Any licensed amateur radio operator in the Carolinas and across the country probably knows the name of 99-year-old Oscar Norris.
Norris, who lives in Gastonia, first became a amateur radio operator in 1949 and broadcast an old military radio on his unique callsign W40XH. His interest in the subject was sparked when a friend shared him with a magazine article in which a blind man received his amateur radio license. Norris, who is also blind, received his license and started a passion that he has practiced for nearly seven decades.
Norris recalls a memorable early transmission in which he spoke to a married couple who were missionary in South America and who had recently given birth. The couple asked Norris via ham radio to share the exciting news with their parents, who lived in California and New York.
“I made two phone calls to inform the couple’s parents of the grandchildren’s birth,” said Norris. “They just thanked me and pretended that they were very pleased to receive the news.”
On Saturday, the Greater Gaston Amateur Radio Society, of which Norris is the oldest founding member, presented Norris with the Lifetime Membership award at his Courtland Terrace home. The ceremony included meeting family members, club members, and other friends. The badge includes his callsign and part of it reads “For your generous contributions of time, resources and amateur radio expertise.”
Society members praised Norris’ commitment to amateur radio.
“Everyone who has anything to do with amateur radio around the world knows Oscar Norris,” said the company’s president, Tony Jones, who became a licensed amateur radio operator in 2013. “It shows the love the club has for Oscar.”
Society member Michael Sams remembers receiving his first broadcast from Norris in 1996 standing on Eastridge Mall in Gastonia when he was licensed.
“Oscar congratulated me on my callsign and when I knew Oscar had congratulated me on my callsign, I knew I was a ham operator and that I had been made,” said Sams.
The nonprofit was founded in 2016 to promote amateur radio through education and provide emergency communications, community support, and partnerships with local organizations. The monthly meetings and other events are broadcast using a radio transmitter called a repeater on Crowders Mountain.
While amateur radio is a social hobby for many to connect with other people around the world, amateur radio was especially important during times of natural disasters.
Many Gaston County residents relied on hearing such transmissions on their own battery-powered radios for communications information during Hurricane Hugo, which wreaked havoc in the Carolinas and knocked down trees and power lines in Gaston County when it struck inland in September obtained in 1989. Most used a system called “Skywarn”, essentially a dedicated frequency on which radio amateurs sent updates on the weather and other relevant information for residents to hear.
“The ham radio operators were very active during Hugo and in California when they had the earthquake,” Norris said. “Any place where the power supply to the amateur radio operators is interrupted can go there with battery-operated radios or devices and provide communication.”
Norris has seen amateur radio advances in technology in its nearly seven decades of broadcast. He says his first radio transmitter needed a separate receiver, while today’s “transceivers” combine both devices. This radio also only broadcast on AM frequencies, while amateur radio operators these days can connect using all kinds of modes, including the Internet. Ham radio even became a stepping stone for many of the technologies people use in their daily lives today, such as GPS and email.
Norris will be 100 years old in September. The company he chartered with made sure on Saturday that his contributions and continued support from the amateur radio medium would be recognized forever.
“I think it’s an honor that they would think I deserved it and was available to receive it,” said Norris of the honor. “I appreciate it very much.”
You can reach Eric Wildstein at 704-869-1828 or Twitter.com/TheGazetteEric.