Don C. Wallace, a pioneer in radio communications and dean of the country's long-distance amateur radio operators, died Saturday in Long Beach after suffering a stroke. He was 86.
From his "antenna ranch" atop a ridge on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Wallace had been in touch with more people in more countries than any other ham operator in the world since 1955, colleagues said Sunday.
"He was the No. 1 man, No. 1 in the world," said Lloyd Colvin of Richmond, Calif., a director of YASME, a worldwide ham organization. "We have nearly two million people in the world who have amateur radio as a hobby, and I'd say a very high percentage either knew of Don or had talked with him over the years."
A licensed radio operator by 1912, Wallace was chief radio operator for President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles peace conference after World War I. In 1923, he received a silver cup from then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover for operating "the best all-around radio station" in the country.
Over the years, Wallace, a Long Beach resident since 1906, became famous for his designs and experimentation in amateur radio stations, Colvin said. In 1945 he bought the old Press Wireless communications facility at Palos Verdes.
From there, he became perennial champion "collector of countries"--reaching 365 places classified as nations by the American Radio Relay League by 1980. His overseas contacts and those of others competing for top honors were verified by the League.
"It's like being a world champion golfer for 25 years or the world's top runner for that long," he said in a 1980 interview. The antennas, whose designs he was constantly improving, were the key to his success, he said.
His 24-acre ranch is dotted with poles, 75 to 140 feet high and strung with 1,000-foot-long lateral antennas. Despite his age, Wallace climbed the towers to do maintenance until about five years ago, said his son, William Wallace of Long Beach. Also surviving are a son, Don C. Jr. of Long Beach and a daughter, Betty Jean Green of Alexander Valley, Calif.
"His forte was maintaining the best amateur radio station possible," said William Wallace. "The building here is 100 feet long and it's just full of equipment. And he has a full setup in his car. He could talk around the world from his car."
Wallace spent Friday morning at his radio, his son said, and was stricken that afternoon at his regular card game at the Virginia Country Club.
On a typical day, Wallace, who is better known internationally by his W6AM call sign, would contact such far-flung locations as Antarctica, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union. But he would never talk politics or religion, he once said. "Amateur radio operators have a code of ethics," he explained.