Sailing into a DX Sunset

The Cass Award encourages DXpeditions to maximize the number of DXers worked with a $1000 prize for the single-operator that works the most unique call signs within a specified interval. This award honors the wisdom and spirit of Cass, WA6AUD (SK), whose stories in the West Coast DX Bulletin taught a generation of DXers that DX IS!

It rewards simplicity in DX operations and ironically, had the award existed back in the early 1960’s, one particular fellow might have won it several years in a row…

Don Miller, ex-W9WNV and now AE6IY was in Dayton this year and spent time pressing the flesh at the DX Banquet and making noise about returning to Thailand for one final, grand, DX operation. That bit of news has gone mostly unreported — at least I’ve not seen anything about it.

Maybe he wasn’t serious, but I doubt it. I think he’s making plans to go…

Miller came along during a golden age for DXpeditioning. In those halcyon days, a fellow might get into a small sailboat and circumnavigate the globe with amateur radio along for the ride. Compare sailing into a Pacific sunset on a small skiff with a modern DX operation where 100 tons of equipment are delivered by helicopter on some island location while a team of twenty operators set it all up and run the show from an air-conditioned quonset hut. I think you get my point…

By all accounts, Don Miller was a phenomenal operator, capable of sending CW with one hand and logging with the other – using pencil and paper. A sharp mind, keen memory, and wizard-like skills with the radio made him a legend.

But W9WNV took a few shortcuts on certain operations and may not actually have operated from all the places he claimed. And he may have legitimately operated from some locations that were not legal places for him to be. This was in the days before the DXCC rules had been made rigid like they are today — mostly thanks to Don Miller.

The ARRL defamed him, he sued them and they settled out of court. It became an ugly season for amateur radio. Miller might have made a comeback and fixed his reputation with time and trust me, you hand out Q’s from a rare one, and the DX community would rally in support. But a few years later Miller was accused of hiring someone to kill his wife and he ended up doing more than twenty years in prison.

He became ham radio’s “bad boy” who cheated on DX and took a sizable chunk of League money in the settlement. Unable to defend himself from a prison cell, his reputation tanked. When he finally got out in the early part of the 21st century, his first move was to take, and pass, the Extra class exam. He was issued the call AE6IY. That same year he visited the Dayton Hamvention where he offered an apology to the DX Community at one of the most popular DX forums.

I was there. I saw it happen.

Now Don Miller is a decade older and has entered the “winter” of his life. Who knows if he will actually be able to mount one last notable operation. But he wants to try. And who are we to hold back the dreams of a legend?

There’s a whole lot more to the W9WNV story, way more than I could ever relate here. Fortunately, he was interviewed soon after his release from prison and those recordings tell his story, in his own words and voice better than anyone else ever could. You really should download them and have a listen someday when the bands are quiet and your mind is still. It’s a compelling tale of ham radio adventure unlike any other and it deserves to be heard.


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: dx, w9wnv
Jeff Davis, KE9V, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Indiana, USA.

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