Inside Todays Kit

An interview with Marshall Emm N1FN.

(remember the first kit / built It was a 40-meter DC receiver I had no idea how the circuits worked. The building in itself fascinated me. <After spending hours reading and soldering,1 inhaled deeply, and with index finger trembling, I flipped the "ON" button.

As the sounds crackled to life, a shout of utter delight exploded from my lungs. Jumping midway in the air, i suddenly saw the clock — I a.HL My wife ran into the kitchen with a look of dismay. Relie ved thai I had not killed myself (maybe not, come to think of ii and considering Lhe time), she went to bed shaking her head in disbelief. There is something primal in the fact that a radio reaches out to the world after beinu built by your own hands. As humans, we hunger to communicate with others . Even a lone mountain climber needs to hear the sound of his echo.

Recently, 1 set out on a journey to re-supply my radio shack with kits and limited home-brewed items. Letters went out. and only a few companies responded uith the exact items I required. Scratch building at the time was not within my abilities. Not all of us are electronic wizards who dream of schematics in the sky. We depend on other hams to supply our desires for designs.

That's when my telephone rang. A calm voice asked for me by name, and one hour later I knew that my search had not been in vain, it was Marshall Emm NIFN. president of Milestone

Technologies, Inc.. which is better known through its trading names of Morse Express and Oak Hills Research. He is an amateur operator who provides tremendous service through radio equipment.

If hams have guardian angels on Earth, mine had made a personal call. Call them Elmers, neighbors, or just friends if you like. Bui. each of them is a huge support factor in our hobby.

They must never be taken for granted. Never.

Marshall is more than a ham — he is a man who looks out for the future of the hobhy with great care. The ham bug bit him while he was in the 8th grade. During the sixties, with his interest in electronics, chemistry, and rocketry, he more than likely helped to pioneer the term "geek." And. his pioneer character became the catalyst for

Photo A. Lurry N2WW/UA6HZ forgoes his lowers; beams, and linear to take part in a QRP field event.
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Pftoto B. 77it /////v Research lfK)A single-band CW transceiver.

advcmures that far surpass the dreams of many others.

Born in 1949 in Syracuse NY. Marshall grew up knowing the importance of a good education. At a time when thousands of hi\ contemporaries were being di alled to fight in Vietnam, Marshall dropped out of college and enlisted in the Air Force. After one and a hall years of learning Russian, his linguistic Jutic^ had him operating as a "radio spy" in Athens, Greece, in 1973. he left the AF. got married, finished col lege, moved to Australia, helped to

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Photo C\ XI f \ and his code-copying dog* Samson.

raise three daugliters, and started Milestone Technologies Pty Ltd. This is where he fell in love with CW operation quickly after getting his first license t YK2DXP), He had a small farm, u hich was named '"Milestone" because there was a genuine old-fashioned milestone on the road with room l or a V-Beam antenna. i le discovered QRP for himself.

He and his family eventually moved back to the Tnited States, choosing Denver CO. at the end of 1990. Fi\e \ears !ater. in his search for the ultimate "dream key," he attempted to contact a mysterious Rtissian named ' Larry/* who sources claimed possessed a Soviet Russian paddle. Hven though Marshall knew this was an excellent device, he real!) hoped there was some off-chance that he could procure a straight key. So. with an old QSL card in hand, phone calls were made to New York City. Sorry, no Larr\ he had returned to Russia. A letter is mailed out — no response.

Now it is New Year's Eve, 1995, and Marshall, hugging groceries, walks to his car. A strange, bearded guy jumps out. of the car parked next to his and runs over with his hand out. Marshall is thinking this must be a beggar, or at least a solicitation for funds.

"YouVe N1FN?" the strange man asks.

"Yes/' replies Marshall. "I'm Larry, WJIR," says the man, and points to his license plate.

When Marshall's brain cells finally started to thaw, he realized that ihU was the same Larry he had earnestly sought six months previously.

Larry turned out to be a genuine ham radio VIP having been president of the Soviet Amateur Radio Linton, WRTC judge, and big-time DXer and contested

That day, in the middle of winter in the parking lot. Morse Express really took off. By ll)99. Marshall's company was acknovs [edged as the largest seller of keys and related equipment in the world.

In an interview I had with Marshall, he provided some very interesting answers to questions regarding Oak Hills Research, CW, kits, and radio in general.

KF6FJI): How and when did you become the owner of Oak Hills Research?

N1FN; I love to build stuff, and I was particularly impressed by the Oak Hills Research kits, which have more than a passing comparability to the late, lamented Heathkits. I built mam of the OHR kits, and was even a dealer for them for a while. When Dick Witzke KE8KL indicated a desire to sell the business and retire. I jumped at it. We acquired OHR in April 1999. and it is now a very important and rewarding pail of Milestone Technologies.

KF6FJU; Did you view the acquisition of OHR as a dream come true?

N1FN: Sort of. I often tell people it was like the old Remington shaver ads — "I liked the kits so much. I bought the company/' It's true that everybody who has ever built a kit has had ideas of how it could be better, and many of us builders dream of finding something that we could sell as a kit. if only to provide a little financial support foi our own kit-building habits. But in this case of OHR, it was part of a larger dream, which has largely come true. 1 wanted to be in a position to provide every single thing that a ham or prospect! ve ham needs to get on the aii to become an active CW operator.

KF6FJU: What has been your most humorous encounter as the owner of the company?

NIFN: Well, there was this one guy who I'm sure woih mind if he happens to see this. I spent half an hour with him on the phone trying to measure voltages as a kind of starting point. Partly it was my own stupidity at asking the wrong questions, or starting in the wrong place in ihe diagnosis, but I have lo give my builders SOME credit, so I took him at his word that his radio would noi transmit.

True, we fairly quickly got to the point where it was obvious thai it wouldn't receive either, by looking for the required voltages at about a dozen points in the circuit. Eventually 1 had him measure the voltage on the inside of the power jack, and the end of the power cord, and then the voltage coming out of the power supply, when he asked me, "Should I turn the power supply on?"

I thought about it for a second and said, "No. What you need to do now is grab your soldering iron, your kit, and your amateur radio license, and go stand by the door An FCC inspector will be there to confiscate them in about ten minutes/4

This guy was OK with the sarcasm, and has gone on to be an active and skilled builder/operator.

KF6FJU: What is OHR working on right now?

NIFN: The kit business is pretty competitive, so I can't really say what we're working on. Suffice \i lo say that we will be developing the OHRIOOA for more bands, and are working on a couple of very useful accessory kits.

KF6FJU: Tell me about ET. Are you really from outer space?

NIFN: Sometimes I think I must be. Or that everybody else is. But 1 came by the handle honestly. (By the way, "handle is a perfectly good amateur radio term going back to the dawn of the hobby; it was adopted by CB users bui is emphatically NOT one of the many CB slang terms that we need to avoid!). I operate DX frequently, and in contests. And, Marshall is not the easiest or quickest name for a ham radio operator. It seems to take forever to send it, and I almost always have to repeal it. But, then one night I was in a nice ragchew QSO with an older gentleman in Florida, who was in fact so old that he was having difficulty controlling the key. My callsign at the time was AA0XJ. and this old guy kepi sending it as "ET ET 0 NAEE " A friend happened to be sandbagging and started calling me ET. It sort of stuck, and I quickly realized that I could send ET three times faster than I could send "Marshall" once.

KF6FJU: What are your suggestions for the new ham?

NIFN: Have you seen the size of the ARRL Handbook lately? It contains MOST of my suggestions for the new-ham. Seriously, the best advice that I can offer the new guy is to get on the air and OPERATE! Put down this magazine right now, and go work somebody. That's what this hobby is all about.

KF6FJU: If someone were U> start a radio company today, what are the top three items you would advise them to prepare for in the business?

NIFN: In order: disappointment, disappointment, and success. Seriously. go lo the local community college and take Business 101. A business is a business, and it doesn't matter whether it is a radio company or a potato company. There is a lot to running a business that is not apparent to somebody who hasn't tried to do it, and there are a lot of things that have to come together just right, The best advice

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