It’s eventually every radio amateur’s dream, to visit the World Headquarters of the American Radio Relay League. I found myself among the towers, beams and dipoles in Newington to congratulate Michigan State University alumnus, Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, who has served the League for nearly 4 decades. On April 19, he will retire as CEO. But that word doesn’t have a lot of meaning to Dave. He will still be engaged in international spectrum policy issues and remain a familiar fixture at 225 Main Street.
A conversation with Dave covers a virtual history of our art. It became his singular focus when he decided to come west to East Lansing, a legal career initially his professional goal. Like many of us, he was smitten by the beauty of the campus and even more so by the Collins S Line gear that he saw when he visited the club station, W8SH. He soon found himself at the helm and after graduating with a journalism degree, Dave decided that it was ham radio, and not being a lawyer that was his true passion.
He spent much of the next four decades helping to guide the League through some, at times, painful transitions. Single Sideband was still considered innovative when Dave was at MSU. Today there are amateur satellites, interconnected repeater networks that span the globe and a plethora of digital modes that make long distance communication with just a few watts and a wire accessible to the largest cadre of licensed amateur radio operations in the history of the hobby.
Wherever there is change, there is tension. Ask any group of old timers how they feel about the state of the hobby and the League and you’re likely to hear some grumbling. But our art has room for every type of enthusiast. I enjoy long conversations on 3,880 KHz with hams who still prefer old fashioned Amplitude Modulation, the kind of stuff that we used to depend on when AM broadcast stations ruled the airwaves. Morse is still great fun, too. There’s nothing I like more than working my way through a 5 words per minute conversation with an amateur who is dipping their fingers into CW for the first time. And I’m fascinated to see how far I can communicate using low power digital modes like JT65 (6,547 miles is my current personal best).
Contesting still seduces me, too. Few things are more fun for a radiosport enthusiast than the intensity of Sweepstakes, setting up a station from scratch in some backwoods setting during Field Day or chasing that rare DX station on a distant island that may just be a dot on the map. And some of our most active new hams come to us through the Maker movement, building cool things from scratch, just like many of us did when that first Heathkit shipment arrived on our doorsteps.
Dave has seen it all. Along the way he has been a calm countenance, listening to the many, often emotion charged points of view that make our diverse hobby so rich. He’s provided strong leadership, a steady hand on the tiller of an ever evolving ship of state that plies the often roiled waters of inevitable change. Through it all, he’s never lost his love for the things that attracted him in the first place. Amateur Radio, to Dave Sumner is not a job, it’s a lifestyle, something he cherishes just as much today as he did the moment he crossed the threshold of the W8SH shack at Michigan State.
We celebrate this deeply held love and are forever grateful for his service.