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Amateur Radio Satellite Pioneer, Past AMSAT President Bill Tynan, W3XO, SK


A giant of the Amateur Radio satellite world has fallen. William A. “Bill” Tynan, W3XO, of Kerrville, Texas, died on August 7, following a lengthy illness. A past AMSAT President and the editor of the QST column “The World Above 50 MHz” from 1975 until 1992, Tynan was 91.

While growing up in Washington, DC, he was entranced by short-wave broadcasts and police radio traffic on his three-band table radio. “I started listening to hams on 20 meters and was hooked by the thought of becoming one,” Tynan said in his Amateur Radio biography, My Radio Life. That didn’t happen until after World War II in 1946, when he became W3KMV. While attending the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he gained some of his early experience at the student club, W2SZ. He became an early enthusiast and proponent of FM, which helped to put him on his path to broadcasting, VHF, and ham radio satellites.

In late 1951, he signed on with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where he worked on US Navy weapons system projects. He rose to the level of Senior Staff Engineer before retiring in 1988, when he and his wife Mattie relocated to the Texas Hill Country.

In 1961, Tynan and Bob Carpenter, W3OTC (SK), founded the Washington, DC, market’s first FM stereo station, WHFS, in Bethesda, Maryland. Because no commercial FM stereo gear was available then, in true ham fashion, they built their own. After he passed his Amateur Extra-class exam in 1974, Tynan opted for W3XO, which had been the call sign of Washington’s first FM radio station in the experimental years.

In 1969, his eager curiosity for VHF and other previously mentioned modes led him to attend the first meeting of what would become AMSAT. He became AMSAT President in 1991, serving for 7 years and rubbing shoulders with other Amateur Radio satellite titans. In his later years, Tynan served as AMSAT’s OSCAR Number Administrator, the individual who confers alphanumeric designators on qualifying ham radio satellites. He stepped down from that volunteer role in July after 2 decades.

Through his QST column, Tynan was an early proponent of using grid squares as VHF/UHF contest multipliers. “I kept up the pressure for acceptance of a grid system here in North America and worldwide,” Tynan wrote in My Radio Life. “In the September 1980 column, I featured a proposal by G4ANB, which was later accepted by the Europeans at a meeting held at Maidenhead, near London, England. Thus, the new system became known as the Maidenhead grid system.” That led directly to ARRL’s VUCC operating award program for 50 MHz and above. He also was a strong proponent of establishing beacon stations on VHF as well as a DX window and 50.125 MHz domestic calling frequency on 6 meters, and later 144.200 on 2 meters.

Perhaps more significant was Tynan’s key role as AMSAT’s Vice President for Human Spaceflight (earlier “Manned Space”) in convincing NASA to permit Amateur Radio operation from the space shuttles. The early SAREX (Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment) led to the current Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program that offers students a chance to speak directly to International Space Station (ISS) crew members via ham radio. He also was a significant supporter of the ARISS interoperable radio system project, set to fly to the ISS soon.

Tynan was among the initial proponents of AMSAT’s ambitious Phase 3D geostationary satellite program, working tirelessly to raise the considerable funds needed and recruit the personnel to determine the project’s direction. The Phase 3D satellite, designated as AO-40, was successfully launched in 2000.

Tynan was a Life Member of ARRL, AMSAT (holding Life Member No. 10), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He was active in the Hill Country Amateur Radio Club, the Central States VHF Society, the Potomac Valley Radio Club (PVRC), the Radio Club of America, the Quarter Century Wireless Association (QCWA), Sidewinders on Two (SWOT), and the Six Meter International Radio Klub (SMIRK). In addition to his time as AMSAT President, Tynan served on the AMSAT Board of Directors from 1986 until 2003, serving as its chairman for his final 5 years. Tynan was named as the 1996 Hamvention “Amateur of the Year.”

“Amateur Radio is becoming more exciting to me every day,” he said in concluding My Radio Life, written while he was in his 80s. “And, I’m still learning.”



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