I received news on Wednesday, February 27 2019 that one of my oldest and closest friends, John Koppert WB0WHO had passed away. He had not been heard from since the prior Monday, Jan 25th. When his son-in-law went to check on him, he was found lifeless sitting in his chair. A heart attack is suspected.
I met John when he moved to my hometown of Bennington, Nebraska in 1971 or 1972. We were both in Jr. High School at the time. I didn’t take much notice until I saw that he was able to run the old 16mm projector system that the school used to show films in the classroom. I found that fascinating, and began talking with him about it.
It turned out that we shared many common interests. Chief among them was an interest in electronics. We both liked to tear apart/work on/repair?? old radios and televisions.
I recall one year working with John to tear the voice coil out of an old speaker. We hooked this up to a cassette recorder microphone input, and hung it in front of the speaker on a televison set. The voice coil picked up the sound from the magnetic field of the tv’s speaker, without the annoyance of external voices in the room talking. We used this to record an episode or two of Gilligan’s Island, which we were sure was to become a classic.
I also recall from those early days, John visiting, and us using the cassette recorder to make an audio theatrical production. Kind of like the old radio serials that played before we were born. Our house was a very old farmhouse, with accompaning outbuildings, and had lots of squeaky doors and wooden stairs and other things to make interesting noises. We decided to make the “talkie” about a haunted house. I wonder if that cassette is still somewhere in my collection of junk…
About 1974 or so, with the CB craze going strong in the nation, my Dad picked up a book that introduced me to Amateur Radio. I had no idea this hobby existed. I was hooked from the first day, and John became interested, as well.
I studied for my novice license and was administered the test by Bob Connley, WB0LYU in Omaha. My first station was a Heathkit HW-16 CW transceiver that I built myself. It was quite a project, taking most of the Christmas break from school. On the last day of the build, John and I were at my house, ready to fire it up. I plugged it in and turned it on…
whistle… whistle… Whistle… WHIStle… WHISTLE… BANG!
Something had exploded in the chassis. We immediately unplugged it and waited for Dad to get home.Â He just had us put the covers on and took it back to the Heathkit store, where they fixed it for free (I didn’t have any real troubleshooting skills at that age). It turns out it was just a capacitor that I had installed backwards.
Sometime in 1975 or so, John and I started attending Ham Radio classes put on by the Aksarben Amateur Radio Club in Omaha. I was taking the General Class, and John was taking the Novice Class. I think I started working about that time, and did not finish the General class, but John finished his class and took his novice test from Bob Connoly as well. He passed, and we were now both ham radio operators.
Each week, we would take turns driving to Creighton Prep, where the classes were held. This was in the fall and winter, so often times the roads were covered with snow or ice. John would take that old VW beetle of his in the parking lot and cut cookies. That thing got around pretty good in the snow. We usually stopped at the Ponderosa steak place on the way to get a cheap steak. We felt so mature…
We had other adventures in Jr High and High School. John helped me capture and train a Red-Tailed hawk from the top of a 70′ cottonwood tree. We also enjoyed camping. He often came over, and we would camp “over the hill” back in one of the fields behind our place along a creek.
Once, we decided that we wanted to camp on the Elkhorn River. For some reason, my Mom wouldn’t let me go, so we came up with a scheme. I told my folks I was going camping “over the hill” (I never said how far over the hill). I walked into the field and out of site. Then I took a detour and headed for the road. John drove to the top of the hill and picked me up there, and we went camping on the Elkhorn river, where I did all of the stupid things that Mom was afraid of. We went swimming in the river, and I ended up getting a pretty deep cut that left a scar on my arm. I think it was a submerged tree as I was floating downstream. When were done, John returned me to the top of the hill, out of site from my house. I walked back and had returned from “over the hill”. Dad asked where I had been, because I didn’t answer when he shouted for me. I just said I was over the hill, and didn’t hear him.
I don’t know if they ever learned the truth about that. John’s Mom worked with my Mom, so she probably did find out, and just didn’t want to shake things up, maybe…
In my Sr. year in high school, my family moved about 50 miles away, across the Missouri River to Iowa. We didn’t see much of each other that year, but I made one football game with John. Of course, the water pump went bad and my old ’70 Mustang overheated, but that was just another adventure.
I joined the Marine Corps in January of 1977. I actually signed up on my 17th birthday in July of ’76. I tried to talk John into joining, but he would have none of it. We didn’t see or speak to each other much for a couple of years while I was away.
I returned on leave from Okinawa in 1979 to marry my high school sweetheart. John was the best man at my wedding, and that was where he met his wife.
The wife and I moved to North Carolina to serve the remainder of my enlistment, and again John & I didn’t speak or see each other much.
When my enlistment was up, I returned to Omaha, and our friendship took off just where it had left off. John was involved with 2-meter VHF radio at the time, and got me interested in that. I got an old crystal controlled handheld radio and used that to speak with him often.
The next summer, I received a nice Kenwood mobile 2-meter rig (tr-7800 that I still have). I had moved back to my folks’ place in Iowa, where Tara & I had a 14×70 mobile home trailer on the property. Dad had become sick, and I was trying to help out around the place. I had gotten a job as a computer/electronics tech at the local beef plant.
I put up an 11 element beam on a tower so I could reach Omaha on my radio. John & I spoke regularly on the repeater in Council Bluffs (146.22 -.82).
About this time, VCRs started becoming popular. John had one already, and I bought one as well. Tara & I would pack up our VCR and head over to Pam & John’s to spend the night on many weekends. There, we would rent a movie and dub it over to two blank tapes, one copy for each family.
Once, John and Pam came over to Iowa to dub some movies at our place. We didn’t have any blank VCR tapes, so we went into Atlantic to buy a couple. They were $18 each! for blank tapes! That was crazy.So we were building a library. I don’t know why, I never watch a movie twice, unless it’s many years later, but it was fun.
In the summer of 1982, John & I went for a trip to Yellowstone. We had never been there, and it was another adventure. I picked him up and we drove straight through all night. I don’t remember how long it took us, but those were the days of a 55 mph speed limit. I’m thinking it was something like 18 hours. We spent several days there, and enjoyed the camping.
We were surprised to find that Yellowstone was way too busy to enjoy camping, so we went into the Jim Bridger National Forest to camp. We found a campground, and about got eaten alive by mosquitoes. The next day, we drove up the mountain above the campground and camped there. There were no mosquitoes, and it was close enough to hike down to use the facilities when necessary. After several days of hiking and exploring, we made the trip back home.
Our two families also made a couple trips to Victoria Springs campgound in Nebraska to a ham-radio gathering there. One year we just had tents and cars to sleep in. The next year, we borrowed my brother’s tent trailer and pulled it up there. We set up John’s Kenwood Twins in a portable setup and enjoyed some field-day type operation that year.
I’m thinking that each of these years one of our wives was pregnant. Maybe the first year was Tara, and the second was Pam.
In 1983, Tara * I moved to Garden City, Kansas to take a job with the local power company there. John visited a couple of times over the next few years, and we would see him and Pam when we went to visit relatives back in Nebraska.
John was heavily involved with Navy Marine Corps MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) back then. I became a member as well, and we would regularly talk on the regional HF net. John had a couple of old teletype units (model 19, and maybe a model 28) with paper tape units and the whole works in those years. It was fun going to his basement and operating that old gear.
In 1986, Tara & Family & I made our final move to Arizona. Over the years, John would come to visit many times. We usually went camping in undiscovered places, and John fell in love with Arizona. We had campsites near Roosevelt Lake, up along the Young Road toward Forest Lakes, on the bombing Range near Florence, along Fossil Creek near Strawberry (before it became “discovered”), near Bumblebee along the Agua Fria river, and others…
John fell on hard times in the 2000’s after being laid off from his job as a pick-and-place operator on a circuit board assembly line. He never did find his groove after that. But he still had some good times. He worked with my brother for Nebraska State Parks for some time, and worked with me in a temporary position as a contractor at Salt River Project for a couple of months. He returned on a visit to help me rebuild my HF antenna system in 2017.
John visited on a couple of years during the late June Ham Radio Field Day. We usually had an antenna project to work on at the ranch (our cabin). Then we would operate field day. He really enjoyed the operation, and would stay up operating long past the time when I went to sleep.
He also helped with the building of our cabin. Specifically installing the solar panels.
Each year, when Tara & I would visit Nebraska, I always took a day and went up to visit John. We usually headed toward Bennington, where we would have lunch or dinner. Then we would drive to our old farm, and the location of the house he lived in as a kid. We retold a lot of old stories and recalled many details.
John was a lifelong friend who would go out of his way to help whenever he could. I enjoyed my time with him, and he will be missed.
73 old friend…