Posts Tagged ‘w9wnv’

The Don Miller Enigma



A mention in the KE9V weekly 'CALLING CQ' e-mail letter brought back more memories of my teen DX years. The article pointed to a YouTube interview of legendary DXer Dr. Don Miller, W9WNV, conducted by another DX legend, Martti Laine, OH2BH. The fascinating interview was conducted in December 2016 and is broken into five parts.

For those old enough to remember, Don spent a few years in the late 60's providing DXers with one rare country after another ... dozens of them. He was a superb operator and the originator of the now ubiquitous "5NN" shortened signal report, after trying unsuccessfully with "FNN". He was also one of the very first to operate 'split', requiring stations to call up or down instead of the then prevalent one frequency pileup! Don was really instrumental in shaping much of what we see today as 'standard ops' when it comes to DX'pedition operations. To hear Don handle a pileup was something else. Often when the pile became very large, he would listen to the calling crowd for a couple of minutes and then respond with a list of calls and signal reports ... nothing like the individual exchanges we see today.


My little DX-20 and VF-1 were only able to work Don at one of his stops ... YJ8WW on 40m CW. He was all about giving the little guy, those running modest stations, an opportunity to work some rare countries.

courtesy: F6BLK
All was not roses however. Don ran into several problems with the ARRL regarding some of his 'supposed' locations. Several of his operations were disqualified for lack of proper documentation, sworn affidavits from his DX companion that they weren't actually where they claimed to be and by his own admission. As well, there were certain stations at the top of the honor roll that, for whatever reason, Don was just 'unable to hear'. This infuriated many of the top DXers of the day as well as officiators of the DXCC program, still in its infancy. Don claims his selective deafness was because some of these amateurs were 'DX hogs', working him several times on the same band, a practice he discouraged. Others claim that it was because these top DXers did not contribute monetarily to his expeditions. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. With big egos and honor roll status involved, a lot of bad blood was spilled in the DX community at the time ... bitter memories to this day still, for some.

As bad as things had become for Don, it got much worse, when in 1980, rightly or wrongly, he was convicted of conspiring to have his estranged wife killed and was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Don Miller is one of those 'larger than life' personalities whose presentations at DX clubs and conventions would bring the large crowds to their feet with his DX stories and expedition accomplishments.

The YouTube interviews show a somewhat contrite, remorseful man, compared to the one we met in the 60's but there's still a hint of that young mischief-maker and a twinkle in his 80 year old eyes as he teases of putting another rare one on-the-air, one last time.

courtesy: OH2BH
Don is now AE6IY and if you hear or work him, love him or hate him, be aware that you are talking to one of amateur radio's living icons.


[See also: "The Don Miller Story As Told By Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD]

The Don Miller Enigma



A mention in the KE9V weekly 'CALLING CQ' e-mail letter brought back more memories of my teen DX years. The article pointed to a YouTube interview of legendary DXer Dr. Don Miller, W9WNV, conducted by another DX legend, Martti Laine, OH2BH. The fascinating interview was conducted in December 2016 and is broken into five parts.

For those old enough to remember, Don spent a few years in the late 60's providing DXers with one rare country after another ... dozens of them. He was a superb operator and the originator of the now ubiquitous "5NN" shortened signal report, after trying unsuccessfully with "FNN". He was also one of the very first to operate 'split', requiring stations to call up or down instead of the then prevalent one frequency pileup! Don was really instrumental in shaping much of what we see today as 'standard ops' when it comes to DX'pedition operations. To hear Don handle a pileup was something else. Often when the pile became very large, he would listen to the calling crowd for a couple of minutes and then respond with a list of calls and signal reports ... nothing like the individual exchanges we see today.


My little DX-20 and VF-1 were only able to work Don at one of his stops ... YJ8WW on 40m CW. He was all about giving the little guy, those running modest stations, an opportunity to work some rare countries.

courtesy: F6BLK
All was not roses however. Don ran into several problems with the ARRL regarding some of his 'supposed' locations. Several of his operations were disqualified for lack of proper documentation, sworn affidavits from his DX companion that they weren't actually where they claimed to be and by his own admission. As well, there were certain stations at the top of the honor roll that, for whatever reason, Don was just 'unable to hear'. This infuriated many of the top DXers of the day as well as officiators of the DXCC program, still in its infancy. Don claims his selective deafness was because some of these amateurs were 'DX hogs', working him several times on the same band, a practice he discouraged. Others claim that it was because these top DXers did not contribute monetarily to his expeditions. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. With big egos and honor roll status involved, a lot of bad blood was spilled in the DX community at the time ... bitter memories to this day still, for some.

As bad as things had become for Don, it got much worse, when in 1980, rightly or wrongly, he was convicted of conspiring to have his estranged wife killed and was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Don Miller is one of those 'larger than life' personalities whose presentations at DX clubs and conventions would bring the large crowds to their feet with his DX stories and expedition accomplishments.

The YouTube interviews show a somewhat contrite, remorseful man, compared to the one we met in the 60's but there's still a hint of that young mischief-maker and a twinkle in his 80 year old eyes as he teases of putting another rare one on-the-air, one last time.

courtesy: OH2BH
Don is now AE6IY and if you hear or work him, love him or hate him, be aware that you are talking to one of amateur radio's living icons.


[See also: "The Don Miller Story As Told By Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD]

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

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