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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

April 11, 2005


"Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?"

Those words were written back in the early 1970's by lyricist Edward Kleban for the musical "A Chorus Line." For those of you who have never seen the stage version (as opposed to the motion picture), "A Chorus Line" is the story of a group of Broadway chorus singer-dancers enduring a rather grueling audition for a scant few parts in an unnamed musical. One of these is a character named "Paul" and all he knows is that to "be alive" is to "dance" for others. As the show progresses, we learn that from the time he was a young kid, "to perform" is where he his dedicated his life.

The reason I bring this up is that the rhetorical questions that "Paul" asks of himself in "A Chorus Line" could also have been a question asked by many broadcast engineers. For they to are a rather select group of people, who in many instances have dedicated their lives to what happens on the other side of the control room glass.

So the rather rhetorical question? What used to make a kid want to become a broadcast engineer? Even more important, why in this day and age where satellites, fiber optics and the Internet can provide instantaneous world-wide distribution of programming, is it that some youngsters still want to follow this road? I cannot speak anyone other than myself, but in my case it was truly the allure of the "ethereal abyss."


As you know from previous columns, I was born in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Back then we lived in the Bensonhurst area on West 8th Street, between Avenue "O" and Avenue "P." It was a neighborhood that was in many respects a city within a city. Within a few blocks one could purchase anything from a quart of milk to a pair of pants to a radio or a phonograph. You made your purchases from family operated businesses – some already in their second generation. There were no retailing giants like Wal-Mart or Target. You purchased everything from a neighbor who was also many times a friend.

In historical terms, the 1940's and early 1950's was also the dawning of the modern communications revolution. Radio had been around since the early '20s and now a new form of radio was emerging: Radio with pictures. It was called "television," and one fall afternoon in 1948, my father and I walked over to a store called Super Radio Sales on 70th Street and Bay Parkway. There, he plunked down about $500 and bought an RCA 10 "630" tabletop television set.

But it wasn't that purchase that affected me as much as what else happened that day. While we were there, the store owner – a ham radio operator named "Bill" -- who was also the "radio repairman" -- called me over to his work bench to show me the innards of a television set. He also warned me not to touch anything less I bight be bitten by the "volts and amps running through all of those wires." I was only five or six -- but on that day I was taught the "electronics truism." The one that says: "If you know what you are doing, keep one hand in your pocket. If you do not know what you are doing keep both hands in your pockets." I have lived by it ever since.

"Bill" could see I was interested, and took the time to "Elmer" me through the way a TV set worked. The term "Elmer" is one given to a person involved in electronics and communications who goes out of his or her way to share his/her knowledge with others -- particularly with the young.

I was fascinated -- and hooked on this magic box that could make pictures from invisible signals traveling the ethereal abyss (although I had no concept of how it happened). But I had to know more about how it worked. I had to know where the pictures came from. I had to find out how the signals carrying sound and pictures got from "some far-off place" to the RCA television set and to the Emerson radios in my house.

By the time I was 10, I knew how it worked. I had read every book in the library regarding the technical end of radio and television. At 12, I was under the after-school tutelage of another "Elmer" -- the late Saul "Jommie" Rosenthal (WA2MSX) of Rose Radio and Photo, on Bay Parkway. He taught me the fundamentals of electricity and electronics. He showed me how to bring a dead radio to life and how to rid a high fidelity amplifier of dreaded hum and noise. Thanks to Jommie, by the time I was 13 I had built a complete high fidelity record playing system -- mainly with cast-off 'radio parts' found in the back of his store. (Oh how I shudder every time I think of the number of vintage Stromberg-Carlson and Philco radios I cannibalized for parts. Especially when I dare to glance at what even as-is non-working specimens are bringing these days on eBAY.)

But I digress. By 14, I was 'fixing TVs' for my neighbors -- for free -- except for the cost of parts. And, I was doing this much to the chagrin of the established repair shops. As a result, the several of these neighborhood businesses offered me part time work -- which I gladly accepted -- so I could "learn more."

In both Seth Low Junior High School and Lafayette High School I had a good
part-time business repairing radios and TV sets for my fellow students and members of the faculty. I also had the reputation of being the person on the "AV Squad" to call when something went wrong with a sound projector. Remember those Bell & Howell, Victor and Ampro 16 mm machines that were wheeled in to show instructional motion pictures in your class? I was one of the guys who could thread them, operate them and even repair one on the fly.

As I noted in my last column, Lafayette holds a very place in my heart because it was where I began to learn that there was more to life than "reading, writing and arithmetic." It was the time and place where I began to appreciate the social and artistic aspects of life. And less I forget, it was here I met some people who would help convince me to add a ham radio call-sign as a suffix to my name. I became ham radio operator WA2HVK in 1959.

After Lafayette I did do a short stint at New York City Community College of Applied Arts and Sciences but in less than a college year I dropped out. For me, in that time and place, there was really not much to learn. Many times I found myself sitting in the very back of the classroom, bored to tears, and trying not to nod off. More times than not I would be "doodling" some (for that era) esoteric circuit, oblivious to what the instructor was saying. I was also rather adept at "covering my tracks" by simply asking for a "repeat" of any question asked of me and providing the correct answer. Or at least a guess that was close enough to suffice.

While there was more personal freedom at NYCCC, it was truly a "technical school" with little in the way of a social infrastructure. At least none that was of interest to me. So, one early spring day, on my way to class, I passed a trash bin, dropped my books there-in, exited stage left and at the tender age of "almost 19" I entered the world of commerce. Translated: I got my first full time job at a store called RuPat Television Service on 89th Street and 3rd Avenue in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.

Rather than regale you with all aspects of my torrid employment past, suffice to say that this interest in radio, television and electronics lead not only to my getting my Amateur Radio license. It also took me to jobs big and small including a number fixing consumer electronics for General Electric and later Sears, interspersed with employment a various radio and television stations. All of this wandering eventually lead me out here to Los Angeles, and in 1980 to KTTV Metromedia 11. In the middle 1980's we became part of Fox and known as Fox 11. Three years ago the company added UPN 13 to the mix. And this is where I have spent the last two and a half decades of my adult career.

Would I be here if dad had not gone to Super Radio to get an "RCA 630" TV set? I really do not know. What I do know is that electronics, ham radio, and broadcast television and radio, have been a part of my life ever since. Such is the allure of the "ethereal abyss."


OK. Now you know a bit about me. How about you? How about sharing the story of how you got into Broadcast Engineering with our readers? If you have a bit of time to write it and send it to Ill print it – with your by-line – in an upcoming installment of this column.

For now – 73 – until we meet again on the "other side of the control room glass."