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An Amateur Radio Giant Slips Away

One thing is for sure about my amateur radio operator friend, Bill Pasternak, whose callsign was WA6ITF.

He’ll be a tough act to follow.

The amateur radio community lost one of its strongest supporters when Pasternak passed away in Los Angeles the evening of June 11, 2015. He was 73.

The long time Executive Producer, creator (and brains) behind The Amateur Radio Newsline weekly news broadcasts heard around the world had been in failing health the past few months.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Pasternak put amateur radio on the world map.

Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF

Bill Pasternak visited Birmingham several times over the years, and was even keynote speaker at a Birmingham Amateur Radio Club banquet in the 1980s.

Bill brought people together from around the planet, whom otherwise, would have never connected with each other.

His extensive coverage of amateur radio and communications-related issues, as well as work to promote ham radio to the general public through books, magazine articles, television and video productions, allowed ham radio to be seen as much more than a closed world of “techies” soldering tiny wires on circuit boards.

Pasternak’s work in promoting amateur radio’s cause enabled people to see ham radio for what it really is: A far reaching community of often life-long friends from every walk of life, every income, every age bracket, every country, and every socio-economic background, joined together by their mutual love of communications.

Thanks to his coverage of the extensive work hams worldwide volunteer during times of crisis, Pasternak helped the public to appreciate ham radio’s value as not just a hobby, but as a public service, which is why the government established the service, giving hams valuable frequency spectrum that otherwise would have sold to the highest bidder.

If you want to hear about the work hams do helping spot deadly tornadoes as they plow through communities, Newsline is where you hear it. If you want to hear about an experiment involving amateur radio aboard the International Space Station, a radio contest on an island in the far reaches of the Pacific or a threat to amateur radio operators’ right to erect towers on their property here at home, Newsline is where you go to learn.

Pasternak’s dedication to covering and promoting amateur radio was relentless.

Every week, a worldwide audience tunes in a Newsline broadcast that runs no less than 15 minutes, and, sometimes, 45. It has been that way since 1976, when Bill started the bulletin service (which at the time was called The Westlink Report).

With his numerous contacts in government and business, Bill always stayed on top of the latest developments. He knew about major FCC policy changes coming long before the public would learn of them. If something big was happening, it was Bill’s work that made Newsline the place you turn to for finding out more — that’s how it has been for years, and that’s how it is today.

How many ventures can you cite where a single person enlists the assistance of people in different nations, who agree to provide time, effort and are even motivated to spend money to the cause of providing information, while never getting paid a dime? That is exactly what Bill pulled off in building Newsline’s network of anchors and reporters that extends around the world.

I was amazed the first time I heard a Newsline broadcast.

While holding a handheld ham radio in my office in the 1980s, I happened to run across a broadcast. I couldn’t get over the professional sound; what I heard was every bit as good as any network newscast you could imagine. I would learn that Bill made this sound standard operating procedure for Newsline, and that’s due, in part, to the calibre of people he brought on board.

With professional broadcasters, journalists, radio clubs, magazine contacts and other regular contributors from around the globe, Newsline quickly became a prestigious and credible news gathering organization.

Others tried to copy Newsline, but what Bill created had no equal.

In the 1980s, while working as a Birmingham, Alabama, television news reporter and weather anchor, I received a huge honor when Bill asked me to join the team as an anchor and reporter. It didn’t take long for me to answer, “Sure!” My newscast contributions would be identified as coming from Newsline’s Southeast Bureau.

The technology we used at the time was challenging.

If I anchored a newscast, it was right up against the Thursday night deadline, complete with recording the script Bill had written onto an audio cassette and shipping it via FedEx overnight to Los Angeles. Bill then edited the finished newscast and released it Friday to ham radio clubs and others who started calling in immediately from the U.S. and other countries to record the week’s new newscast off answering machines. There were so many downloads going on each week that the newscasts had to be shared across multiple machines with different phone numbers.

Bill’s dedication to keeping Newsline’s content free of editorial bias brought him immense respect.

Newsline reporting did not take sides, but rather, gave just the facts. That hasn’t changed today.

Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF

Bill loved being behind the microphone, but as Executive Producer of The Amateur Radio Newsline, he didn’t hog the airwaves. Instead, he relied on a worldwide network of radio amateurs encompassing print and broadcast journalists, including network correspondents, to report the news.

Bill had a chance to “sell out” Newsline at least once in recent years, but he turned it down, because he didn’t want the service’s credibility as a source of independent information the audience relied upon to be placed in jeopardy.

From U.S. Senators to federal government agency leaders to corporate heads to radio hobbyist groups, the people network Pasternak built was second to none.

Bill had a long career, working in broadcast engineering for Los Angeles television station KTTV. I’m not sure there was a piece of broadcast equipment on the planet he did not know how to fix.

All of Bill’s friends knew him for another wonderful trait: His never ending sense of humor.

When Bill would call, asking me to cover a story for Newsline, I enjoyed playfully complaining that I needed a pay raise to make it happen. “I’ll double what you’re getting now!” he would answer.

If I insisted on Newsline providing me with first class airline seats to some exotic location as pay for my work, I often got the response, “I’m sending you the Newsline gyrocopter—start pedalling!”

Bill loved young people dearly, and ‘adopted’ people with whom he had no blood connection, making them family. He recognized the importance young people play in keeping amateur radio alive and growing, hence, his work in creating Newsline’s Young Ham Of The Year award, presented each year at the Huntsville, Alabama, Hamfest, a ham radio convention he grew to love.

He would visit Huntsville by way of Birmingham, and grew to be a huge fan of the seafood at George Sarris’ The Fish Market Restaurant. There, he, fellow Newsline anchor Don Wilbanks, AE5DW, and I became gluttons for the day.

What’s the future of Newsline and The Young Ham Of The Year award? Those decisions will be addressed by Newsline’s Board of Directors.

Should these services find a way to continue, I can think of no better way to honor Bill.

If you were fortunate enough to get to know Bill personally, you quickly learned about his generous soul, that always-on sense of humor, his strong sense of family, and his never ending enthusiasm for ham radio, theater, aviation, photography and other interests. All of this came through in his unmistakable New York accent, forever connecting him to his childhood days growing up in Brooklyn.

I didn’t know it when we first met, but I would come to learn over the years that Bill was a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of person.

Bill leaves behind his wife, Sharon—whom he also convinced to get a ham radio license—along with an entire world of people whose lives were made richer by his presence.

I am extremely lucky to have been able to call Bill Pasternak not just a work associate, but—much more than that—a friend.

Today, people around the world feel an emptiness.

I am one of them.

David Black, KB4KCH

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