John Marshall Etter
RCA Engineer, Radio Historian and LIRTVHS Board Member
Marshall was born in Bar Harbor, Maine on July 31, 1915. He was active as amateur radio operator since high school as W1HDE. He graduated from University of Maine with a degree in Engineering. Unable to find employment in the engineering field during the depression era, he took a job as a radio operator at the RCA Communications receiving station at Riverhead, Long Island around 1937 – the only company he ever worked for. He was soon promoted to station design engineer and instrumental in the great expansion of RCA’s HF radio communication service.
At the outset of WWII, most of the operators were called up for military service and Marshall had to train women, employed for the first time as replacements at the station. Soon thereafter he was transferred to the RCA headquarters office in NYC for technical support of the stations. One of his main tasks was to design and equip “STATION X”, a mobile HF and LF radio comm. center which followed the US Army fighting units, first in North Africa then at the Italian front. He remained at RCA NYC for the entire length of the war, but hated to live in the big city.
As soon as the war assignment was over he transferred back to Riverhead and was promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer. Immediately he married Natalie, one of the telegraph operators he trained but who now was relieved from work at the station. In quick succession, they had six children.
I was hired by RCA as Design Engineer in the Equipment and Systems section on April 1, 1957. After a short introduction at the headquarters, I was sent to Riverhead for learning about all the equipment. It was the era of introducing SSB to HF telegraph and TELEX service. Marshall was my guide as I spent two weeks at the station. He knew every piece and component at the station. He was most patient and kind to me and it was the start of a long friendship which lasted until his death.
We did lots of projects together, as RD became my laboratory for all the new equipment I designed. Marshall was a perfectionist and never let me skip over any details. These were the years of major technical advancements using semiconductors instead of vacuum tube technology.
Eventually Marshall became Chief Engineer at Riverhead and later of the Rocky Point NY transmitting station as well, during the last few years of commercial HF radio on Long Island. He oversaw the decommissioning of both stations around 1979.
We remained in close technical and personal contact after I left RCA to become chief engineer of Tele-Signal Corp. on Long island. I convinced him to renew his amateur license and he built a great station at his home in East Quogue with his new call W2LXK. Later he applied for and got his call letters W2ER (His code on the station intercom was ER)
I introduced Marshall to the Order of Boiled Owls – a prestigious ham radio club, where he served for many years as an officer and contributed greatly to our success. He was not only a technically most proficient amateur, but a great CW (Morse Code) operator. We did win many club competitions and travelled to foreign countries to operate in places where there were no local operators.
We lost Marshall on October 1, 2006 and we all consider ourselves lucky to have known such a great individual.
– By Andy Bodony, August 2017