Thursday, October 5, 2023

Frank Gilliland - NØIGZ SK



Interview by Chris Hunt NØYH

Previously posted on the Kilowatt Amateur Radio Club Site

Part 1:  The Early Years                                                11 March, 2023

Oswego, the county seat of Labette county, is located 12 miles north of the Oklahoma state line and about 30 miles west of the Missouri line in grid EM27. It was the outgrowth of a trading post established in the early '40s. Up till 1865 there were no ‘white persons’ in the community and the place was called "White Hair's Village" because an Indian chief of that name made his home there. In 1865 several settlers located at this point and the name was changed to "Little Town." Two years later the Oswego Town Company was organized and so named for Oswego, N. Y., whence many of the settlers had come. Today, 1,658 people call Oswego home.

Oswego is a typical rustic mid-western city steeped in history where the residents’ wave at anyone passing by, even a stranger. Downtown has parking in the middle of main street as well as both sides. The streets are clean, along with the air, and the nearby Neosho River supplies fresh water and recreation. One feels as if they have stepped back in time to a simpler life where neighbors know neighbors and contracts are signed with a handshake.

Only a few blocks away from the nostalgic Oswego Drug Store is the location of a local man who also calls Oswego his home. He is slim, advanced in years, well groomed, and tied to an oxygen bottle. And while his body may be frail, his mind is as sharp as a tack. His name is Frank and his callsign is N0IGZ.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Frank in his home for this interview. I only knew Frank from talking on the radio and stories told by other hams. From them I learned that Frank is held in high regard within the radio community, and I just had to meet him in person. This is Frank’s story.

Visible in his backyard is the vertical he installed a few years ago after moving in. I was graciously let in by Frank’s daughter, Dawn, who led me to his shack. Frank was sitting at his radio desk doing what he loved, rag-chewing with other Hams. After introducing myself, I sat down and the eyeball QSO began.

Before beginning the interview, Frank said to me, “I don’t get on the radio as much as I used to. I’m usually in bed by 9pm. Mostly because my medications cause me to slur my words and make me sound drunk, which I don’t do…anymore.”

Frank has an Icom 7100, and a 7300, and while he likes his 7300, he’s not a fan of the 7100. Also on his desk is an IC-7410 sitting idle. Across his desk are the usual meters, tuners, and amplifiers, all neatly organized, glowing brightly in the dim room like Christmas lights.

K0KWC: Where were you born?

Frank: “Columbus, Kansas.”

K0KWC: When did you move to Oswego?

Frank: “2019 or 2020. The wife and I were staying at a Senior Citizens place here. My wife was sick with cancer and passed away in 2020. My daughter said, ‘Dad why don’t you move in with me? You won’t have to pay that high dollar rent and you can put up your antennas.’ I jumped on that like a bird on a bug.”

K0KWC: Tell me about your childhood growing up in Columbus.

Frank: “Well, I grew up in Dodge City and my dad was killed in 54 in a blizzard. That was in February 54. We stayed in Dodge another year and we moved back to Columbus. Mom went to beautician school with her sister, and they became beauticians with their own shop. Of course, I was raised in Columbus. I always had short hair. No drugs growing up. No drugs of any kind. Then I went to night school where I tried a little bit of pot. Well, I got just as big a buzz from a 6 pack as I did pot, so pot went away.  But I don’t smoke pot.

K0KWC: What year were you born?

Frank: “1946. My dad worked for Thermo-Electric working on bombs in California before I was born. Mom always told me stories about a dark colored car pulling up in front of the house and dad would go out and get in the car. Then about 10 or 15 minutes later he would come back in the house. He worked for the CIA.”

K0KWC: What do you think he was working on that involved the CIA?

Frank: “I don’t know. Dad was a welder. A foreman actually. He never discussed it with my mom.”

K0KWC: How did you get started in Ham Radio, Frank?

Frank: “I was into CBs big time, towers, beams, amplifiers. I had a Clipperton-L amplifier from Dentron, 1200 watts, on 11 meters.  My Elmer, from Chetopa, was a Ham Radio operator. WD0G. He is a silent key now.  He found out I had a CB radio. My amplifier was either full bore or nothing, and nobody could outdo me. And they didn’t.  A local Ham, Gus, always started his sentences with, ‘I guess we’ll have to do it this way’.  Everything started with I Guess except he would say I guss…, so we all called him Gus. That’s how he got his nick name, Gus.  One day Gus called me on the phone. How he got my number I have no idea. He told me to shut that thing off!  What are you talking about? <chuckle> He said, ‘I monitored your transmission. You about shook my radio off the desk.’  Well, I told him where to go, real quick. About 3 days later he shows up in my driveway. He gets out and this guy is 6 ft 2. I’m gonna get my *** whipped here.  Well, I didn’t.  He came in and looked the situation over.  He said, ‘Tell you what I’ll do. How would you like to be a Ham Radio operator? You can talk all over the world.’ Yea, I would like to try that. He Elmered me along with another Elmer, W0JRP, John Tootingham.  He said come over to Joplin. Gus got hold of John. They were on 2 meters. Maybe I better back up. In 1957, my first Elmer was W0QZJ, Bill Glasgow. He ran a TV shop in Columbus.  He would get his ARRL book, sit on the floor and go through it. I started working on my code. Meantime I was able to make a contact on 2 meter to Sam Ross, K0QZW.  He lived in Cherokee, KS.

K0KWC: How old were you when you got your first license?

Frank: “I didn’t get my first license. Girls came along.  Chasing girls and looking at cars.  I made my first 2m contact to Sam Ross in Cherokee, KS from Bill’s house.”

K0KWC: How old were you when you made your first contact?

Frank: “Ten or twelve.  I was into cars, big time. Cars came before the girls. Then the girls showed up. I said the heck with Ham Radio. I’m going to build a car.”

K0KWC: So, after the girls and the cars, when did you finally get your license?

Frank: “In the 70’s.”

K0KWC: So, you’ve been a Ham for 50 years?

Frank: “I never thought about it that way. Wow, I’ve been around a while. I took a class over at Joplin. W0JRP was one of the instructors. The other instructor I can see him but I can’t remember his name. He was an Extra class. John was Extra class. I took the class and went through all the paperwork, then started working on the code.  One day, John says Ok, everybody take their paper and pencil out. They had a recorder, you had to do 5 words a minute for Novice class. And he ran through that. He says, OK, what you all don’t know is that we are counting this one. I passed. I got my code. And next meeting we took the paperwork test and I passed it. I got my license. 1976 maybe? Somewhere in there.”

KOKWC: What was your first radio as a Novice?

Frank: “My other Elmer had a 2m Realistic crystal controlled. That was my first radio. I don’t remember what model.  It was a joke. And then the next radio was a handheld.  And I stuck a 2m dipole in a tree. I made it out of a chassis mount 239 and some wire, put a loop in it, and used a string to pull it up into a tree. Then I could get into Joplin, and Pittsburg. You could get into Pittsburg from Tulsa back then.  They had 2 antennas, one pointing up and one pointing down. It had a funny way of receiving. I can’t remember now. N5SD could tell you all about that. Archie Meeks was the overseer of that. He is a SK now.
Part 2: The Ham and the Man

KOKWC: Tell me about your early Ham days as an operator.

Frank: “I had a Kenwood 830 for HF, and I made a 10m beam. I remember making it in the yard. Gus came over and helped. I can’t remember what 2m radio I had. I must have had a million of them.  I was on it a lot.  But in the meantime, Gus said, if I get you through this, you’ve got to sell the amp. I couldn’t use it. I was limited to 100 watts. So, we went to a Hamfest in Missouri somewhere and I sold it. It was in mint condition. It had new tubes, fresh paint, it looked brand new. The Clipperton amp was named after Clipperton island. They were big in demand at that time. Dentron made them. We sold the amp, I came back, and Gus asked if I heard about 6m.  No, what’s that about? Gus was talking to the Caribbean on 6m.  The Solar Cycle was just coming up, getting strong. On 6m! The VHF band. I didn’t have a 6m radio. Gus said we will find one. Gus & I did find one for $125.  Gus couldn’t drive cause he was legally blind but he could see good enough to tune the radios.  Another Ham from Erie I had met in Parsons, he sold me the radio and guaranteed it to work.  I only had $120. Bill said I’ll give you $5. The guy said, no, no, he can have it for $120.  Then I had to borrow $5 from Bill for gas to get home.  I got me a 6m radio. Yaesu 620B. Supposed to be 20 watts out. I did good to get 15. Sometimes only 12. I think the finals were getting bad.   Of all my DX on 6m, over 525 grids, 90% of those were obtained with 10 watts. It was the peak of a cycle. Except for the people my age, people don’t know what a sun cycle peak is. We haven’t had one like that since. You work 6m when it wants you to. They call it the Magic band, and it is magic. Gus and I would get on 6m and talk till midnight on 6m.  We were sitting there talking when a station came on, 3D2. I didn’t know who it was. Gus couldn’t talk. He knew who it was. It was Fiji, in the South Pacific. We talked for 15 minutes. I worked Fiji on 10 watts. I once worked Australia on 6m with a mobile. He was also mobile. He was going home from a Hamfest when I contacted him.  That made my day.

KOKWC: Was that your most memorable contact?

Frank: “3D2 station comes to mind, and a station in Bosnia. He apologized for the guns going off. They were fighting a war. They were our guns. He apologized for the noise in the background. I could hear them going off. 105mm Howitzers. He apologized to me for the US guns. Another contact that comes to mind is a Russian contact. I worked him on cw.  He was a wood cutter in Siberia. He was by himself cutting wood with an axe.  A tractor pulling a sled brought in his supplies. I heard him again on voice but I didn’t get to talk to him on voice. Anyways, I got the card!  I need a new DX log. This one is coming apart.  There are new countries now."  <Frank begins reading the countries he has worked on 6m. It was vast.> "Galapagos Island. I talked to him enough we were on a first name basis. It was nothing to get Galapagos then."

KOKWC: What is your favorite thing about Ham?

Frank: “6 meters.”

KOKWC: What is your least favorite thing about radio?

Frank: “6 meters because I don’t have an antenna. Probably 20.  The operators are arrogant, know-it-all’s, run humungous power, and don’t give a s*** about their neighbor. Probably 20.”

KOKWC: What was the best advice you ever received from an Elmer?

Frank: “All verticals transmit poorly in all directions. I’ve never had a vertical until this one. Except for 2 meters. And he was right.”

KOKWC: What is your opinion of digital radio? FT8, FT4, JT65?

Frank: “When you can go in and shoot gnats in a barrel, that’s FT8. I’ve run FT8. You can’t beat voice. CW I don’t do anymore. I can’t hear it. And my finger wiggling is probably not good either.”

KOKWC: Where do you think Ham Radio is headed in the next 50 years?

Frank: “Digital. There are some diehards, my age, that may live to be 100. They’ll still carry on voice.  I lived long enough to go digital. Starting to get some younger people in. They’re into computer stuff, that’s what’s going to attract them, I think. When I got in, we didn’t have computers. My first computer was a Commodore 64.  And you could talk to Elvira, and that was about it.” <chuckle>

KOKWC: What advice do you have for any new Hams today?

Frank: “Be considerate.  Some people are slow learners, slow thinkers." <pause> "Just be considerate.”

KOKWC: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise people who know you?

Frank: “About me? I think everyone knows I don’t get around anymore. Pretty much everyone knows the do’s and don’t’s of Frank. I can’t think of anything. My wife was also an operator. She was a Technician.  Her call sign was KV0...Real Exciting Navaho. She was Indian, but she wasn’t Navaho. She was Osage with red hair. She said, ‘I like pale face scalps with handles.’ Holy ****. I’m gonna sleep with one eye open. Her name was Virgie, Toad. They all knew her by Toad on the radio. She wasn’t on much. She had two QSL cards by locals, that’s all. “

KOKWC: How did she get the handle Toad?

Frank: “When she was little, she would get in the crib on all 4, and she would do that, like a toad. Toad, Toadie, people we’ve been friends with for 30 years call her Toadie, even today.”

KOKWC: Do you have any last thoughts? Maybe something I didn’t cover, or you would like to add?

Frank: “I wished my lungs were better than what they are. I would have a better place to live and a tower up. Oswego’s not bad. Higher than Columbus, I think. Coming up that hill, it’s not as high as you think it is over Columbus. But you stay dry up here. The river is way down there. No flooding.”

KOKWC: Frank, long after the vacuum tubes cool off, and dust has settled on the cover of your transceiver, how would you like to be remembered?

Frank: “Just as, I got zapped! On my QRZ page, it shows as a vanity. It’s not a vanity.  That was my call from my Technician license.  We moved away from here to Sterling Kansas and I let my license elapse. I had to go back and do all this BS over again. I didn’t have to take code. So, it shows that they had W0IGZ, N0IGZ, and K0IGZ. I could have taken the W and made everyone think that I had been in it for a super long time. Everybody knew me as I Got Zapped. So I picked N0IGZ, me original call.”

KOKWC: Have you been zapped?

Frank: “Oh hell yes!  I got knocked out. I had an amplifier. My Elmer always told me, ‘work with one hand in your pocket’. Like an idiot, I was going to move…  my finger touched that tube cap and it put me out. It knocked me out of the chair.  My wife heard the chair go down. She came in and I was out. Got a wet washcloth and I came to and I said, ‘What the hell happened?’  I see the amp, then I knew what happened. I never did it again.  I got tickled on my lip by a D104 microphone. It left a little black hole. It was funny later.”


I could have easily spent another hour with Frank just talking about cars, computers, and radios. He was certainly willing, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.  I thanked Frank for his time and for sharing a small moment of his life with me. He told me it had been fun and brought back some good memories.

I left Oswego that day with a new appreciation for the town, it’s people, and their local treasure, an unassuming Ham called Frank, N…Zero…I…Got…Zapped.

Chris Hunt, N0YH

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