Ham Radio Saved My Life

Stephen Kercel

There is a popular predictor of future personal disaster that you may have heard of, it’s called the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale, and the idea is there are specific bad things that might happen in your childhood, such as seeing your mother try to commit suicide — seriously bad stuff — and if you’ve had – the more of these you’ve had, the more of these terrible outcomes you’re likely to have, as we see in the left column here, and I had a score of 5 by the time I was 14, and if you look at the predictions, it’s as if – as you see on that slide – that I had won the one-way ticket to hell. The idea was that my state of mind was pretty much captured in the portrait of the condemned man in the Sistine Chapel, that I had no hopes, no prospects, no future and would never amount to anything. However, what I did have was, I had a couple of older cousins, and they were both Navy radio men, and they inspired my interests in Ham Radio, and as such I became what the author of Neurotribes would describe as one of the “Princes of the Air.”

And so by the time I was age 15, I was actually­ doing some pretty grown-up stuff, like listening to shortwave broadcasters all over the world on a little radio that I had built myself, and as often happens with Aspies, that became my obsession. Now, 50-some-odd years later, it still is. So, by the age of 16, I had actually built my first transmitter; I could see that I was getting things done. The other thing that happened was that most of the HAM radio operators were men of about my father’s age, and so I developed a lot of mentoring relationships with men my father’s age. And there was one in particular, who was HAM in  _______ and was W4GOF, who was endlessly and unconditionally generous with me, and one of the things he did was to refurbish a WWII surplus receiver which I could use in my HAM station, which then led me to be quite successful doing that. The result was that by the age of 17, I did get a General Class FCC hand license, and my HAM club buddies at that point accepted me as a “man among men,” and the rest, as they say, is history.