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The Stories Behind the Signals

Created by Don Keith, N4KC on 2019-08-28

The Stories Behind the Signals
By Don Keith, N4KC
©2019 by Don Keith

If you dial across the Amateur Radio bands on a typical weekend morning, you will hear an abundance of nets--informal and formal--groups of like-minded hams, gathering, visiting, discussing mutual interests. These RF get-togethers are devoted to such diverse topics as vintage auto collecting, particular brands of radio gear, various pursuits within the hobby, a shared career field, or just simple chats among longtime friends. But few who might stop tuning and listen are aware of the fascinating stories that lie behind some of the groups to which they eavesdrop. That is especially true of one of the nets, an assemblage with a fascinating history, a collection of hams who came together out of a true but unfortunate necessity, and who once provided a unique public service opportunity for Amateur Radio.

The weekly OMIK nets--they meet on 20, 40 and 75 meters each Sunday--sound like the typical on-air gathering, a group of hams from all over the country who clearly enjoy each other's company via the airwaves. However, the OMIK Amateur Radio Association came about in darker times, for our nation and our hobby. In the early 1950s, as Amateur Radio enjoyed a post-World War II boom, African American hams encountered discrimination within the hobby just as they did in the rest of society and in everyday life. Many clubs denied membership to black hams and they often were subject to deliberate interference on the air. That was the impetus for forming their own association, the OMIK Electronic Communication Association. The acronym came about because most of the founders and initial members were from the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky. OMIK, pronounced "Oh-Mike," had nothing to do with microphones or the ohm, the unit of electrical resistance, but "resistance" was certainly on the minds of its founders. Black Amateur Radio operators who encountered blatant racism in all aspects of their lives, including in their hobby of choice, finally had an on-air association they could call their own.

The first meeting of the group was on the campus of what is now Central State University near Dayton, Ohio, on August 17, 1952. The first officers elected included Llewellyn Scearce W8TKE, Lawrence D. Sallee W8ZAW, and James A. Smith W8CZD (all now SK). One of the initial orders of business was to establish regular on-air nets so members had a virtual place where they could gather. And the group soon expanded beyond its regional roots to become a national organization.

The OMIK group also discovered a priority public service they could render. At that time in U.S. history, black travelers were not welcomed in many hotels and restaurants, and that discrimination extended to all corners of the nation. There was a popular publication available that listed African-American-friendly accommodations--The Green Book, featured recently in the Academy Award-winning motion picture of the same title--but it was only printed once a year and thus was often out of date.

OMIK members realized that Amateur Radio operators who had mobile capabilities could get on the air as they drove through an area, speak with local hams, and learn of establishments that welcomed their business regardless their race. Those hams could also report back their experiences and the group could maintain updated lists for members and others as they traveled. That information was freely available on the nets.

Nowadays such a service is typically no longer necessary, but the OMIK group continues to do good work. They lay claim to being not only the first but the largest organization for black Amateur Radio operators and is an American Radio Relay League affiliated club. Today they welcome members of all races and locations, including many from foreign countries. "All licensed operators and others of good character are welcome to become members," according to the OMIK web site. The group holds an annual convention. It will be held this year in July in the Dallas, Texas, area.


OMIK members at a recent convention

The purposes of OMIK include promoting fellowship while advancing the art of amateur radio, expanding and upgrading the ranks of amateur radio operators, providing public service and furthering international goodwill, and encouraging and motivating youth to go on to earn a college degree. Toward that goal, the group operates The OMIK Scholarship Fund, a 501(c)3 organization, that provides scholarships to "encourage and motivate youth to further their education beyond high school through scholarships and other financial assistance." Emphasis is given to those who wish to study electronics, mathematics, science, or communications.


Gwen, XYL of OMIK member KQ0L, presents a check for $500 to a representative of a charity in the Denver, Colorado, area

But beyond the net and the group's activities, OMIK is a diverse group of hams, each with a story to tell. At the time of this writing, OMIK's president is Clifton Peoples KE8QR, a Vietnam vet and retired instructor of electronic engineering and robotic design. One of the group's more active members, Jeff Drew N4JDU, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s in a section of town known as "Dynamite Hill" because of regular bombings by the Ku Klux Klan. Dr. Martin Luther King was a frequent visitor in his home. One of OMIK's Area Directors is Patricia Nelson KE0QXD, a former broadcaster and instructor. The current director of the organization's nets is Calvin Harris K1CAL, who holds a number of electronic patents and owned his own electrical contracting company.


OMIK members K6FED, KQ0L and N4JDU

As we see, when you listen up and down the Amateur Radio bands, you never know what the story might be behind those friendly get-togethers you might hear. That is until you join in with those that actively encourage check-ins and get to know the history and purpose of that friendly bunch who occupy that little sliver of spectrum.

OMIK's web site is www.omikradio.org.


Kids often get their first experience with amateur radio through members of OMIK

Don Keith, N4KC holds the Amateur Extra class license and is a member of ARRL. Don is a former award-winning broadcaster and is a best-selling author with more than thirty books, fiction and non-fiction, currently in print. His novel Hunter Killer was the basis for the movie of the same name starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman. He has also written four books about ham radio. Don's author web site is http://www.donkeith.com/ and his Amateur Radio site is http://www.n4kc.com/.

KK0DJ 2019-10-20
The Stories Behind the Signals
Hey Don... good article! Sorta like your books.. a good read. I've listened to the OMIK nets and have always enjoyed them. I look forward to the day that all hams rid themselves of looking upon another as different just because of their color. Oh what a wonderful day it will be.
73
Dennis
KK0DJ
AA7LX 2019-09-18
Stories Behind the Signals
I think this Article was great! Thank You, Don for writing it and posting it. I agree with the other individuals and Hams all who posted comments. There is no place in the United States for any form of bigotry--covert or out in the open. Many Adults still practice bigotry and racism and don't realize they are "passing" on these corrupted thoughts and behaviors on to their children. The sorry part of their teachings is that, these are learned thoughts and behaviors from their parents!
KL0S 2019-09-02
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
OUCH, that's really disappointing Don, sorry to hear that as that is a wonderful ham human interest story. 73 - Dino KL0S
KK6URQ 2019-09-01
The Stories Behind the Signals
Thank you for sharing such an interesting historical subject. Outstanding !

73 Ron
N4KC 2019-09-01
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
W6HB: I will absolutely take you up on your invite next time I'm on the Left Coast. Would love to be aboard the Iowa!

And for those who suggested it, I did submit this article to QST for consideration and they passed on it.

73,

Don N4KC
www.n4kc.com
www.donkeith.com


KE6SLS 2019-09-01
The Stories Behind the Signals

What a cool story about a fantastic group of hams!

tnx!

73
j
K9MHZ 2019-08-31
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
Love reading stuff written by The Donald.

Well done, OM.
N4UM 2019-08-30
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
Excellent article. I've been in this hobby 65 years and knew nothing of this group until reading your article. Thanks for the enlightenment!

I'd love to see you do a similar write up for QST.
K6YE 2019-08-30
The Stories Behind the Signals
Don,

Thanks, so much, for a great article on a wonderful fraternal group. I have been a member for many years and really enjoy the camaraderie of the group.

Semper Fi,

Tommy L. Haliburton, Sr - K6YE
DX IS and CW RULES
KP2Z 2019-08-30
The Stories Behind the Signals
Nice to see this fine organization get a write up on eHam. I became a member about 12 years ago. Great fun at their annual conventions too.

73,
de KP2Z
NA4IT 2019-08-29
The Stories Behind the Signals
I remember one of the OMIK members, Charles McClure, WB4GRB from Athens, TN.

He came to my house when I was a young tyke getting on CB and checked my SWR for me. Charles also had a TV repair business. When he was finished, I asked him what I owed him. He patted me on the head and said "Son, you just enjoy that radio."

I never have forgotten that. Charles passed away a few years ago, but we did reconnect face to face as hams. He was one good man.
K8QV 2019-08-28
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
When I was a kid, my Elmer was a black guy my dad knew from work. After working with him I never ran into another black amateur and always wondered why.
W6HB 2019-08-28
The Stories Behind the Signals
Bravo Zulu, Don -- still waiting to host you on the IOWA!
K5EF 2019-08-28
The Stories Behind the Signals
As a frequent visitor to the Vintage Sideband net on Sunday afternoon, I would often have a rig on in my workshop a couple of hours early and notice many booming signals from OMs involved with the OMIK net. Until now, I didn't know anything about its purpose - other than hearing a lot of the same friendly-sounding voices week after week. Since everyone knew everyone, I had been reluctant to pop in, but now will do so next Sunday and join what is clearly an interesting and invigorating group.

Any activity that promotes the true spirit of Ham Radio and works hard to encourage young people to pursue electronics as a hobby (and ideally as an eventual career) is one we should all embrace.

Thanks for giving us insight on OMIK's origins and vision today. 73 K5EF
KC7MF 2019-08-28
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
Great article Don. I did not even know this organization existed. Thanks very much.
KJ4DGE 2019-08-28
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
Don,

Good article and glad you posted it, I never heard of them until now. I grew up in the south and am white and saw a lot of hate. Hate has to be carefully taught. There is no room in amateur radio for bigotry, insensitivity or such. There will hopefully come a time in out children's future when all people will be seen as just that "people".

73
KJ4DGE
NN2X 2019-08-28
RE: The Stories Behind the Signals
There is an interesting outcome from this...

I spoke with a very good friend of mine who is an African American Ham operator, who passed his license in 1960's

He is my God father for my son

Morse code has no accent and that is why some African Americans leaned on CW back in the day (Of 1950's).

The outcome: The African Americans that passed the Ham ticket back then, are very good on CW.

CW was used as a way not be detected as an African American. Amazing, I had no idea..

However.....

About the racism, I lived in or short stays in 70 countries, lived across the USA, from the most rural areas to major cities..

USA,has the least amount to racism than any other country on the planet. Period..I can tell you stories, from Nigeria, to Middle East, Europe, and Pacific rim...There is nothing like the USA...

In the USA, children are being brought up with so much mix of race, international ethnicity, that the racism is nearly over with. and that is a good thing

Now the children can only judge other children by their character (Go figure!/ I believe someone else had quoted that!)



Today, we talk about way to much about LGBT community, racism, and other provisional identities, which does us no good as a society..

There are those out there, who are probably raciest and don't like the LGBT but no were near what the politicians and media indicate. As stated, I lived across the USA, rural and cities, it is not what the media and politicians are indicating.

It is extremely unfortunate that media, and politicians keep raising using identity politics, all it tries to do is keep the division for their own benefits for control (Politicians) or economic rewards (Ratings)

Interesting fact, Only 13% of the population in the USA is African Americans, but President Obama had won the election twice, No other country on the planet can say that.

My wife, is from Morocco, son born in Kuwait, and God Father for my son, is African American...I was born in a 3rd world country called New Jersey, and now in the heartland of the USA..Dallas Texas

C U all on the bands!

NN2X,

Tom







KK6BXO 2019-08-28
The Stories Behind the Signals
Thanks for spreading the word about this great organization! I just joined.
N3HKN 2019-08-28
The Stories Behind the Signals
While the surface of bigotry has moderated over the years, the underlying feelings of 30% of the population has not. Emboldened by recent events they subtly reveal themselves just a bit more than before. Listen closely to some of the NETS and you can detect the counter culture couched in socially safe terms, but visible to "those in the know".