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The Other Side of the Control Room Glass
Bill Pasternak, (ham radio call letters WA6ITF), is an oddity in our profession: a Broadcast Engineer who can write outside of the realm of technical publications. He works as a Broadcast Engineer with KTTV Fox 11 / UPN 13 Television in Los Angeles and private Broadcast Consultant specializing in the design of video post production facilities. He is the co-founder and Managing Editor of the all-volunteer Amateur Radio Newsline(tm) bulletin service and Creator/ Administrator of the annual “ARNewsline(tm) Young Ham of the Year Award” program. He is the author of three books, production staff member to several educational films and videos including Co-Producer of the award winning “Amateur Radio Today,” authored the “Looking West” column for 73 Amateur Radio Today Magazine for 26 years, currently writes the monthly “VHF, FM and Repeater” column for Worldradio Magazine, is a contributing writer to several broadcast trade publications and is a frequent contributor to CQ Magazine. He is a member of the ARRL, Radio Club of America and Quarter Century Wireless Association as well as a founding member of the Hollywood Hills QRP Contest Club. Bill is the only person ever chosen to be recipient of both the prestigious Dayton Amateur Radio Association’s “Specific Achievement” (1981) and “Radio Amateur of the Year” (1989) awards. He also was presented the ARRL National Certificate of Merit (1995) in recognition of his contributions to the “furtherance of the goals of the Amateur Radio Service.” Bill and his wife Sharon (KD6EPW) reside in Santa Clarita California with their two “puppy people” and can be reached by e-mail to or
How do you say goodbye to a someone who was a lot more than just a friend? How do you accept the news that the person you spoke with on the phone only as few days earlier, won’t ever be there again? Most important, how do you honor such a person past you’re own remembrances? These were the questions that came into sharp focus last August 15th when word reached me that my friend and mentor of the last three decades had crossed over to the other side of the “great ethereal abyss.” When I write for you the name “Roy Neal,” most of you will immediately associate it with NBC Network News. And rightly so. As a Producer and “science correspondent,” Roy covered the space program extensively for NBC, particularly the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo programs and the numerous Space Shuttle missions. He was personal friends of many of the pioneering space travelers, particularly the Mercury 7 astronauts and served with the Mercury 7 Foundation. But there was another side to Roy Neal that only a handful of you may know about. That being his hobby of Amateur Radio that not only played a major role in his life, but impacted on many others around the world, including this writer.

You see, Roy Neal, as K6DUE - the “ham radio operator “ was the person who made it possible for kids in classrooms world-wide to talk directly to Astronauts and Cosmonauts “on-orbit” without the need to use NASA communications channels. Simply said, Roy was the father of two programs developed to achieve that goal: SAREX - The Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment and -- later ARISS -- Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. For me to properly explain the importance of this in Roy’s life and even why I am writing about it, I must digress for a moment and provide you with a bit of personal history. It goes back to the late 1950’s. I was a teenager attending Lafayette High School in Brooklyn New York.

One of my closest friends was a guy named Henry Feinberg who just happened to have an FCC suffix to his name in the form of ham radio call letters K2SSQ. While in our senior year, Henry landed a job on the popular kids science show “Watch Mr. Wizard.” Today we take broadcast tape delayed for granted. Back then, AMPEX Corp. was still a year or two from introducing its first black and white 2” Quad machine. “Delayed broadcasts” in that era meant either doing the show live for each time zone or having the television picture recorded on 16 millimeter film through a process only a few of us remember called Kinescope. “Watch Mr. Wizard” was done live to the Eastern time zone and recorded on film for broadcast elsewhere at a later time. And so it was that one Saturday afternoon I got “invited” to see a live broadcast of the show.

After the show, I was taken for a behind-the-scenes tour of NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza facility. While walking down one of the halls we saw a person I immediately recognized from that networks coverage of a recent missile launch. I boldly went where no kid should have gone and said: “Hello.”

And so it was that at age 17 I met a man whose career would come to inspire me in later life. My next encounter with Roy came in 1972 By now I was grown up, married and had relocated to the City of Angels. And along the way I had gotten my ham radio license with the call letters WA2HVK.

On arrival in “LaLa Land” I conformed to me government mandate of the day and applied for new call letters to indicate my SoCal residence. The FCC handed me WA6ITF -- the call sign I still possess to this day. We were living in Panorama City at the time. One evening I turned on my ham radio set to hear a very familiar voice. One I had heard earlier I n the day issuing forth from the loudspeaker of our aging Sylvania color TV set. (Anyone else remember Sylvania television sets with “Halo-Light?”) Here on the ham radio set he had put out what we hams call a “CQ” -- a general call which really is akin to saying: “...hello out there in radio land. Is there anyone who wants to talk to me?” Knowing the voice and remembering how nice a person he was from our brief encounter at NBC in New York I responded. I had no idea that in doing so, this would be a true crossroads in both of our lives. And here’s where the chain of events is such as to make you wonder if ones life is not really pre-destined. To explain this, I must difgress. Prior to our leaving New York, I was approached by the editor of a magazine called “73 Amateur Radio” to write a story about our relocation and the people I spoke to on the ham radio while driving cross-country. That article never was published but it led to a 26 year career writing a column about ham radio on the West Coast for the same magazine. This in turn lead to my meeting film maker Dave Bell whose ham radio call letters are W6AQ.

And so it was that in early 1973 Dave asked me to provide some input to a promotional movie he was making about the hobby. As luck would have it, his on-screen talent would be Roy Neal. It would be the first of many such film and video associations between the three of us. Ill describe some in depth in future columns. In 1977, another ham radio friend by the name of Jim Hendershot (call letters WA6VQP) decided that what the hobby needed was its own news and information service. Not being one to sit on his laurels, Jim went out and set up the “Westlink Radio Network” and brought me along for the ride. In this case the term “network” was a bit misleading because the beginnings of the news service was really Jim reading the script he had written onto tape, handing the cassette to a friend who would drive to the top of a local hill and broadcast it from his mobile radio on a frequency that most ham, radio operators had no way to hear! (223. 500 MHz in the then under-utilized 1 1/4 meter band.)

Each week I would supply Jim with many of the stories (after all I was now into my 5th year as a writer for 73 Magazine) and he would produce a 30 minute newscast to be broadcast from that hilltop overlooking the San Fernando Valley. Eventually ham operators in other parts of the United States found out about about “Westlink,” and in short order Jim was in the tape duplication and mailout business -- so as to speak. And it remained that way for about a year until Jim decided to relocate. He called to ask if I wanted to take over “Westlink.” I said: “OK,” but only if I could find people to help me. In short order I did in the personage of Bill Orenstein (ham radio call KH6IAF back then - now KH6QX) who was an audio engineer at the NBC Network and his friend Alan Kaul (W6RCL) then a newswriter at KNBC. For our first attempt, I supplied the stories. I think Al rewrote them into a script and another friend -- the late Zeke Manners (the original Beverly Hillbilly) recorded it for us. Even though it had a rather limited audience (we had substituted a Collins cart machine with a “magic black box” I devised to make it auto connect to a phone line for duplicating and mailing out tapes) the popularity of the “Westlink News” among ham radio operators grew quickly. Alan soon became its primary anchor, soon sharing the mic from the Wollensak recorder with “Big Jim” Davis (ham call letter then WA2CCY - now W2JKD) who had come to town as the Program Director at KMPC.

Roy also was a part of our little group early-on, but he could not lend his voice to the newscasts due to contractual obligations. But he soon became my personal mentor. I remember visiting him one afternoon and him saying: “Old buddy, its about time you learned how to write a news story.” He then proceeded to teach me to put who, what, when, where and how into the first sentence. 1979 saw us Roy, Dave and myself united once again for Dave’s award winning “The World of Amateur Radio.” And what a world this movie was. A trip of fact that no flight of fantasy could equal. A movie that not only showed the hobby here in the U.S., but highlighted it world-wide and included such notables as the late Barry M. Goldwater (K7UGA) and H.M. King Hussein of Jordan (JY1). Ill bet that most of you were unaware that the former ruler of that middle-Eastern nation took time out of his hectic schedule to sit on the radio and talk to the public of the world! It was not long after that the idea to put a ham radio station into space hit Roy. Actually, he had discussed the idea years earlier with his friend and NASA Astronaut Owen Garriott (ham call letters W5LFL) when the latter was scheduled to fly on “Skylab.” NASA said “no” to that one, but neither Roy nor Dr. Garriott were ready to write off the idea. When NASA assigned Garriott to be a crew member for the STS-9 flight the idea of a ham radio operator on the air from an orbiting space shuttle took root. It would be Roy Neal who would make it happen and who would document it on video for the world to see. (To be continued)