Rick, K8EZB

Member Spotlight – Fredric R. (Rick) Boswell, K8EZB

I recently (May 2017) returned to amateur radio after an absence of 50+ years. My interest in amateur radio started around age 8 or 9, as a result of encouragement by my father who had been a ham earlier in his life but had not been active in many years. He brought home a military surplus receiver covering the ham bands and gave it to me to “play” with. Over the next few years, he obtained a set of WWII Army 78 rpm code practice records and helped me build a crude code practice set using a junk box transformer, a door buzzer,  and a straight key fashioned from a metal strip cut from a coffee can. Finally got around to taking the Novice license exam in 1957, was issued call sign KN8EZB, and upgraded to General a year later. We were living in the Cleveland, OH suburbs at the time and I took the city bus to the FCC offices in the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland to take the General code and written tests. I was the only kid in a room full of adults, all of whom seemed at least 50 years old to me. The code test (13 wpm) was administered and graded first. The proctors came back into the room and announced a list of names; they then stated those named had failed the code test and should leave the room. About two-thirds of those present left. My name, unbelievable to me, was not on that list, so I stuck around and passed the General written exam.

My first QSO as a Novice took place using a homebrew 6AQ5 xtal oscillator built on a piece of Masonite, and a WWII German military receiver my father had borrowed from a colleague at work. My only xtal was in the 80 m Novice band; antenna was a 15 m dipole (because that’s what I had!) Worked a station in Michigan – DX as far as I was concerned, and QRP (by necessity) long before it became popular! Moved on to a Heathkit DX-35, Johnson VFO, and a National HRO receiver which was ancient even at that time. Final station before life intervened was a Johnson Ranger and Collins 75A-1, which was well past its prime by the time I got it.

While in high school, I became interested in an aviation career, but soon found my uncorrected vision wouldn’t cut it with the military or airlines. For this and other reasons, I chose a career in technology (with this choice strongly influenced by my amateur radio experience), went on to complete a Ph.D. in computer engineering at Case Western Reserve University, and began flying as an avocation while in graduate school. While finishing the Ph.D., I was invited by my thesis advisor to join a new company he was starting.  Up to that point, I had assumed I would follow my graduate school colleagues to Bell Labs (seemed like everyone in my department was going to Bell Labs) to pursue a career in industrial R&D. However, a taste of the entrepreneurial life changed my direction in a major way. Finishing my degree, I had an offer in one hand to join a computer architecture group at Bell Labs, and an offer in the other hand to join a small Cleveland company, which was heading in some exciting new technology directions, as VP Engineering. I chose the entrepreneurial route and never looked back. Along the way, I took time off to do an MBA at Harvard. This led to a progression of senior-level jobs in marketing and general management in technology companies, including President/CEO of the E.F. Johnson Company of Waseca, MN, in the eighties.

EFJ left the amateur radio and CB equipment markets well before I arrived.  We were focused mainly on land mobile radio and cellular during my tenure there. In addition to developing and marketing the LTR family of land mobile products, we did cell site radios for AT&T AMPS (first cellular service in the U.S.) and air and ground radios for the Airfone in-flight phone service under contract to Airfone, as well as continuing the legacy components business (connectors, tube sockets, variable capacitors, etc) which was the basis on which EFJ was started in 1923. Edgar Johnson (founder) was still living but long retired when I was at EFJ and we had some interesting conversations. It was evident he had the optimism characteristic of many entrepreneurs; although in his nineties, he elected to purchase a new Mercedes!

The most recent 25 years of my career have been as a founding partner (now partner emeritus) in a venture capital firm investing mainly in startup companies in Silicon Valley and New England. I worked from an office on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, CA ( the heart of Silicon Valley) for much of the nineties, and then moved to the metro Boston area to open an East Coast office for the firm. Over my time with the firm, we invested directly in more than 200 companies, and indirectly in more than 1000 companies as a limited partner in other venture capital firms.

I have continued my involvement in aviation throughout the last 50 years, and hold an FAA Commercial Pilot certificate with airplane, helicopter, glider, and instrument ratings, as well as a Douglas DC-3/C-47 type rating, and currently, fly an Enstrom 480B helicopter based at Nashua. Other interests outside of amateur radio include Porsche automobiles, motorcycles, and shooting sports.

About 20 years ago, I began thinking about returning to amateur radio. I purchased a couple of HF transceivers and listened some but didn’t get sufficiently motivated to do anything significant until recently, when I re-instated my General privileges and recovered my original call sign via the vanity call sign system. Now studying for the Extra exam and working to get my CW speed back to 20 wpm. The biggest challenge seems to be learning to use a dual paddle key with an iambic keyer, as all my prior CW work was with a straight key. My main interests in amateur radio are SDR technology and vintage HF SSB equipment (primarily Collins A-line and S-line, and E.F. Johnson SSB gear). I am in the process of building stations around vintage equipment and have been fortunate to find some superbly restored Collins and EFJ gear. I have built a substantial amount of amateur radio (and other) homebrew and kit electronics over the years but will focus mostly on the restoration of vintage equipment going forward. Just now getting back on the air with an IC-7300 (the SDR segment of my interests); due to temporary antenna limitations, my operating, so far, has been confined to local contacts and checking into NARC nets. More to come!

Fredric R. (Rick) Boswell, K8EZB

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