Phil Simmons, W9VES

You don't need a ham ticket to build stuff. Your FCC license is for operating.—W9VES

As a short-wave listener in the 1930's, long before most kids his age were aware of anything above 1500 on a radio dial,[Note 1] a youngster was already digging deep for DX with a borrowed blooper. . . . We reverently noted an article of his in the Gale Echo, a periodical of our mutual Chicago grade school, titled "How to Tune a Short-Wave Receiver." The tune, not build, was significant. Phil was born to be nearly 100-percent operator. . . Very soon we saw him racing home from school on his sister's bike proudly wearing a ham call on the back of a big shaggy sweater. Oh, not so big; he wasn't a big guy. . . . In fact he came home from the next ARRL National Convention lugging a huge ham of the edible variety, awarded to him as the smallest attending amateur. . . . But he was a full grade ahead of us in school, and thus unapproachable. The code, a breeze for Phil, was rough for us and we didn't manage our own call until high school. Then we made feeble QRM on 40 while he took the '39 SS for Illinois. . . . W9NUF, donor of that first receiver, remained Phil's chief engineer, devising such instruments as a neat TZ-40 breadboard rig and the first delta-matched wire Yagi in our part of town. Phil played the music in ARRL activities, working seventy countries back when only the first ten or twelve were easy. . . . Photograph of 
Phil Simmons, W1ZDP/W9VES By the time Pearl Harbor came along young Phil new the entire h.f. spectrum and its vagaries like the back of his hand, hamming and s.w.l. experience the Navy soon came to appreciate. Just another good ham coming through for Uncle Sam. . . . At long last we were swiping DX from each other on 10 again, Phil doing most of the scoring. Postwar FDs, contests, skeds from college—we kept in touch. Phil later put his talents to work for the government once more, pushed his c.w. speed to about 60,[Note 2] and further sharpened his valuable amateur-developed knack at intercept. . . . Then, still footloose and fancy free, he joined the staff of ARRL's Communications Department, where his yen for on-the-air activities helped brighten QST of the middle '50s. . . . His maintenance chief had become entrepreneur W6BES out west, but the League's Technical Department chipped in to keep Phil on the air. He was always satisfied that Heifetz never built his own Stradivarius, and that Babe Ruth never whittled a ball bat, not even from kits. . . . Work at ARRL gave Phil an appetite for printer's ink, so it was back to Chicago and a go at the electronics catalog industry, a tough and exacting business. He plunged in and gave it his enthusiastic all as was his habit, still keeping a keen ear on the bands. . . . His favorite ARRL event became the annual Novice Round-Up. Therein he was delighted to observe halting newcomers become alert, capable operators over a fortnight's accelerated activity. . . . Intense was the word for W9VES-W1ZDP-W3VES, ham spirit personified. It's hard to think of dynamic Phil Simmons now as a newly Silent Key.

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Thus in crude outline went the brief career of one ham's ham, and with it may we make a point: Tell us not in mournful numbers that too many radio amateurs are "appliance operators." Nay, say instead there are too few experts in the field. We've been privileged to know some masters intimately.


Incidentally, we married the gal who belonged to that bike. But that's another story. . . .

From Rod Newkirk, W9BRD, "How's DX?," QST, April 1969, page 89.  Note 1: Yes, 1500 isn't a typo; "the broadcast band" spanned 550 to 1500 kc/s
in those days.—

Note 2: As W1ZDP, he won the 1957 ARRL National Convention's code receiving contest
at 52 words per minute. Not to be outdone, the "How's DX?" conductor soon qualified
at 55 words per minute in the Connecticut Wireless Association's
high-speed code proficiency program..—

Text copyright © 1969 and photo copyright © 1957
by the American Radio Relay League, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.