Lifetime of Radio Memories

For Everett Sunderland, Classical High School’s motto — Certare, Petere, Reperire, Neque Cedere-might have carried greater significance than merely a Latin phrase lifted from Tennyson Ulysses.

To Strive, to Seek, to Find, and Not to Yield could have been watchwords for a professional life in public service that began for the Rhode Island teenager just four months before graduation in 1932.

Sunderland, at the time licensed as W1GSB, left Classical to join the U.S. Navy — leaving his diploma behind, but, perhaps unwittingly, carrying the words from Ulysses close to his heart.

After getting extensive training in communications and intelligence from the Navy, he would go on to become a chief warrant officer with responsibilities that called on him to report directly to Washington D.C., and working with other agencies, including the FBI.

It was common for teens in the early 1930s to short circuit their public school education to opt for more specialized training through the armed forces. After his military service, Sunderland would embark on a 30-plus-year career with the Federal Communications Commission as an engineer assigned to its office at the top of the historic Custom House in Boston.

Looking back on a life as a communications specialist with the Navy, FCC, and more than 80 years as a radio amateur, Sunderland had pangs of regret in never getting his high school diploma at Classical High. Time was fleeting. Now licensed as W1LX, Sunderland will be 97 on December 27.

His daughter-in-law, Classical High School teacher Mimi Morimura-Sunde, approached Principal Scott Barr earlier this year and arrangements were made for W1LX to walk with the graduating class of 2012. It was a thrill for Sunderland, and the fulfillment of an 80-year-long dream.

There was no doubt he had the life experience and professional credentials to qualify as a Classical High graduate. Hundreds of radio amateurs took their FCC written and Morse code exams in the FCC office atop the Custom House under his watchful eye.

Sunderland had become a radio amateur at a very young age —setting the table for his Navy and FCC experience. At 14, Sunderland remembers Admiral (Richard) Byrd, when he was on an expedition to the South Pole,”W1LX said. In Morse code, Byrd was telling me how much trouble he was having breathing —even indoors in those cold Antarctic conditions. I guess you couldn exactly open up a window to get some fresh air,” Sunderland said.

W1LX recalled in his teens using a homebrew transmitter with a 210 triode tube in its final. Until 2010, Sunderland had built most of amateur radio gear —dating to his teen years. He fondly recalls having antenna that stretched from my house, across the street and into a tree in the neighboryard. Although it was very long, I never got in trouble for stretching across the street.”

W1LXdaughter, Dr. Barbara Sunderland-Manousso, recalls her father across the sea”with the Navy, and out of Morocco, Africa and Pacific arenas.”

In his 30+ years with the FCC, Sunderland not only traveled to the Commission Boston office from Rhode Island by train for work each day, but traversed New England inspecting radio and television stations and ships. I remember, it was a small office, but a very busy one,” Everett Sunderland said. He was sent on detective missions, as well, tracking down unauthorized signals.

Although not identified by name, Sunderland made the front page of the New York Times on July 20, 1961.

It seems that before getting proper FCC authorization to operate a radio station, a quartet of Connecticut teenagers was running an unlicensed AM station in 1960 in the Westport area. In his role as an FCC enforcer, Sunderland dutifully knocked on their door, informing the young men they were breaking the law. Even in delivering the bad news, the teens recalled Sunderland as a nice man who appreciated a good radio station —legal or not.

A year later, the Times reported on how the teens had gone from being radio pirates to legitimate broadcasters, citing FCC”—in this case, Everett Sunderland —as the catalyst for getting the boys on the straight and narrow.

Now living in an assisted living facility, W1LX has had to leave his homebrew gear behind, but is hoping to be on the amateur bands from his new home. His passion for radio is as deep today as it was when Sunderland was just a teen.

It is very special, ”Barbara said on her father high school graduation day. fulfillment of a dream and a nod to the importance of never giving up and always finishing what you begin.”

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