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Wallace 'Radio Ranch' Talked to World : Death Silences Ham Radio Legend

June 02, 1985|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

RANCHO PALOS VERDES — The Wallace Ranch on Highridge Road will continue to sprout its extraordinary crop--towering radio antennas with access to the entire world--even though the man who made the whole thing run is gone.

"This station will stay intact for at least a year," said William Wallace, sipping coffee last week in a kitchen a few feet away from an enormous array of radio equipment, files, memorabilia and overhead wires that run every which way.

For 40 years, the hilltop "radio ranch" was a window on the world for Wallace's father, Don C. Wallace, who talked to hundreds of thousands of amateur radio buffs over the years from W6AM, his ham radio station. Wallace, who was 12 when he built his first radio, died a week ago at age 86 after suffering a stroke while playing cards at the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, where he lived.

The legacy of W6AM will be carried on by Jan Perkins, a Cerritos aerospace engineer Wallace chose to take over the station before his death. "He will answer the letters that come in from all over the world and will keep talking to people," said William Wallace, himself a ham but, by his admission, less fervent than his father.

"There are 2 million ham operators in the world and dad knew a million of them," boasted Wallace, who runs the Santa Fe Springs electronics sales business his father founded in 1926. "He really was the great communicator."

The 25-acre ranch will continue to be a gathering place for hams who want to swap stories, talk about equipment and compete to see who can contact the largest number of hams around the world in a set amount of time.

An annual open house attracts hundreds, who "bring beer, Cokes, coffee and doughnuts and come up to talk and run the radio," Wallace said. He said the gathering was started because so many people called and wrote letters saying they wanted to come to the ranch.

Neighboring homeowners who have no interest in ham radio nonetheless find the unfenced ranch attractive, using it for jogging and bird watching. Hawks like to rest in the antennas.

Wallace said a memorial at the ranch for his father last week drew about 300 people, including some who flew in from other cities. "They talked about dad and they got on the radio and contacted people all over the world to tell them about dad's death," he said.

In about a year, the family will decide what to do with the property, which builders have been coveting as developments have crept to its borders. It probably will be sold or developed, Wallace said.

The biggest enterprise on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was farming when Press Wireless, an overseas radio communications company, bought 100 acres in the 1920s and set up a receiving station. The gently sloping hilltop, without a house in sight, was considered ideal for the station because of its 1,200-foot elevation.

Don C. Wallace helped the company choose the site and in 1945 bought the property from Press, along with an additional 20 acres. It already was dominated by the company's commercial transmission poles, but Wallace brought in a large crane and reset all of them. "At one time," said his son, "there were 45 miles of wire in the air."

In 1965, prompted by a property tax bill of $37,000, Wallace sold 95 acres to home builder Ray Watt.

A tornado once tore across the ranch, destroying many of the antennas. Until about five years ago, the senior Wallace climbed the 75-foot to 140-foot towers to do maintenance.

During the Press Wireless days, the ranch had one stark building without even a tree for a neighbor. In transforming it into a combination radio station and living quarters, which he sometimes used, the senior Wallace added a shake roof and an overhanging porch, giving it the look of a California rancho adobe that has been enhanced with landscaping and a circular driveway.

Used for Farming

Though the rest of the acreage is dominated by the towering antennas, with wires feeding from a large wooden frame at the rear of the ranch house, crops also have been raised over the years.

Garbanzo beans were the mainstay once, and tomatoes were attempted one year without success. For a long time, hay has been grown and bales still lie here and there in the fields.

But William Wallace said his father's passion for ham radio, and for having the best transmission facilities and equipment, was the only real purpose for the ranch.

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