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Former ARRL First Vice President Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML (SK)


After a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer, Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML, of Dumont, New Jersey, passed away May 23. He was 67. An ARRL Life Member, Mendelsohn began his time with ARRL in 1983 when he was elected as Vice Director of the Hudson Division. After two terms as Vice Director, he was elected as Hudson Division Director in 1987. In 1996, the ARRL Board of Directors elected Mendelsohn as its First Vice President, where he served until 2000. The next year, he was again elected as the Hudson Division Vice Director, serving through 2004.

Outside of his League activities, Mendelsohn was active both as the Communications Director of the New York City Marathon and, along with his wife Heidi, W2MLW, as the Game Day Frequency Coordinator (GDC) for the New York Jets. The November 2007 issue of QST featured Mendelsohn on its cover (see below), along with an article about him and the GDC program (Editor’s note: you must be logged in to the ARRL website to view the article). Mendelsohn was inducted into the CQ Hall of Fame last week for his contributions to the ARRL, the New York City Marathon and the National Football League.

Mendelsohn was a 30 year veteran of the US Navy, rising to the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, with a Cryptologist rating. He received two Navy Achievement Awards for creating an important national security database for personal computers. While stationed in Scotland in the late 1960s, Mendelsohn was GM5AHS. He was a member of the North Jersey DX Association (NJDXA) and was the current President of the Bergen Amateur Radio Association (BARA). At one point, Mendelsohn served as President of both organizations simultaneously.

“Steve’s passing is a great loss in the world of Amateur Radio,” said ARRL Hudson Division Director Joyce Birmingham, KA2ANF. “I will always treasure the times I spent with Steve over the many years I knew him. To me, and to all of Amateur Radio, he was a strong leader, dedicated mentor and most importantly, a true friend to many of us throughout the entire Amateur Radio community. Most recently, as a courageous fighter, Steve battled pancreatic cancer, but still continued to serve the ham community until the end and enjoyed many hours on the air. Our prayers go out to his family and his beloved Heidi. Rest now, my friend, you are at peace. We will miss you.”

“Steve brought a unique personality and perspective to the ARRL Board,” said ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time of loss.”

New York City Marathon

As Communications Director of the New York City Marathon, Mendelsohn has always been at its forefront (in the lead vehicle) and behind its scenes -- and has done so since the marathon’s beginnings 36 years ago. In charge of the more than 400 radio amateurs who provide the communications for all aspects of the race, he rode in a lead vehicle and relayed information to medical personnel and others about runners who have dropped out, been injured or are in some manner of distress. Mendelsohn also provided communications assistance during the chaos at the finish line. He drove the race course on weekends to test radio coverage.

“You have a crowd of maybe 80,000 people around the final stretch, and when everyone gets on their phones, it can be a communications disaster,” he told The New York Times. The Times noted that Mendelsohn used his most experienced operators in the later stages of the race to shadow officials and keep them in radio contact, and used mostly the same team each year, but was always looking for new volunteers. “The enormous energy, like you feel at the starting line, gives me the power to stay alive.”

In 1975, the marathon needed a city-mandated communications system, so marathon co-founder Fred Lebow went to a meeting of ham radio operators. Mendelsohn, who was at the meeting, subsequently recruited 30 volunteers to take positions along the course. “This was before cell phones,” he told the Times. “The police department’s citywide system couldn’t do it. Ham radios became the main communication to span the city.”

According to the Times, Mendelsohn was at Lebow’s side as he built the race over the years and watched Lebow fight brain cancer, after the disease was diagnosed in 1990; Lebow passed away in 1994. “Fred lived for the marathon -- it was his child,” Mendelsohn said. “He fed off it and that’s what I’m doing: Using it as the hope for another year.” Mendelsohn was once again in the lead vehicle for the running of the 2011 New York City Marathon, his last.

Game Day Frequency Coordinator

With almost 200 different radio frequencies in use during a National Football League game, the Game Day Frequency Coordinator is king of that 120 yard universe. The GDC program is a joint venture of the NFL and the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE).

My job as Game Day Frequency Coordinator is to take all the different entities that will be using RF at the game and coordinate their frequencies,” Mendelsohn said in the November 2007 issue of QST. “This whole stadium is connected through radio frequency, from the security to the parking attendants to the television networks to the blimps to the coach and quarterback -- it all runs on RF. These frequencies all have to be known and coordinated. My ultimate goal is to create an interference-free RF environment by coordinating all Part 74 [the broadcast frequencies] and acting as a clearinghouse to all Part 15 and Part 90 [Private Land Mobile] devices. If frequencies aren’t coordinated, or aren’t coordinated correctly, this leads to interference. Coaches shouldn’t be hearing anything else except themselves when they’re communicating with their quarterback. The blimp shouldn’t be hearing anything other than what it’s supposed to.”

As the person in charge of all the RF-emitting devices on the field, Mendelsohn -- as the GDC -- has the right to know every frequency in use at any given time. To help with this, the NFL issues each GDC a frequency counter, a scanner/receiver and a directional UHF antenna with a switchable RF attenuator so they can listen and find potential problems. It was this way that Mendelsohn discovered that the Patriots were videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from a sideline location during the September 9, 2007 game.

“I remember Steve trying to find some RFI so that he could show me what a GDC does,” recalled ARRL News Editor S. Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA, who wrote the article “Football: Fumbles, Field Goals and Frequencies,” about Mendelsohn and the GDC program. “He kept trying to pick something up -- and he finally did -- but he told me it was something small, so small that he normally wouldn’t bother with it.

“He tracked the RFI down to the Patriots’ bench. With my NFL photographers’ credentials, I was not allowed to go in the bench area between the two 30 yard lines, but Steve could go anywhere he wanted, and if I was with him, so could I. So I went with him into the bench area between the 30s. But when the Patriots’ people figured out what Steve was after, I was told to leave. I did, but I knew something big was happening, so I just started taking pictures of Steve and the Patriots. We really didn’t think much about it until we were coming down to the field from the press box at the beginning of the fourth quarter. We saw the head of the Jets security, the Homeland Security people and others carrying a camera – what turned out to be the camera confiscated from the Patriots’ bench. Steve looked at me and said ‘Something’s going on here and it’s big.’

“Later, as Steve, Heidi and I were leaving the game, he told me what had happened, but said that I could not report on it, as the matter was going to the Commissioner’s Office. Steve called me the next day and had me forward my pictures of his interaction at the Patriots’ bench to the NFL.”

In September 2011, the New York Jets published an article on their website, recognizing Mendelsohn’s contributions to their team.

CBS and ABC Television

In his daily life, Mendelsohn was a systems engineer in broadcast television, first at CBS, and then at ABC.

During his 21 years with CBS, Mendelsohn provided pool audio distribution services for many historic events: The funeral of Vice President Humphrey in 1975; the Republican and Democrat conventions in 1976 and 1980; trips to South America and Africa by Presidents Ford and Carter; the first audio of the Americans held hostage in Iran in 1980; trips by Pope John Paul to Ireland in 1981 and to 7 countries in Central America in 1983; trips in 1984 by President Reagan to the Eastern Caribbean Initiative conference in 1983 and to Central America and provided pool audio services during his 1984 trip through Central America. He also was the Audio Pool Engineer at the 1988 Republican Convention, and the Audio Engineer-in-Charge of the 1989 Bush-Gorbachev summit in Malta.

Mendelsohn joined ABC-TV as an Audio/Video Systems Engineer and was a key member of the team responsible for the design of the Monday Night Football technologies, and for designing two generations of Mobile Production Trucks. As a studio and systems designer, he was on the design team responsible for ABC’s first all-digital control room, the first all-digital communications system and the first remote intercom system that allowed reporters from around the globe to access the plant intercom system. Mendelsohn helped design the first all-digital, triple expanding wall mobile unit for ABC’s Monday Night Football and golf coverage. He was also Communications Engineer-in-Charge of the 2003 Super Bowl for ABC Sports.

Mendelsohn received an Emmy for ABC’s Millennium Around the World, broadcast on January 1, 2000, recognizing his design of one of the most complicated communications systems ever designed for television that brought together intercommunications, satellite and telephone technologies. The show featured people in each of the globe’s 24 time zones, reflecting on the past and anticipating the future, as the New Year dawned.

Funeral arrangements are pending.  -- Thanks to The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Jets and the Veteran Wireless Operators Association for some information



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