Former “The World Above 50 MHz” Conductor Gene Zimmerman, W3ZZ (SK)
Gene Zimmerman, W3ZZ, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, passed away on Sunday, June 3. He was 71. Zimmerman wrote the popular QST column “The World Above 50 MHz” from 2002-2011. He also served on the ARRL Contest Advisory Committee, edited the VHF contesting column for CQ Contest magazine during its five-year lifespan and was director of the CQ VHF Contest from 2000-2002. An ARRL Life Member, Zimmerman earned VUCC on six bands: 50, 144, 222, 432, 903 and 1296 MHz, as well as DXCC, Worked All States and Worked All Continents on 6 meters. He was an early proponent of -- and participant in -- aggressive contest log checking.
First licensed in 1956 -- and an Amateur Extra since 1963 -- Zimmerman has logged several national Top-10 finishes in the ARRL November Sweepstakes (both modes), as well as a second-place North American finish in the CQ World Wide CW Contest (from VP2MDD). He also placed in the Top 10 several times in the ARRL VHF QSO Parties and in the ARRL VHF Sweepstakes.
Zimmerman earned a PhD in Microbiology from the University of Maryland in 1968. He began his professional career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he spent a year as a technician in an NIH laboratory, studying respiratory viruses. This experience sparked an interest in virology and conquering the common cold. After this, he conducted early research at NIH, studying the relationship between retroviruses and cancer, the use of the simian model for studying leukemia and the use of interferon as an immune system modulator. In 1976, he joined the NIH Grants Associate Program, which groomed promising scientists for careers in managing NIH research programs. Zimmerman was then recruited to be the Scientific Review Administrator of the Allergy and Immunology Study Section of the Immunological Sciences Integrated Review Group, where he evaluated research proposals to provide funds for research in immunology.
“Gene brought the same intensity and depth of knowledge of his career at the NIH to understanding propagation,” said Ward Silver, N0AX. “His tenure as the conductor of QST’s ‘The World Above 50 MHz’ usually resulted in a sharp recounting and analysis of the month’s unusual on-the-air events. I learned something from every single column. But what most will remember about Gene, though, will be his amazing capacity for storytelling and the twinkling of his eyes as he told of the undoing of scoundrels with obvious and undiluted glee. I’ve had the pleasure of being his roommate at Dayton and WRTC and I don’t believe I’ve ever laughed harder or longer. Gene knew where all the bodies were buried and relished his role as sage and historian.”
Zimmerman was a shortwave listener before becoming a ham. After he got his ticket when he was a freshman at Yale University, Zimmerman became interested in weak signal VHF, due to his friendship with Paul Doane, W1HAD, who at the time was a college student at Brown. “I remained active on the VHF bands until I left Connecticut in 1964, but I also developed an interest in HF and VHF contesting,” he told the ARRL in June 2011. “When I moved to Washington, DC, I became involved in HF contesting in a serious way, particularly building multi-op contest stations with Tom Peruzzi, W4BVV (SK). I returned to weak signal VHF in 1981 and built a pretty decent VHF station, which I have expanded to 10 GHz.”
Unlike HF where some band is open for long distance communications all the time, Zimmerman said that openings on VHF are few and far between -- and extremely exciting when they happen. “I guess I don’t like things that are easy, so I chose to do VHF+,” he explained. “Over the years, I have worked more than 140 DXCC entities on 6 meters, 38 states and 9 DXCC terrestrially on 2 meters, 36 states on 222 MHz and VUCC on 50-1296 MHz. In contests, I have also been in the Top 10 nationally several times from my home station, and have won the multi-unlimited category four times with K8GP, the Delmarva VHF and Microwave Society. I think once you have built an interest in the VHF+ bands, it never goes away.”
“Gene was a pleasure to work with, witty and insightful,” said QST Editor Steve Ford, WB8IMY. “I am sure he will be greatly missed by many.”
“Amateur Radio has had its share of characters but none were more colorful or more widely respected than Dr Gene Zimmerman, W3ZZ -- a man who in one breath could identify the source of the world’s greatest hot dogs, explain once-in-a-lifetime propagation and recount the history of contesting and contesters,” Silver said. “We will all miss Gene’s presence greatly and it is a sad day for us all to learn of his passing.”
Zimmerman was a member of the Delmarva VHF and Microwave Society, K8GP, the Grid Pirates Contest Group, a Past President of the Potomac Valley Radio Club and an honorary member of the Connecticut Wireless Association. Funeral arrangements are pending.
The Zimmerman family has requested that memorial contributions may be made in Gene's honor to the ARRL Education and Technology Fund.