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Fulton man reaches out to world through radio

Dick White listens in as he taps out a message in Morse code to a listener across the world from his home Monday. White, perhaps Callaway County’s most prolific ham radio operator, has made contacts to almost everywhere in the world over the past 37 years.

Dick White listens in as he taps out a message in Morse code to a listener across the world from his home Monday. White, perhaps Callaway County’s most prolific ham radio operator, has made contacts to almost everywhere in the world over the past 37 years.

He served Fulton and Callaway County as an optometrist for 40 years, but the two broadcast towers he’s erected in his backyard mean Dick White’s neighbors probably know him best as a radio man.

There are hundreds of people in as many countries, territories and islands who know him as an amateur radio operator as well. Since he discovered his love of radio at a young age, White has gone on to become a founding member of the Callaway Amateur Radio League (CARL) and make long-distance confirmed contacts to locations around the world.

White was born Sept. 15, 1926, in Oklahoma City, and graduated from high school in Carthage. After serving the Navy during World War II and attending college in Memphis, he moved to Fulton in 1954 to open an optometry practice, which he continued until 1992 when he retired and sold his business to J.W. Vann.

Though eyecare was his profession, his passion proved to be radio. The bug bit him when he was just 9 years old after reading instructions on making a simple home radio receiver out of a Quaker Oats box in an edition of Popular Mechanics magazine.

“It was quite a thrill when I moved a wire across that galena crystal and heard a voice say “this is WKY in Oklahoma City,” White said. “I’ve always been interested in things like that, hands-on things. I don’t collect stamps.”

School, work and family kept him from fully pursuing a hobby in amateur — or ham — radio for many years, but White’s self-described fascination continued until serendipity in 1976.

“I didn’t have too much time, but in the back of my mind I always wanted to get into ham radio,” he said. “Then a friend I knew was teaching a class, so I took it and passed and got licensed by the FCC.”

White began a steady hobby as soon as he received his license. For the first several years he used borrowed equipment — buying new models can be as expensive as several thousand dollars — but has since bought his own hardware, computer software, a vertical amplifier and a 55-foot antenna erected in his backyard to support his career as one of Callaway’s most prolific hams.

It’s a hobby that’s earned him praise from like-minded individuals. He continues to help others discover radio as the last active founding member of CARL. Adorned on his wall are many of his accolades, including his license and the Amateur Radio Relay League’s DXCC Honor Roll plaque, which he earned for coming within 10 confirmed DX’s — or distant contacts — of the organization’s 341 recognized countries, territories or entities for amateur radio contact.

This means that from his home in Fulton, White has used his equipment to reach out with his equipment in more than 64,000 calls in 37 years to contact people from all over the world, including Russia, Colombia and even Antarctica.

The two holdouts he hasn’t reached are Bouvet Island and Scarborough Reef — both small uninhabited areas that can only be contacted during rare opportunities when researchers or other hams set up there.

White occasionally uses a microphone to project his voice great distances, but for the majority of his calls prefers the more reliable method of Morse code. He made his first international call to European Russia in 1976, but he said his most exciting contact came a few months earlier, in his first call to Glendale Heights, Ill.

“The first time I got on air and talked to somebody was the most exciting. My hands were sweaty; I was nervous.”

White said he’s made friends miles away through radio, and he keeps a binder filled with postcards from the people he’s contacted, used as an official means among hams to confirm calls. He still works towards Bouvet Island and Scarborough Reef, but though it would mean the end of a long challenge to “work” calls to everywhere in the world, it wouldn’t be his last.

“I’m trying to fill in the band countries,” he said simply. “I’ve only worked Pakistan on one band, for instance; I’d like to work it on the rest.”

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