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Weekly Features
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
Ed Note: In case you have not figured it out by now, this story is more than one about a man making a dream come true and documenting it for posterity. I like to think that it is really about the “magic” that brought all of us together because of a love we shared in radio communications through our hobby. Here in Part 2 you will get to meet a lot of those who worked on this project. That includes a number of your fellow newspeople who shared in Roy Neal’s dream and who donated their time and talent to make the flight and the documentary succeed. In fact, you will go on the road and spend time with us as we all work to conquer “Amateur Radio’s Newest Frontier.”

If there was a person who flew in space, the late Roy Neal of NBC Network News knew them personally. Among that group was NASA Astronaut Dr. Owen Garriott whose ham radio call letters are W5LFL. 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 spaceship took root once again. As I said last week, it would be Roy Neal who would make it happen and who would document it on video for the world to see.
Before going to NASA with the idea, Roy knew he had to have the backing of the nation’s 700,000 radio amateurs. To that end, he approached the then president of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the late Victor C. Clark (W4KFC). The three of us caught up with one another in April 1981 at a rather interesting gathering called Hamvention® in the Dayton suburb of Trotwood, Ohio.

How does one describe Hamvention? Trust me, it’s not easy but I’ll try. Imagine a gigantic building with 165,000 square feet of exhibit space, a main arena, four exhibition halls, a conference center, a pub, a golf course and is surrounded by over 20 acres of on-site parking. Inside you find just about every new and interesting high-tech hobby radio goodie you can imagine. There are also four seminar rooms going all day with some of the nation’s top telecommunications experts speaking on a myriad of subjects. Outside, 15 of the 20 acres normally used for parking are instead devoted to a flea-market wherein you will find the history of telecommunications being sold for pennies on the dollar to those who have interest in radio memorabilia. It’s truly a radio hobbyist’s “nirvana,” and its where Roy Neal suggested to Victor Clark that the ARRL come on-board as one of the sponsors of the first-ever manned ham radio station to operate from space.

It did not take very much convincing. Vic Clark was one of those men of vision who -- if you are lucky -- will pass through your life. On the spot, Vic pledged the full support of ARRL, as did those representing AMSAT -- the Amateur Satellite Corporation. Until that time AMSAT had only been involved in the development of unmanned satellites for exclusive use by licensed radio amateurs world-wide. Putting a man into orbit carrying a ham radio set was the obvious next step that AMSAT would not pass up. Then AMSAT Vice President Vern Riportella (WA2LQQ) was another visionary who said: “...count us in too.”
The organizational structure was simple. AMSAT would develop flight hardware (radio gear) that could operate within the constraints that all figured NASA would place on such a project. The ARRL would act as the voice of the ham radio community in developing an educational program to be used if the flight occurred while lending its stature to the request. Roy and Dr. Garriott would make the formal request to then NASA Administrator Jess Moore, while at the same time Roy would document the entire program. Being a broadcast journalist, doing it on videotape would be the method of choice. This latter aspect is where I, and a couple of other "ham radio operators in the media,"came in.

I vividly recall sitting in Roy’s office at NBC Burbank and our brainstorming a title for the upcoming show. In conversation, we realized that this was really something new for the hobby. In effect it was a chance for the average citizen who had passed an Amateur Radio exam and then licensed by the FCC (or other nation’s telecommunications regulator) to talk directly with a man in Earth orbit. It was truly a new frontier for the hobby and those in it. The title for our video project was soon obvious: “Amateur Radio’s Newest Frontier” -- or “Frontier” as we who were involved came to call it.
Oh yes. Did I forget to mention that plans called for two versions of the same show? We would do a pre-flight version to tell the world of Amateur Radio what was in the offing. After Owen returned to Earth we would re-edit and put out a version that took the viewer from inception of the idea of a ham radio operator in space, through the flight, post flight debriefings and the reaction of hams around the world to this achievement. And we would do it on a minuscule budget, using a lot of volunteer help from broadcast professionals in the ham radio community.

Roy believed in having small, close-knit production teams. The group he assembled to put together “Frontier” started out with an associate of Roy’s at NBC and a mutual friend: Alan Kaul (W6RCL). Alan became producer and co-writer of the script with Roy. I took on the roles of Field Producer and Technical Director. That left one essential position to fill; that of the show’s video editor. Since this was to be an all-volunteer gig, we decided to use the various ham radio news publications of the day to put out a call.
It only took one try. Within a few days Roy heard from Forest “Frosty” Oden (N6ENV) at CBS Television City in Hollywood. Not only would he give his time and talent to this project, he would also introduce us to the “powers that be” at TV City to see if we could “post” the show there. It was one of those offers that is too good to ignore. A few weeks later the deal was signed and we would edit at TV City in the overnight off-hours at a significantly reduced rate. The “team” and the “post facility” were in place. Now it was time to get on-the-road.

It literally was going on the road, both locally and nationwide. The vision that Roy and Alan came up with required shooting at ARRL Headquarters in Newington CT., and a number of NASA facilities around the country. This included the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt Maryland, the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral Florida, the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Center out here in Pasadena. Each locality was integral to the flight and/or the Amateur Radio operation that would take place from the mid-deck of the space shuttle Columbia.

With money at a premium, it was decided to only hire people where volunteers were not available. Roy and I would make one big swing around the country carrying only our clothing and videotapes. Not much you say? Well keep in mind that this was the early 1980s. Betacam SP had not yet become the tape format of choice. We were shooting those fairly large 20 minute Mini U-Matic loads that probably weighed in at about 1/3 pounds each in their plastic boxes. We figured we would need at least two dozen tapes on this trip so we bought them all from the same supplier and from the same production run (Fuji for those interested). We then headed off to begin the process of putting the concepts developed by Roy and Alan onto tape.
Our first stop would be one of or most fortuitous. It seemed to make sense to go to the most distant point first and then work our way back home. As Roy had an assignment for NBC before he could take off on vacation for this labor of love, we decided to meet up in New York City and then drive the 80 or so miles to ARRL Headquarters. The ARRL had already arranged to have a local videographer for us complete with gear. All we had to do was to show up and roll tape.

The cameraman turned out to be a guy named George Barker (NA1F), who at the time was a news photographer for WTIC in near-by Hartford. WTIC was a station owned by a ham radio operator named Arnold Chase who just happened to hold the ham radio call letters WA1RYZ. Chase not only gave us the service of George Barker, but supplied the camera, recorder and lights as well. As Roy worked his way through ARRL Headquarters and interviews with key people involved in the ham radio in space adventure, neither of us had any idea that George Barker would become a key member of our volunteer production team for years to come.

Once completed in Connecticut it was a quick drive to La Guardia Airport in Queens N.Y. where we would board an aging DC-9 owned by the now defunct New York Air for a one hour trip to Washington National. The trip down was fine. Where else could you get bagels, lox and cream cheese for supper? The problem was getting our two dozen U-Matic tapes being hand carried in a pair of duffel-bags past security.

We just happened to be in a line where the inspector was -- shall we say -- “ultra thorough.” As the tapes passed through the X-ray and he kept leering at the screen. We asked what was wrong and he said he didn’t know what those things were. We attempted to explain that it was broadcast videotape and we were making a movie. He insisted on hand inspecting each and every tape -- including those still sealed in their factory plastic wrap -- and -- in his own words: “...looking for the movie pictures.” When he could not find any pictures he insisted that we could not take our tapes on the plane.
Thankfully, a supervisor noticed that our line was not moving for close to a half hour and asked his subordinate what was wrong. Apparently he recognized videotape for what it was, and, with the sincerest of apologies, passed us through. Thankfully, Roy had insisted that we get to the airport early. By the time we boarded the DC-9, they were ready to shut the door.

One bagel and diet Coca Cola later we landed in D.C. where we met up with another person who would become a key player in future productions. Again using the ham radio media outlets we had asked for volunteer camera people with their own gear and out of Baltimore MD. came S. Larry D’Anna (WA3KOK). At the time, Larry was the CBS Network News cameraman assigned to the White House. He took off a few days to be both our crew and chauffeur in the D.C. area. He got us to our hotel, had dinner with us so we could plan the shoot, picked us up the next morning, worked with us two full days and dropped us at Baltimore-Washington International for our early evening flight to Orlando.

One thing I have learned over the years is that a good newsperson knows how to think on his or her feet. A top reporter recognizes a chance to make a story even better if the pictures and sound suddenly become available. And as those of you who knew Roy will attest, in this area he was among the very best. In this regard, one incident stands out in my memories.

While at Goddard we were to shoot a bunch of exteriors and a few interviews. Because of personnel availability on the part of AMSAT (which had its unofficial home there), the interviews were spread out over a 48 hour period. So we had more than a bit of free time to walk around and see the sights. With no place to lock up the gear, we dragged the HL-79 and BVU-110 with us. And it was while on one of these jaunts that the three of us came across a group of Junior High aged kids deeply involved in some space science experiments their our own. The sign above them said “Project Postar.” None of us had any idea who the kids were or what the project was about. No matter. I could almost see the thought patterns evolving in Roy’s head. He had already worked these youngsters into the show.

Nor did we have to tell Larry to shoot. He was rolling tape before we could. That’s what being a top news shooter is all about. These pictures would be an added bonus that would find a prominent spot in both versions of “Frontier.”
It was kind of hard to say good-bye to Larry. In the short time the three of us had been together he had become a close and trusted friend. We had shared far more than just a working relationship. Through the “magic” that is the hobby of Amateur Radio we were all now friends for life.
To be continued ...