical engineering in college and was commissioned in the Air Force upon graduation. I served a 20-year career in the Air Force and stayed somewhat active in ham radio. I was licensed and operated out of Okinawa (KA6TF) and England (G5ERE) during tours of duty in the early 1980s. Always an HF guy, in about 1982, in Japan, I bought myself a new Icom IC-720A, and this is still my primary rig. I was an early adopter of PK-232 and did some extensive building and experimenting with it. Sadly though, in the last 25+ years, my ham radio experience has mostly been vicarious as my work and family obligations have just not left much time for ham radio. I do have a G5RV wire antenna strung up but very rarely jump on the air -- sometimes during contests.

In high school we made a field trip to ARRL HQ in Newington, CT. While there we did all the things people do on such a visit, but one of the high points for me was meeting Doug DeMaw. I can just hear how Shepherd would describe it -- "I turned the corner and there he was! In person! The high priest of homebrewing! Doug DeMaw. In the flesh!" Cue the kazoo. I actually also met Shepherd at a book signing (Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories?). I remember presenting him with a computer-printed banner of his callsign -- K2ORS -- produced by one of the few functioning computer programs I had written in high school. I also heard him on the HF bands one night -- I think he was in Florida -- and actually made contact with him, if barely being able to exchange callsigns can count as a contact.

Well, more than you wanted to know. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your podcast and can personally relate to very much of what you say. Although I am steeped in Hardware Defined Radio, I am also a software guy so I expect that my future includes SDR. I hope you and Pete are able to continue the podcast for a long time to come because I need the full HDR-SDR spectrum to be covered -- hi.


Tom Fuhrman, WX2J


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Bill! I enjoyed it very much....

  2. The wonder and excitement in this letter is terrific! Thanks! 73, John/N6VTS


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