One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.
Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.
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Now without further ado…
Read the full edition at:
THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
This has been really hard. In past articles, I’ve managed to put together a few words as a tribute to hams that have become Silent Keys, ones that have gone above and beyond or had an effect on my life. There is no bigger influence on my life, especially the areas of ham radio and computers, than my dad, Thomas (Tom) A. Kopcak – N8ETP. He passed at age 70 on Thursday, September 28, 2023.
Dad grew up in the West Park area of Cleveland. A stone’s throw from Hopkins International Airport. He graduated from John Marshall High School and went on to Max Hayes vocational school completing studies in Electrical Engineering. There are a few projects of his still hanging around his childhood home.
Dad met my mom Geraldine (Gerri). Tom and Gerri (get it?) were married in 1977 in Westlake, Ohio. They had four kids: Jeffrey (myself), Michael, Kimberly, and Deborah. I don’t know how my parents did it. Herding us is like herding cats. They pulled it off in strides. As kids, they were always present for our school plays, musical concerts, functions, academics, and extracurricular activities like sports. I was going to say “not for me” as in I didn’t do sports but I was in little league. Guess that counts. As adults, they were nothing but fair and generous.
There were things I didn’t want to do. Dad wanted me to join band in 5th grade. I had no desire to play an instrument but I ended up playing through 11th grade, though I can’t say I was any good. As a result of him pushing me to do band, I made some friendships that last to this day and went on trips that few others get the opportunity to do. Such as competing against bands throughout the US and marching (marching band) in: Marshall Field’s Jingle Elf Holiday Parade in Chicago, Mickey’s Christmastime Parade in the Magic Kingdom, and the halftime show of the Orange Bowl in Miami – during the winter. My parents didn’t have crowdfunding platforms either and could have used that money elsewhere. They did well by us kids.
Dad told me I should join WHBS-TV early on in high school. If you have seen my “About the Technical Coordinator” presentation, I talk about this high school public access television station competing with college stations. I didn’t immediately take his advice and joined partway through sophomore year. The reasons (excuses) I gave were: high school is a new school and experience – I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, and band already takes up a lot of my time. I completely regret not joining immediately because when someone asks ‘what did I enjoy during high school,’ it was WHBS. Parents do know what they are talking about more often than ever given credit.
Even before I joined, Dad casually knew the club’s advisor, Tony Hoty. Other siblings followed and joined WHBS too. After leaving for college, Dad was offered a part-time job doing electronics and repairing things for the club. Dad loved helping out and looked forward to Friday Night Football games. The Hoty’s became close family friends and Tony was a pallbearer for Dad.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Being in the electronics field, Dad discovered police scanners. In finding frequencies for local police and fire, he came across these ranges where it sounded like people were having casual conversations. After doing some research, discovered this service called Amateur Radio. He thought ‘this was sorta interesting’ and desired to become licensed. He felt it was one of those ‘get licensed before the family comes or it will never happen’ moments. From his QCWA application, he was first licensed in March 1983. At that time, exams were administered at FCC offices or when the FCC came to administer exams in town. He obtained a Technician class license as N8ETP. With that, he had to pass Novice written, 5-word per minute (WPM) Morse Code, Technician written, and 13 WPM code exams.
As kids, Dad built toys that had buttons, lights, and switches. We had toys no one else had because Dad made them. One in particular was a box that had about 10 LED lights. Each light had its own corresponding button. When that button was pressed, the light would light up and it would also make a sound. Each button & light combination had its own pitch. Buttons on the left produced lower pitched tones. Ones to the right would be higher pitched tones. There was one special button that, when pressed, would cycle through each light and tone combination from low to high. Not only that but there was a knob that would adjust how fast it would sequence through ranging from reallllllly slow to very fast, and everywhere in-between. There is nothing else like it.
Back in the day, Dad used ham radio all the time RVing in the travel trailer. He often chatted with those in the neighborhood that were hams. John – WG8H is still one of those neighbors. Dad worked at Picker Briggs and got Carl – KB8VXE interested in police scanners and he became licensed years later. Carl was a pallbearer as well. Dad was a member of a couple clubs in the area. He attended meetings, was in club leadership, member of Skywarn, and doing what most would consider to be the “tech committee” today – upkeep and maintenance of repeaters. Dad brought me, as a kid, to many ham radio meetings. I don’t remember a lot but I do remember some of these meetings.
One presentation he gave was on a medical system where he designed hardware for Scott Care (division of Scott Fetzer). This system used short-range RF to transmit telemetry and voice from a rehabilitation area back to a monitoring station which was also built by his company. The patient begins their exercise period. Wearing a belt pack and electrodes, EKG data is transmitted back to the nurse’s monitoring station. Alongside EKG data, the patient can interact with the nurse through a headset connected to the belt pack. They also designed a home kit which had a unit that connected to an ordinary telephone line transmitting the same telemetry data and voice to a hospital remotely. I loved to visit his workplace and see the cool stuff he was working on when I younger.
Part of his job was to figure out how stuff worked to make better designs. I remember having computers around the house like the Commodore 64 and early PCs. The earliest PC I think we had was an IBM compatible 286 PC in the early 1990s. He brought home video training courses on the basics of PC computing and other programs, such as Lotus 1-2-3. By this time, I was already interested in electronics by way of audio cassettes, home videos, VHS cassette tapes, and ham radio.
Since Dad had access to dial-up BBS (bulletin board systems) at work, he would download and bring home shareware games for us to play. He was also a member of HamNet BBS, a local BBS for Ham Radio and scanner enthusiasts run by Dave Foran – WB8APD (SK). The first PC game I remember was an electronic coloring book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – World Tour. My best guess, this was around 2nd grade – ’91-’92. I thought that was pretty cool. The mouse pointer acted as an electronic crayon and colors were selected from a color palette. Selecting a color changes the electronic crayon color. Clicking on a part of the image fills an area with the selected color.
There was a way you could print the coloring book picture with an included custom message. However, you couldn’t edit that message within the program. It gave some message indicating a text file had to be edited outside the program. I asked him what that meant. He showed me how to edit that text file in MS-DOS Editor, save it, go back into the coloring book, print the picture, and it included my custom message.
After that, I was completely hooked on computers. Much to the annoyance of the family, you couldn’t get me off the computer. I was figuring out how to do things. Dad would show me stuff in DOS and programs like Norton Utilities. After DOS, it was GeoWorks, Windows 3.1, multimedia (CD-ROMs) and modems, Windows 95, Windows 98… Santa often brought new hardware, software, and games for Christmas. When the family computer got upgraded, I was handed down the old PC hardware. That’s when I learned to build computers (assemble computer systems from compatible parts).
When people asked me ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ my answer was ‘something with computers.’ Dad knew I like to put them together and figure out what I could do with them. At some point he said: ‘there are people that just manage computer setups.’ That lead me to take nearly all computer classes offered in high school including helping teachers with their personal computers, a degree in Information Systems and Technology, and working professionally on computers while I was still in high school. Though I always credited Dad with getting me into computers, he would always say ‘yeah, but I don’t understand anything he’s doing with them now’ as in I was doing things beyond his wildest dreams.
In the late ’80’s-early ’90’s, Dad found more time was required for family and stepped away from Amateur Radio. He always kept his license current and would often turn on the radio to listen. Between having the radio on, taking me to meetings, public service events, and, of course, using the autopatch when I was younger, I started to take an interest in becoming a licensed radio amateur. I started to study for the exams in probably 6th grade. I could knock out the questions on commission rules, operating, and practices from being around Dad. I hadn’t yet absorbed the required electronics knowledge for the exam because that was like a foreign language.
A couple years later in 1999, I passed the Novice and Technician exams. Dad found a mint-in-box version of his first radio, a Kenwood TR-2500, and gave it to me as a reward for passing the exams. Just after I was licensed, the FCC restructured Part 97 licensing in 2000. Since Dad was licensed and still held a Technician class license prior to 1987, he only had to compete a “paper upgrade” to General class. He decided to do a little studying and made it to the top, Amateur Extra. He soon joined the VE program to administer exams but I don’t believe he was ever on the air outside of the 2m and 440 bands. Though it was an accomplishment for him to reach Amateur Extra, he never would be as active on air or involved with clubs as he once was. I later followed in his technical footsteps helping with repeater upkeep and Information Technology work for clubs, and Skywarn. He also got my mom and sister licensed.
Almost 10 years ago, I decided to get into HF. We spent most of a summer building out my station. Where to string the wire antenna, how to tie it down, a pole to accommodate the connection to the antenna, running PVC pipe for the coax run, digging trenches, installing grounding rods, running antennas into that old travel trailer, and building a large table/desk inside for an operating position. Dad was very good at fabricating things. Though he studied electronics, he was just as good at mechanics. He often put more time and thought into making things not only functional but practical.
After I was appointed Technical Coordinator and giving presentations to clubs around the section, he enjoyed traveling to these meetings seeing me give those presentations. It was an opportunity for him to experience other clubs in the state. He would still say ‘I don’t understand most of what he’s doing.’
Though he worked weekends and liked to keep his weekend pay, Dad would make the trip to Hamvention with me quite often. Dave – KB9VZU, whom I met through Ham Nation and the D-STAR After Show net, would meet up with us at Hamvention. After learning of my dad’s passing, he told me “Your dad and I talked about you quite often and your dad was proud of you.” Though Dad may not have understood what I was doing with computers and ham radio, he was proud of the good things I did with what he showed me. I believe that as he was still present until the end.
Dad had just retired in February of 2022 from the United States Post Office and a couple months later, celebrated 46 years with my mom. He was at the main facility on Orange Ave in Downtown Cleveland maintaining the mail sorting machines. During his last year or so of work, back issues prevented him from walking normally. Having back pain throughout most of his life this was the worst I’d seen. Going in for surgery in February this year, he hoped to correct this problem and be as good as new, and obviously live forever. By early accounts, home recovery was going well. Couple months later, he starts having issues standing, keeping his balance, and recovery seems to be backsliding. He was supposed to travel with me to Hamvention this year but called off due to his condition.
The Monday after Hamvention, I helped take him to a follow-up visit with his doctor. Dad never returned home. In his condition, doctor said go to the emergency room and thus began, what I call, his tour of the hospital system. I won’t go into details, aside from my family’s lives were a living hell.
A ham buddy accurately described our experience: him and his wife were EMTs for over a decade. They have an understanding of terminology and standards of care. They know how things should be handled. Average people who don’t have inside knowledge of the system have no idea: anything they’re being told is true, if their loved one is being cared for properly, or about alternative options. “It is terrible” he stated. Terrible puts our experience with the healthcare system nicely.
Regardless, my dad is at rest and no longer suffering. This month would have been his 71st birthday. Grieving was very hard for me as Dad mentored and influenced me into (not only) my career choice but as an Amateur Radio licensee. Losing a parent has got to be one of the worst things ever. My faith really helped me make peace and helped me deal with his passing. My family is really impressed with the homily Deacon Travis from our church gave for my dad. He talked a lot about him being involved in electronics and Ham Radio. Deacon Travis did a fantastic job speaking about Dad’s life.
QCWA was planning to give Dad an award for being licensed 40 years. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t make their meeting but Bob – W2THU gave me the award and it was displayed in the casket at his wake. Our family would like to thank everyone who took time and stopped by during visitation or attended Dad’s mass. It really means a lot to have support from the Amateur Radio family.
Enjoy the hamfest in the sky and good DX, Dad.
Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK