Dick Turrin, W2IMU - - Silent Key


It is with great sadness that I report the November 10, 1993, death of fellow amateur radio operator Richard H. Turrin, W2IMU.  Dick was a well-known and respected ham throughout the world and will be sorely missed.  Dick was a homebrewer, inventor, and proficient CW operator who advanced the amateur radio art in many fields.  Particularly noteworthy is his VHF and UHF work on antennas, feeds, and pioneering work on moonbounce communications.

Born of immigrant parents on a chicken farm in northern New Jersey, Dick showed an early interest in the nature of how things work.  Through his Elmer, Paul Wunsch, W2LLT, Dick got his ham license at the age of 14 in 1939.  By the time he was drafted into the Army in 1950, Dick had already acquired DXCC, his First Class Commercial Radiotelephone license, and his Second Class Radiotelegraph license.  Because of his CW and radio skills, Dick spent his two-year stint in the Army at Fort Monmouth where he became a familiar figure at K2USA.  After the Army, he went to college under the GI Bill, got his engineering degree, and landed a job in radio research at Bell Laboratories.

I first met Dick in the early 1960s at Bell Labs where he described balun designs using ferrite cores to achieve unbelievable efficiencies.  Dick worked with Clyde Ruthroff, who had written a classic paper in 1959 on baluns using ferrite cores.  I was particularly impressed by how Dick took the theoretical work from Ruthroff and applied it in a very practical manner for amateur radio use.  This unique and impressive talent of Dick’s continued to amaze me throughout the many years I knew him.  Dick’s work on baluns was published in QST in August, 1964, with a follow-up article in April, 1969.  Incidentally, the balun work started by Dick and further refined by Jerry Sevick, W2FMI, has become widely used by most amateurs today.

As mentioned earlier, Dick was a crack CW operator and had his 35 WPM Code Proficiency certificate in 1949.  I watched him copy QSOs at 50 or 60 WPM in his head while conversing with me.  He was always interested in finding ways of sending more comfortable at these high speeds.  One of Dick’s popular early projects was the design of an electronic “bug” using vacuum tubes which he called the “Tur-Key” and described in his December, 1952 article in QST.  This project was followed up by a “miniature” version (almost the size of present transceivers) in his September, 1954 article in QST.  By the late 1960s, amateurs had pushed up the speeds of electronic keyers by making them iambic or squeeze keyers but which were still basically operated by two fingers.  Dick felt (correctly) that higher speeds could be obtained by using all five fingers to create the various dot-dash combinations.  Using only primitive logic electronics available at the time, Dick invented a five finger keyer which he described in QST for April, 1971.  With this keyer amateurs were able to exceed keying speeds of 50 WPM.  Dick received a patent for this keyer as well as receiving the QST Cover Plaque Award for the article (see January 1972 QST, page 84).  Interest in the keyer was high for a number of years until the personal computer became commonplace and could generate high speed CW from keyboard operation.

It was in the area of amateur radio moonbounce that Dick really contributed to the amateur radio art.  After early experiments at 144 and 432 MHz, Dick saw that with 1960s technology, the most practical band for reliable and consistent moonbounce communication was the 1296 MHz amateur band.  This would optimize the tradeoffs of antenna size, available means of generating high power, and low noise receiver designs.  With a goal of getting several stations on 1296 throughout the world, Dick started in earnest to develop the necessary practical techniques that other amateurs could follow.  A series of papers were written by Dick called the “Crawford Hill Notes” which detailed all of the considerations in assembling a 1296 MHz moonbounce station.  These notes gave practical, how-to information on building antennas and feeds, generating high power at 1296 MHz, building low-noise receivers, obtaining stable and accurate frequency sources, etc.  These papers were widely distributed around the world and many amateurs built stations following these guidelines.

Dick gave talks to most of the local radio clubs about moonbounce and his infectious enthusiasm spread to others including myself.  I joined the Crawford Hill group to help get a 1296 moonbounce station on the air.  In these memorable years, Dick taught me many practical tips on building UHF equipment that were not in the textbooks.  I look back on him as my second “Elmer.”  Thanks to Dick’s tireless energy and enthusiasm, we did get W2NFA on the air and made contact with stations throughout the world.  Particularly memorable are the distance record on 1296 with VK3ATN in Australia and the first reception of single sideband voice on 1296 from PA0SSB in the Netherlands.

Dick was also an early environmentalist and never gave up on his conviction that electricity could be generated without pollution.  In the 1970s he explored ways of economically generating electricity from the wind and the sun.  Strange contraptions appeared on his house from time to time but as far as I know, none could survive a severe storm.

Dick married a ham, Noranne Stine, K2OJO, whose mother, Kay, was also a ham (K2UKQ).  Dick met Noranne when he went over to Kay’s house to fix her amateur radio station.  They were married in 1959 and had three children.  Unfortunately, Noranne died of cancer in 1978 while the children were still quite young so Dick had the added responsibility of keeping the family together and, like all of his other endeavors, he did an outstanding job.  Dick retired from Bell Labs in 1984 but continued to act as a consultant to many of us.  Whenever I ran across a particularly vexing technical problem, I would call Dick and solicit his opinion.  Not only did he give me insight and direction as to how to solve the problem, it wasn’t unusual to have him call me a day or two later with further thoughts and deeper reflection.  Others who knew him have also commented on how much effort Dick would put in to solve their problems.

Like most good CW operators, Dick loved music, particularly Bluegrass.  He played the piano, trombone, guitar, and banjo.

Dick Turrin, W2IMU, will be sorely missed by his many friends around the world.  Although he is now a silent key, I envision him in heaven playing beautiful music on a five finger keyer.  May you rest in peace, Dick; didididahdidah!


Bob Buus, W2OD