Senior Lifestyles

Retired engineer is a real 'ham'

Franklyn Weiss demonstrates one of his portable ham radios at Moldaw Residences last weekend. He said it’s been “a great hobby for the past 20 years,” allowing him to connect with people both locally and around the world.

Since retiring in 2001, former Mountain View resident Franklyn C. Weiss has given back to the community in several ways through his expertise in ham radio. He’s volunteered at El Camino Hospital and with the Mountain View Police and Fire departments, making sure the emergency radios remained operable.

Now living at the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto with his wife, Harriet, the retired electrical engineer and patent attorney has been an amateur radio aficionado since his college days.

While Weiss was exploring his passion outside of college, he found himself among a community of ham radio enthusiasts. Different from radios with predetermined channels, ham radios are programmable and can transmit messages all over the world and even space.

Well before the internet age, the ham radio hobby was a way for people to communicate with others near and far.

Weiss, now 81, recalled that the first contact he made with his first radio was with a person in Argentina.

“It’s called ‘ragchew’ – we were just talking just like what we talk here,” he said. “Most of the time, it was technical: ‘What kind of radio do you have?’ ‘What kind of antenna do you have on your roof?’ ‘How long did you have (the radio)?’”

His radio call sign underwent three changes before he settled on Kilo-6-Foxtrot-Charlie-Whiskey, which not only spelled out his initials, but also landed him a spot in the local amateur radio community.

Nearly 20 years ago, after he retired, he discovered a notice in the Town Crier about two clubs, the Palo Alto Amateur Radio Association and the Foothills Amateur Radio Society, one of which offered classes for people who wanted to take the Federal Communications Commission license test.

“I hadn’t done that in 30 years, so I took it and passed it, and two or four years later, I took the advanced course and got the highest license,” Weiss said of advancing his skills.

Serving during emergencies

After obtaining his license, Weiss participated in monthly emergency drills at El Camino Hospital alongside the staff and other volunteers to make sure the hospital’s ham radios worked. For years, few people appreciated the need for ham radios in the emergency field until a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurred, Weiss said.

“It’s exciting, but you don’t want to participate if you don’t have to because you don’t want emergencies to happen, but you have to be ready,” he said.

His passion for community service did not end when he moved to Moldaw Residences last year – he joined the senior community’s Residence Advisory Committee.

“I am interested to give back to make sure that, at least, I feel like I am contributing to the world,” he said. “I like to be involved and I like to help people because there are people there who don’t want to or are sick and can’t or they are just not interested.”

Weiss became interested in working with his hands at a young age. Inspired by an article in Boys’ Life magazine, a young Weiss built a transistor radio with a coil, capacitor and Quaker Oats box.

“I used to like to take things apart,” he said with a chuckle, “and, sometimes then I couldn’t get them back together. It really annoyed my mother and father.”

Spurred by a keen interest in machine parts, Weiss studied electrical engineering at Penn State University and graduated in 1961. After college, he took a job as an engineer and modified light cruisers with Vitro in Silver Spring, Md.

A few months into the job, he met a colleague in a neighboring cubicle who graduated with an engineering degree a year earlier than he did but was on track to attend law school.

“We were in Washington, D.C., and NASA was going to award $16 trillion … in contracts,” Weiss recalled. “And with a law degree and engineering degree, we could get to contract (with) the administration.”

He immediately applied to law school at The Catholic University of America in D.C., taking classes at night and graduating in four years.

It never occurred to Weiss that a person who enjoys working with his hands would want to practice law.

Having both an engineering and law background became an asset to his field of work, and he owes his experience to the colleague who inspired him to pursue law.

“Most of the engineers don’t know the legals, and the legal guys don’t know anything about the contract,” he said. “But I will be the only guy in the room who can understand both sides.”

Weiss decided to postpone contract administration to become a patent examiner after he learned he could become one during law school.

“It was a great combination (and) marriage of both of my college careers: engineering and law. It’s just super,” he said.

After graduating from law school in 1965, Weiss married Harriet and took a job at Xerox Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., transferring to California in 1972. He later worked for Apple Inc. and then LSI Logic Corp. as a patent attorney until he retired in 2001.

“I was very lucky because certain things happened at certain times,” he said, indicating how the people he met during his life helped shape his path.

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