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Harry L. Helms 1952-2009

I got word the other day that Harry L. Helms W5HLH had died this past Sunday. Harry was a friend for over 20 years, and we met regularly at trade shows including the Borland conferences and ABA/BEA, just to touch base and trade ideas. He and I had a lot in common: We were both longtime hams, we both liked classic radio gear, shortwave listening, and publishing. (We were also within a few weeks of the same age.) He was the co-founder of HighText Publishing in Solana Beach, California, and the author of a lot of books worth reading, including Shortwave Listening Guidebook (1993), How to Tune the Secret Shortwave Spectrum (1981), Top Secret Tourism (2007) and Inside the Shadow Government (2003), which may be the scariest book I’ve ever read. He published Andrew Yoder’s Pirate Radio (1996) which is best-of-breed on the history of that insane little cross-current in the mostly placid waters of the radio broadcasting industry.

His passing was nothing out of the blue: He had blogged about his struggle with cancer for several years, and displayed a species of courage in the face of imminent death that I hope I can summon when my own time comes. His last months were spent in his home town in South Carolina, with his wife and family, and his dogs and cats all around him, and if we all have to make that final leap into the unknown, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better way to do it.

Harry had a healthy scientific mind, and while not religious, he told me he was open to the possibility that death is not the end of all things. He enjoyed uncovering the hidden and the secretive and the overlooked (see Top Secret Tourism for a travel guide to all the places the government would just as soon nobody knew about) and I have an intuition that he was looking forward to seeing “what was out there.” In one of our last exchanges some months ago, I made an outrageous suggestion, about which I won’t say more unless something remarkable happens.

We’ve got his books, and for the time being, that’s remarkable enough for me. W5HLH DE K7JPD / TNKS GUD LK ES 73 SK.


  1. Rich Dailey, N8UX says:

    I have just finished reading several posts on his blog. A summing up, a series of poignant reflections from a man I did not know. But I feel as if I could have known him, and I feel we would have had several things in common worth talking about. Old QSLs, a love for reading and writing, and radio, of course. Forest Mims! I bought his Engineers Notebook at a Radio Shack in Akron around 1981. And I think I even had a book on Basic by a Harry Helms, but not sure if it was the one and the same.

    Can’t say that I’ve been to many ghost towns, but Cindy and I have a fondness for photographing old farm houses and other neglected rural structures and farm implements from bygone days here in Ky. We would have talked about that.

    There would have been the thanks given to Amateur Radio as a springboard to just about everything we did in our professional lives. I found this from the QST report of his SK –

    And I think we could have shared a common curiosity for the unknown. And I like to think he is now experiencing the happy surprise of what he now knows. Until we meet, Mr Helms.

    73 es zut tu de N8UX

  2. My condolences on the loss of your friend, Jeff.


  3. ARRL says:

    The ARRL has the callsigh as W5HLH.

    1. Yup. You’re right on this one. Harry did hold the call W7HLH while he lived in Las Vegas, but I had forgotten that he changed it back to W5HLH (which he had held for years prior) when he moved home to South Carolina. I’ll change it in the post.

  4. Klaus says:

    Even the nearby university library has a copy of a Harry L. Helms book (Electronic circuits cookbook), and strangely enough two libraries have a Russian translation of the book “Computer language reference guide”.

    -Klaus (Germany)

  5. Jeff Woodruff says:

    I grew up with Harry in SC. When I was a sophomore in high school and Harry was a junior he took me and another classmate of ours to Charlotte to a concert. It was May of 1969. The opening band was known then as the Chicago Transit Authority latter shortened to Chicago. The main attraction was Jimi Hendrix. This remains one of my fondest memories in life. I can’t remember to much about the concert but I do remember how pissed off my father was when I got home at about 2:00 in morning on a school day. Harry was a great guy. I will always have fond memories of him.

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