Amateur radio vet turns 100
On Sept. 19, amateur radio enthusiast Harry Mills celebrated his 100th birthday. Mills has been involved with radio, both amateur and professional, since 1921.
Mills was born in Beaver, Pa., in 1907, and became interested in amateur radio during his high-school years. His school’s science curriculum included an electronics class, which piqued his interest and later led to a career in radio communications. After selling magazines to earn money for college, he attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., for two years and spent one year at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., according to a Radio Club of America biography.
In 1922, Mills received his ham radio operator’s license and was issued the call sign 8VHX — long before the FCC was formed and when communications were regulated under the Department of Commerce.
“It’s been a total revolution compared to when I was first introduced to [amateur radio,]” Mills said. “Everything is vastly different. Systems are much more complicated, but they also do a great deal more. In 1922, I was able to talk across town. Now I can talk all over the world. That’s a big difference.”
Since then, he owned a radio equipment sales and repair shop, the Mills Radio Co., and later joined the ranks at RCA, where he was assigned to the U.S. Navy to install submarine radar and to the U.S. Army to teach NATO countries how to use U.S.-supplied radio communications equipment, among other tasks.
“I found ham radio very useful during World War II because only a few of us were allowed on the air; most of us were put off the air,” Mills said. “We talked to the Army and Navy radio stations, and we were able to apprehend and explain the arrival of the German people on our [U.S.] coast. Several German groups came to Long Island and the cities to cause damage. Amateur radio operators still on air were able to help the authorities when these things happened.”
After retiring from a 30-year career at RCA, Mills founded Chapter 76, Blue Ridge, of the Quarter Century Wireless Association in 1974 and served as its first and later its 25th president.
Mills hopes more high-school students will follow in his footsteps and learn about amateur radio.
“Ham radio is the basic form of electronics, and if you can get a youngster interested in communicating with friends or other people, you start them on an electronics career,” he said. “That’s how people frequently get started in the engineering business. They work in electronics and then become engineers.”