Manager - AB7RG
Manager Notes

The Ham You Never Knew...

Created by on 2013-11-28

My father, Abraham, died in January 2009. None of you knew him. But you should have, you would have liked him. You would have admired his abilities, his tenacity, and his sense of humor.

He was born in Chicago, IL in 1932 to an immigrant family who left Italy in 1911 for a better life. His parents had a total of 12 children, 6 of whom survived to adulthood. The others died either at birth or within a few weeks. It was a hard life on the streets of Little Italy in Chicago. It was a world where the good, the bad, and the discriminated against were all tossed into the same places around Chicago. They had to be tough- and fend for themselves.

During my dad's youth he attended school like all other children, with decent grades. He was well liked and fell into a small group of local kids who, like him, were the children of immigrants. All were Italian except for one, who was the son of the local tailor and therefore Jewish.

These four kids, Abe, Dominic, Gene, and Irving ran together their entire life.

These gentlemen were old school in every respect and would never turn their backs on each other. They were glued together. My father benefited greatly from their lifelong friendship. And the connections forged in the old neighborhood never seemed to go away. It wasn't the "mob", my dad was not by nature a criminal, it was a familial connection shared by a common struggle to survive.

A great story about my dad:

I had been attending the University of Illinois in Chicago around 1985, and ate lunch at this little Italian restaurant in (what is left of) Little Italy almost every day. It was a one man operation, with hand made pasta you could see behind a glass counter- like a sushi bar. It wasn't "high end" so to speak, but it was Italian food, for Italians. Tourists did come in and eat there- but not during the day. During the day all the women had "big hair" and the men were your typical Chicago-Italian stock. People spoke Italian in this restaurant, and you drew stares if you did not. People would laugh at me while I fumbled through ordering in Italian. It really was a great place.

As time went by I became friendly with the owner of the restaurant. His name was "Sal". An old school man about my father's age.

One day, I had some papers laid out with my name printed boldly on them, and he must have noticed them. All of a sudden, the interaction changed drastically:

"Hey, you Abe C's kid?" Sal blurted.

"Yes, my dad grew up at Taylor and May St." I responded.

Sal's whole expression changed before he said: "No kid of Abe's pays to eat here!". And he promptly took the check and tore it up violently.

He then went on to explain that he and dad had been good friends, and the two of them had been involved in working together as teens "putting in air conditioners during the war".

The following Christmas I asked my father about Sal. His face turned red as a beet. And he said: "We weren't putting them in"...

Needless to say, I ate for free for the next two years at Sal's restaurant and didn't ask any more questions. Hard times make hard people. But Sal, always treated me like family. He even tried to get me to date his daughter. But I was still hung up on my ex-girlfriend from high school.

My father married my mother at the age of 18 and answered his country's call in 1950 and entered the army. Back then you had to serve (or else). He gladly did it. And since my father even at that age was a true Mensch, even his superiors liked him. This was the Korean War era... and because he was liked- his superiors kept him in different training schools until they could station him outside of a war zone- in Europe.

Eventually, after going through artillery, cook, and radio schools he was stationed in Germany running a radio unit which engaged in maneuvers from time to time.

One story I was told about those days was this:

My father had been ordered to deploy his radio station. In some way, he was able to deploy, and was "unofficially" allowed to go on leave. So he and a friend decided they would go skiing, for the first time ever, while the operation as underway.

They went down the wrong ski slope, and apparently were skiing through the maneuver they had just set up.

He had a lot of stories like that. They would get hundreds of retellings over the years when his friends would get together.

Dad returned from the army in 1952 and settled into married life with my mother, Rosemary. She was an Irish orphan, raised by Italians, and married to an Italian American.

They made their home in the family home on May St. in Chicago with my grandparents. And my father attended Coyne Institute for electronics training and graduated. Television, radio, and anything that had electrons flowing in it were objects of passion to my father. He could tear apart anything and fix it. Build anything. He used to tell me he could close his eyes and see the flow through a circuit.

Skipping ahead through 13 years of quiet family life...

I was born in November 1965, and would be the only child. Just this same month, my parents had moved from Little Italy in Chicago to the north suburbs after the City of Chicago used eminent domain to gut Little Italy, and put the University of Illinois in it's place. Very little remained except for Taylor St. itself. It was the destruction of a culture, and it was intentional.

Our new neighborhood was different. It was full of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and well educated people. The majority was Jewish. More importantly, my dad's friend, my uncle Irving, lived in the same neighborhood. My father had purchased the cheapest house in the neighborhood, and planned to fix it up.

Over the years he had changed professions from TV/Radio/Electronics repair to a union electrician. He was a very skilled tradesman as well.... and he rebuilt the house into a (Italian) version of a palace: Two kitchens, three bedrooms, finished basement, a gas barbeque, and two car garage.

We had a Heathkit store 6 blocks from us, and yes... he started taking me there at the age of four. And at the age of four, with my father's help, I built a crystal radio- and was listening to it.

My dad was always obsessed with electronics. We used to drive around on garbage day, picking up televisions that were thrown out by our apparently rich neighbors. We'd bring the TVs home, and we would either fix them or strip them for parts. This was an ongoing activity, on a weekly basis, from as early as I can remember until I was a teenager.

Every few months there was a new TV in the house. Someone's garbage, had been fixed and sat in our living room.

One time, we picked up a Zenith Space Command TV and fixed it. My dad couldn't figure out how to get a replacement for the remote control, so we returned to the house we picked up the TV from, and made a deal for the remote control.

Imagine getting a top of the line TV for $5? That was dad. I still remember him explaining to me how the mechanical ultrasonic elements in the remote made the TV change channels. Then he made the TV change channels by jingling his keys in front of it. Brilliant!

Then there were flee markets, and ham fests. I think my first ham fest was when I was 7 in Dupage IL at the Dupage County Fairgrounds.

In 1972, my father brought home a Hallicrafters CB-3a, a tube driven CB, and a quarter wave omnidirectional antenna. We applied for and were granted a FCC license KKZ-9634, and radio... took over my life.

From there on out it was building kits, talking on the radio (before the stupid movies ruined it), and short wave listening. For both of us. Dad would work third party on a friends amateur station... he taught me how to call CQ. He used to drill me with a ham related platitude: "Hams Call!!"

We were having a good time. And I knew little about Amateur Radio at the time. But dad was forging us forward. One of my great-uncles was the technical lead at Devry Institute in Chicago, and began giving me their instructional materials for free. He used to drill me all the time:

"So what are the four things in electronics?" Uncle John would ask.

I'd gulp: "Inductance... um... errr... resistance... uh... reactance... erm... hmmmm... capacitance...???"

Sometimes I'd get it right. When I did... dad would look proud. I was only 12 after all.

Sometime in my 13th year my dad decided we were going for our ham tickets. We attended the novice classes at Gompers Park in Chicago. We studied. But we never sat for the exam.

I did not figure out until college why we never sat for the exam. I could have passed. He certainly could have passed. Right? Wrong. He would have failed.

My father... could not read.

He could look at a schematic and understand it. But he could not read. He hid this his whole life.

This realization hit me like a brick. It finally made sense... he used to have me read everything to him. He could not read it himself. He used to try and read... it would take him a month to get through a book. He couldn't read the exam questions. He probably could not do code.

He was functionally illiterate, most likely from dyslexia. Here was a man with a genius IQ, who could not show anyone how smart he was. He used compensatory skills. He befriended his instructors and learned verbally in social situations. He tape recorded lectures. He did everything hands on. I witnessed him doing this- and never put it together.

His teachers, hams he knew, and my uncle who wrote for Devry- considered him a genius. They treated him as an equal.

And no one knew he could not read. How did he graduate Coyne? My guess is that he was so good hands on, they graduated him with bad test scores, the fact that he could lecture you on theory and he knew it cold. But he could not write it down. He wasn't lazy and he wasn't stupid- he was disabled.

He could not face an FCC examiner. It just wouldn't have worked.

Pop died in January 2009 surrounded by his 2nd wife, myself, and my step sister. His last words were to me:

"You're a pretty good guy".

Coming from my dad, that's the highest praise possible.

So every year, I try to do something to honor him. Last year it was getting my ticket. Which was a real blessing because I found out I really still loved radio. This year it's this article, and perhaps taking some of his ashes to W1AW.

He was a great man.

And I want you to know him. He was, in by mind, our brother. But could never formally be acknowledged. He had done most of what radio amateurs do, but could never earn the call sign.

He's the ham, you never knew. My father.


K0GFY 2014-01-05
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Thanks Michael. I grew up in Chicago as well on the North Side. I got into radio when my father gave me a Philco wooden cased AM radio in 1958. He put a wire out of my bedroom window and tied it off to a tree, about 50 ft away. I spent the next 3 years tuning into AM stations across the country. In 1963 I took the novice test and became WN9LCI. My dad was never a ham, but he supported me in my efforts. He is gone now 28 years. I now live in Colorado on a piece of an old ranch. I have a tower (living in Chicago, I loaded my share of apartment gutters, and worked the world), and there is not a single day I am not thankful for this place, radio, and my family, not necessarily in that order.

You really caught my attention when you told about collecting old TV sets. I had an American Flyer red wagon that I would pull down the alleys on Thursdays, the day non-garbage trash was put out. I would collect anything with tubes in it. I would take them home, strip them for parts and build things. My Mom was ready to kill me. All of those treasures disappeared when I left home. Thanks for sharing, and the best of 73. Hope to work you on the bands some time.
K8CPA 2014-01-05
The Ham You Never Knew...
I can relate. My Dad doesn't read that well either.

Nice story.

73 OM.

-Chuck K8CPA

N3HSH 2013-12-30
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you so much for sharing this story about your father. Reading this made me wish I could have know him! You two certainly shared some wonderful times and created some lasting memories.

What a touching and heartfelt tribute to him. Well done!

KG0MN 2013-12-29
The Ham You Never Knew...
Michael it would have been an honor to know your father, he sounds like my type of guy. He sounds a great deal like the my Elmer who was also a fine Italian.

Best wishes to you and your family and a prayer in remembrance to your Pop.

Kevin - KG0MN
KD8TUT 2013-12-18
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Thanks so much!!
W7ZX 2013-12-18
The Ham You Never Knew...
Nicely done! Thanks for taking the time to write this. 'Compensatory skills' is truly an understatement for his amazing capabilities.

His example shows that being a ham is about love of all-things-radio, more than it is about passing tests, knowing code or having licenses.

- Marty, W7ZX
KC2EEB 2013-12-14
The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you so much for sharing this. It reminds me of all the people I looked up to, growing up in Brooklyn NY in the '50s and '60s. People like your dad are few and far between these days and it is our loss. All the best to you and yours.
W5PUG 2013-12-12
The Ham You Never Knew...
Beautifully done. A fine way to honor your Dad.
RADIOPATEL 2013-12-11
The Ham You Never Knew...
Really a great man not just ham. Thanks for sharing with us here.

I came to know about a gentleman expired about four years ago. Mr Jagadishbhai Savalia of Rajkot city in western india invented about 60 various tools/machines to make life easy for households. One of the machine made by him is machine to make buttermilk at home (about 60 liters at a time).
This innovator of many items (invented in sixties and seventies) never went to any school.

Imagine the diploma holders getting confused at gear ratio !

Once again thanks for sharing your dad's story.

Dinesh Patel VU2DCI
N2EY 2013-12-10
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...

Thanks for sharing that.

73 de Jim, N2EY
NW0LF 2013-12-09
The Ham You Never Knew...
My father and your father shared something. He wasn't a ham, he was a functional illiterate. It wasn't due to dyslexia. My father did actually complete a couple of years of grammar school. Then my grandfather sent him to live with relatives back in Italy and formal education stopped. My father was a construction worker among many things. He, too, was very good with his hands. He was even a tailor at one time. It was my father who taught me how to mend clothes. Him and my mother bought a fixer upper house and he redid it from the top to bottom. My father could barely sign his name to his paycheck but he could, and literally did, build a house with a tape measure and a plumb bob. I came along late in life and didn't know until after my dad passed away in 1991 that he was a functional illiterate. His hands were magic. He was soft spoken considering he was born in Brooklyn, NY. I learned my values from watching him. He very rarely told me he loved me but, more importantly, he never failed to show me he did. I still miss him a lot after all these years. We were both very blessed to have the fathers we did.

Tom, NW0LF
KC7UT 2013-12-06
The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you Michael for letting me know your Dad. Very well written and a story that does us all good. Your Dad was a very good Ham !
W5PUG 2013-12-02
The Ham You Never Knew...
What a wonderful way to honor your father. My Dad wasn't a ham, but two of his siblings were (one aunt, one uncle) and they got me started. You've inspired me to write a tribute to them sometime soon.

KA8VIT 2013-12-02
The Ham You Never Knew...
A very nice story, Michael.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

73 - Bill KA8VIT
KD8TUT 2013-12-02
The Ham You Never Knew...
Just to share an additional story about Pop, which kinda got edited out of the article:

I must have been 9, and Dad had taken me to the south side of Chicago to accompany him on his "side-job". Dad was like that... used to take me to work with him from time to time. I'd pull wire through conduit, play gopher, or learn about three phase.

Anyhow we were in rush hour traffic coming home, on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. This was before they straightened the dreaded "Z Curve" and we were in the midst of it.

I was very hungry. Traffic was barely moving. We had ate lunch about noon, but it was 6 hours prior and I'd been working my butt off. Pop seemed to sense this and asked me if I was hungry... I said yes.

So he pulls a pocket knife out of his pocket and a virgin stick of imported pepperoni from under the seat and lops off a slice for me.

Traffic was bad that night, but I can remember in detail eating slices of pepperoni, moving at 2 miles an hour for what seemed like forever, and getting home to a full dinner I could barely eat (we were full of pepperoni).

Needless to say... we polished off the stick together that night.

I've always remembered that.
N1FDX 2013-12-01
The Ham You Never Knew...
WOW Michael,
Outstanding article. I am also an Italian American, grew up in a similar community in Boston.
Very touching, your dad sounds like a great man.
Thank you for sharing.
N0UY 2013-12-01
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Wow, Great story. Great man. Thank you for sharing with us.

My Dad influenced me alot too as a kid but he had no knowledge or interest in radio. At least not until I had an interest in it. Then he felt obligated to learn something about it because of my interest. He passed away before I got my license but I am sure he would have been proud of my accomplishments.

Well Michael, now comes the part where you pass on the heritage, the passion, the legacy of what your father did for you to your next generation. These are the bits of life that make up life itself.

Thank You for sharing a heartfelt story of a great person in your life.

Ray N0UY
N4JTE 2013-11-30
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Amazing profound article, tnx again.
KB6QXM 2013-11-30
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Outstanding article. It really highlights the determination of that generation. That generation did what it took to get the job done. That generation was humble, worked hard, did not whine, just did it.

Had he admitted to not being able to read, I am wondering if the FCC examiner would read the test to him and if he was able to answer correctly, give him credit on that element. The question is if he would have been able to pass the code test.

I like to read when someone has memories of their father. Due to my father's intense work hours and following the American dream, I have few fond memories of my father. He provided quite well for us and was able to retire in his mid-fifties, but I suffered in getting to know my father. Now I am repeating my father's extreme work hours and success, but I have no family to suffer.

I am just getting to know my father now in my father's twilight years.

To me this story was not about radio or TV repair, but getting to know your father and spending time with him. My father and I got to spend some time bonding not over radio, but classic cars.

I wish everyone that still has parents, spend time getting to know them, as life is short and when they are gone, they are gone.

Thank you for a great article and I think I will call my father now.

K0DCH 2013-11-29
The Ham You Never Knew...

Thanks for the article. We know Abe through you...a pretty good guy indeed.

N4JTE 2013-11-29
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Beautiful story and I would be so proud if my kids ever do the same.
Your tribute to your dad is awe inspiring, "Now" we know him also tnx to you.
Well done!
N6AJR 2013-11-29
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Gods Speed my friend.
RADIOPATEL 2013-11-29
The Ham You Never Knew...

Wow ! A story of turning disability into abilities.

A great soul indeed and source of inspiration. Can not even imagine how many troubles and difficulties he had overcome in his life.
Story also reminds friends of those days.

My dad who could not study further after 11th class has achieved a lot in his life. Today he is trustee of same school where he studied and school is well known for academic achievements in entire district in western India.

Thanks for sharing inspiring story of your dad.

VU2DCI Dinesh Patel
N7BMW 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Wow, what memories you stirred. Did we live near each other? Was the Heathkit store the one on Devon Ave? We probably grew up within a mile or two of each other. I used to go to that store on the way home from grade school and gawk at the radios. My father came to America from Russia in 1913 at three years old. He did not finish high school until he went into the army in 1937. He did two stints - re-drafted after the Pearl Harbor attack and was in the the duration. He was in the Army engineers and could fix anything mechanical. We had a 1937 ARRL handbook and it was my introduction to Ham radio. He passed in 1996 and I think of him often. He never became a Ham either. On this day we both have a lot to be grateful for - giving parents.


KJ4NOO 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
Thanks for sharing your story. Like your father mine encouraged me to explore the world of radio and electronics. I remember listening to shortwave and built a Heathkit code oscillator but never sat for my test back then. For some reason he never took the test either but he built his own quad antennas and had a tower for the CB band back before the movies made CB band what it is today ! He had the technical skills and I helped and was climbing towers at 12 ! I was from a small town and it was a 100 mile trip 1 way to take the test. About the same time I discovered girls and the rest as they say is history. 35 years later after my Dad passed away I decided to take the test as a sort of tribute to him and discovered that I still had the radio bug after all those years !
VA7NAD 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
That is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing it. When I was 14, my dad and I built a Heathkit vacuum tube SW receiver together. It inspired my entry into electronics and planted a seed for radio, which I have finally returned to this year, almost 40 years later.
Thanks again.
VE6GFZ 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
Awesome story, I would have loved to have met your father.
Guyle VE6GFZ
W1MNK 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...

A very touching story, particularly at Thanksgiving. Sometimes we forget how important family is. I need to write about my Dad, Ed Maguire W1MNK. He was my hero and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how blessed I was having him as my dad. Like Abe, he is in heaven, enjoying enternal DX and rest after a life of saving the world from tyranny and creating the greatest country in the world.

73... Jon W1MNK
N8WL 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
Great tribute, Michael! Your dad would have been proud of you for writing it. Thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving!


Steve N8WL
JOHNZ 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Not a thing to be ashamed of, when one is a Redneck of the Southern variety. They are some of the most innovative and down-to-earth people I have ever had the pleasure to know.
KE7FD 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you for sharing about your father. What a wonderful man he was, sharing with us about the love he held for you and all his family and friends. He was a real success. I've heard it said that no success in life can compensate for failure in the home. He was a success and you convey to us his love for you, his constant interest in providing for his family all speaks of his greatness despite not being able to read. Not often do you learn about someone who was so dedicated as your father.

My father passed away in 2011. I too was the product of my fathers interests and his enduring dedication to family. I join you in rejoicing a noble father.

Glen - KE7FD
N4KC 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Michael, thank you for the wonderful story and, by the way, welcome to the wonderful world of amateur radio. I know a lot of us will identify with your very well-written recounting.

I sure do. My dad would have been stereotyped as a "redneck." He dropped out of school in the 8th grade to go to work in a sawmill to help support his family...on $5 a week. But after spending time in the Army, he went to trade school to learn how to fix the new gizmo everybody was buying by then, the TV set. He was the first repairman and antenna erector in his part of rural Alabama.

Like your dad, he could rebuild a truck engine, construct a house from scratch (and did...ours!), build without directions or a schematic a transmitter using a pie pan and old TV parts, and fix just about anything that broke. He could also tell you the names and characteristics of every tree, bush and bird in the woods, play guitar and piano, and tell you stories that would leave you spellbound.

We got our Novice licenses together--I was 13--but while I quickly moved on to General then Extra and still spent most of my time on CW, he never got past Technician. Despite his musical ear and high IQ, he could simply never manage 13 WPM. I still believe it was because he had once tried to learn dots and dashes instead of dits and dahs...something that went against his musical instincts.

Michael, anytime I hear stories like yours, I am reminded of him (he went SK in 1989) and thankful I was blessed with a dad like him. I did not inherit his technical and practical mind and abilities. The theory has always been a struggle for me, but I persist and continue to learn.

However, I did inherit his love for radio and for storytelling. Both led to careers in broadcasting and writing.

Sounds as if our experiences--despite the great distance geographically and socially--are remarkably similar. And that is just one reason our hobby is so wonderful. Every time I fire up the rig, I get to QSO with folks like you! QSOs that start with the common thread of ham radio and eventually lead to the realization that we ALL can find other common ground, too.


Don N4KC
(Author of the new book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES:
W8ATA 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Michael, you convey the real essence of Thanksgiving ... counting your own blessings not someone else's. Thanks for sharing. Have a blessed day.

K3LRH 2013-11-28
RE: The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you Michael.


Len Hecker, K3LRH
KD8QDL 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
Michael...your story is incredible and I, as a child of Italian Americans myself, know exactly what you speak of when you describe your life with your father. My father is no longer with us either, but your story brings back wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing the story of a great man with all of us who are your brothers in ham radio. 73 to you and to all who are fortunate enough to read your post.
W4XKE 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
This is a fine article, Michael. You do justice to the art of writing. The warmth of your heart is evident in your words and you include us into the intimacy of your personal world. And we are grateful for your contribution here, especially on Thanksgiving.

I went to Chicago once on a bicycle tour and we rode our bikes all through the park area along Lake Shore Drive. The city was a surprise and a revelation to me as the people there seemed to be either very bad or they were very good.

We stopped to eat at a Ponderosa Steak House and the manager insisted that we bring all of our bicycles inside the restaurant to park them so they wouldn't be stolen. Gentlemen who were very well dressed and appeared to be quite affluent were friendly and polite to work-a-day guys that were selling newspapers and cleaning windows. They portrayed that ‘family’ image that you describe in your article. I was much impressed by Chicagoans.

Another thing… our social studies book described how immigrants came to the United States – (the Great Melting Pot) and melded into Americans. Chicago is a glaring example of how wrong this is. Those people didn't blend all together at all. There’s the Polish section, the Hungarians, the Cubans, China Town, Little Italy, etc. and they all retain their respective languages, food, culture, sports et al.

Indeed, I saw team sports being played that I’d never seen before – Rugby – Jai Alai and others that I can’t describe. One thing that seems absurd is that you don’t see the Italians or the Hungarians or the Chinese taking to the streets to murder each other every night and every weekend. But the radio news broadcasts of the Black sections sound like the casualty reports of WWII. What in Sam Hill is going on in Chicago? And especially since nobody is supposed to even HAVE a gun in Chicago? It doesn't make sense.

My dad was born in 1908 and only went to the 3rd grade of school but he could do math in his head like a human abacus and could lay out a set of stairs while he was cutting the lumber. I guess there’s just a lot of skill and savvy that those folks of that generation had that’s lost to us today. Wish I’d have known your dad and your family. The way you describe them, I’d like to have been among your friends.

Johnny / W4XKE
K6EK 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
I'm sure you are right - I would like to have known your father. Thanks for sharing his story.

Ken - K6EK
KB2DHG 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
A very nice story and nice tribute to your dad...

W1TXT 2013-11-28
The Ham You Never Knew...
Thank you for sharing this, Michael. I could visualize both of you driving around, picking up TV's and stuff and I feel I got to know your dad (just a bit) from your words.

A great tribute to your dad and may you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Tom Kruczek