Former “How’s DX?” Conductor Rod Newkirk, W9BRD (SK)
Rod Newkirk, W9BRD/VA3ZBB, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada -- who penned the QST column “How’s DX?” from 1947-1978 -- passed away on Monday, November 19 after a long illness. Newkirk was credited with coining the term “Elmer,” as well as for his humorous take on DX in his column, especially with limericks in his DX Hoggery and Poetry Depreciation Society and the accompanying cartoons of Jeeves by Phil “Gil” Gildersleeve, W1CJD (SK).
In March 1991, QST Associate Editor Jim Cain, K1TN, profiled Newkirk in “How’s Rod?” in the pages of QST. “Newkirk wrote ‘How’s DX?’ through the Korean War, through the Fabulous ’50s, the Vietnam war, incentive licensing and the W9WNV DXpedition controversy,” Cain wrote. “While six American presidents moved in and out of the White House, ‘How’s DX?’ documented the rise of SSB in Amateur Radio and DXing, saw the birth of DX lists and nets and the growing number of 2 meter spotting groups.”
The term “Elmer” -- meaning someone who provides personal guidance and assistance to would-be hams -- first appeared in QST in Newkirk’s March 1971 “How’s DX?” column, where he wrote that “[t]oo frequently one hears a sad story in this little nutshell: ‘Oh, I almost got a ticket, too, but Elmer, W9XYZ, moved away and I kind of lost interest.’ Sure, the guy could have burned through on his own, maybe, but he, like others, wound up an almost-ham. No more Elmer. We need those Elmers. All the Elmers, including the ham who took the most time and trouble to give you a push toward your license, are the birds who keep this great game young and fresh.” Newkirk was probably not trying to coin a term at the time, but the name stuck, becoming a general term for the mentors Newkirk called “the unsung fathers of ham radio.”
Beginning in May 1951 (and appearing each May after that), Newkirk wrote about the annual meeting of the DX Hoggery and Poetry Depreciation Society. The DXHPDS featured such notables as Noyes E. Tester, Loda Watts, Harry Uppensign, Lotta Chassis and Hal R. Lauder -- as well as limericks that skewered deserving lids:
Splashy-voiced Boomboom MacSwine
When told that his gain’s out of line,
Is prompt to reply,
If ‘8’ is too high
Then why is it numbered to ‘9’? (May 1970)
First licensed in 1937 as W9BRD at 14, Newkirk was involved with radio all his life. After graduating from high school, he became a civilian radio operator in Washington, DC with station WAR; when World War II broke out, he joined the US Army as a member of the Army Signal Corps where he served in Florida, Papua-New Guinea and the Philippines. He remembered these times in his first QST article, “Christmas, 1944,” which recounted a “heart-warming yarn involving the combination of the Amateur and the Christmas Spirit in far-off Hollandia.”
After a stint as a radio operator with the Illinois State Police, Newkirk moved to Connecticut in 1947 where he worked at ARRL Headquarters as a W1AW Station Operator with a new call sign, W1VMW. It was while Newkirk was in Newington that then-ARRL Communications Manager Ed Handy, W1BDI, asked Newkirk to take over the “How’s DX?” from Byron Goodman, W1JPE. A few years later, Newkirk returned to his home state of Illinois to go to college. While in Illinois, he regained his W9BRD call sign and resumed his job with the Illinois State Police. He continued to write “How’s DX?” from Illinois. Newkirk’s last “How’s DX?” column was published in February 1978. Newkirk retired from the State Police in 1986. In 1984, he was inducted into the CQ DX Hall of Fame as its 23th member, and in 2002, he was the 87th inductee into the CQ Hall of Fame.
Newkirk was a former member of the ARRL and a member of the Radio Amateurs of Canada, the Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club, FISTS, the Morse Telegraph Club and the Quarter Century Wireless Association and QCWA Chapter 70. In May 2007, he was presented with the QCWA “70 Years Licensed” Golden Certificate and lapel pin, and in May 2010, with the QCWA Century Certificate.
In 1997, Newkirk married Betty, VE3ZBB, and moved to Canada, where he got the matching Canadian call sign VA3ZBB. A private family funeral will be held. Friends are invited to join the Newkirk Family at the Garden Chapel of Tubman Funeral Homes on Thursday November 22 from 2-4 PM for a celebration of Newkirk’s life.
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