Harvey Adkins, K1ZWK, was found dead in his apartment in New Haven, CT this week of apparent natural causes. Adkins was first licensed in 2000, shortly after retiring from over 30 years of service at Lockheed Martin.
“He was an engineer’s engineer.” said Walter Roomberg, a former co-worker. “Any challenge you placed in front of him he would attack with vigor. He was always trying to do “one better” than anyone else and would always succeed.”
“After he retired, Harvey was bored and needed something to do. He knew about amateur radio for years, but dismissed it as too simplistic.” said Roger Smith, a local ham friend. “At work he was on complex high tech multi-million dollar defense projects.”
We spoke with Adkins’ ex-wife, Mildred. “We divorced in 2010. He had always been successful all his life but was failing at this new thing he was working on with his radios called QRP. It became an obsession and he was failing at it. It took such a toll on our marriage that I had to call it quits after forty years.” she said sadly.
Adkins excelled in amateur radio radio shortly after getting his ticket. He acquired Worked all States on four bands within his first three months. DXCC was achieved a few months later and within three years he was approaching the honor roll.
“Harvey operated all the modes at that time, except for CW and some of the slower digital modes.” stated Smith. “He had to learn the code in order to get his license, which he did easily, but he had no interest in CW. He saw it as slow, simplistic, and too low tech, and enjoyed the ease with which he could conduct a conversation with other modes. In additional to phone ragchewing and DXing, he was doing all kinds of cool stuff like EME and writing his own DSP software, using the engineering capabilities he developed in his professional career. ‘Life’s too short for CW!’ he would say. “
Another club member, Elmer Keglovits, gave a similar profile of Adkins. “He was the Renaissance man of amateur radio. He did it all. Some modes he briefly did but found too mundane or just not that challenging. PSK31 was one of those modes. He tried it for a short time but found the nature of it, macros and all, to be a bit mindless and boring. But he would never put down the mode, and if you ever asked him about PSK at a meeting, he could immediately tell you exactly how it worked and even draw on the whiteboard the modulation technique. It was the same with CW. He learned it to get his license and felt he knew enough about it, and moved on to other more interesting things, for him. He wanted to try everything in amateur radio and learn the underlying technical details. He didn’t find it necessary or worthwhile to dwell on modes that got in the way of his ‘journey of discovery’ as he often called it.”
“One night he was talking about his achievements at our monthly club meeting and someone chuckled and said that anyone could do what he did on QRO and phone and that if he wanted to be a real ham he should do all CW. Something snapped in Harvey that night.” said Smith. “Throughout his professional career he was accustomed to being recognized for everything. He had thought he had reached the pinnacle of amateur radio achievement and was insulted, but also challenged by this.”
Adkins became introverted and isolated after the encounter, Rogers explained. “After that night he changed. He studied and practiced CW again and increased from a rusty 5 words per minute to 30 in a matter of two or three weeks. It was amazing. He made some contacts on the air, but he was frustrated as it seemed too easy to bang out quick QSOs, and he felt too encumbered to ragchew like he did on phone. On the other hand, once enjoyable phone operation didn’t interest him anymore with the mode considered tainted, in his mind. That’s when he vowed to go all CW and QRP. He sold all of his gear at Dayton later and proudly purchased and built an Elecraft K1 and began operating a relatively spartan station compared to his previous setup. But for some reason he just couldn’t make a contact, any contact, at all with the rig.”
Rogers had offered to help Adkins determine what was wrong with his new radio, but Adkins steadfastly refused, seeing it as a failure if he had to seek help. “At that point our relationship deteriorated.” said Rogers. “He had gone for about four months without being able to make a CW QRP contact. He bragged in an email to the QRP-L reflector about diving into the QRP CW lifestyle and how much he was enjoying it, but unfortunately was banned for life when he mentioned a Rockmite that he had acquired on eBay.”
The ban from QRP-L added to his angst and focused him even more, but his downfall was beginning. He began gaining weight, his marriage fell apart apart and after a messy divorce funds were limited so he had to move into an apartment where no outside antennas were allowed. This fueled the obsession, with the necessity of stealth antennas adding to the challenge. Two years later and fifty pounds heavier he still had not made a QRP CW contact.
“Local hams could hear his signal very weakly, but no one dared work him.” said Rogers. “Knowing Harvey, we didn’t want to ruin his challenge. We weren’t rare DX so it probably would have made him go over the edge if someone a mile away worked him.”
But Harvey was already going over the edge. Analysis of files on his computer showed that he had created an anonymous email alias and fake callsign and was frantically emailing QRP-L.org, the other main QRP “watering hole”, for suggestions. Unfortunately his emails were HTML formatted which was forbidden by the reflector, and his emails were silently discarded without anyone seeing them or responding. The lack of response which mimicked his on air struggle was apparently more than Adkins could bare.
After nearly three years of no QSOs, Adkins was found dead in his apartment full of Elecraft rigs, Rockmites, straight keys, and various homebrew stealth antennas. Roger Smith acquired all of the rigs and coordinated an estate sale at the request of estranged relatives who declined to be involved. “Each rig was modified. There was a resistor pad on the output of each one, reducing the power output. Apparently five watts was too much power for him, or he thought someone would up the ante on him again with an even lower power challenge. All of his rigs were putting out less than a milliwatt. It was very strange.”
No services are planned for Adkins, however local amateurs are planning to honor him by acquiring his ashes and compressing them into an Altoids tin and storing them at their clubhouse in New Haven. Harvey Adkins was 74 and is survived by two children and one grandchild.