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Carl J. Verderber: Man on a Mission

BARRYTOWN, NY – Lebron James made a promise and commitment to the people of Cleveland to bring them their first sports championship in 52 years. He succeeded.  The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, 2016 on June 19, 4 games to 3, after being down 3 games to 1 to the Golden State Warriors.

Carl J. Verderber, Maintenance Supervisor and all-around handyman at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS), Barrytown since 2000 following a 30-year career at IBM in Kingston, NY, has made a similar promise and commitment. He vows that someday the city of Hudson, NY will honor one of its most accomplished native sons by holding the “Earl Hermance Day,” an event Carl believes is long overdue.

To help move the idea along and to honor Hermance, the Rip Van Winkle Amateur Radio Society (RVWARS) held a 24-hour event on June 25-26 from 2 p.m. Saturday until 2 p.m. Sunday at Claverack Town Park in Mellenville, NY, highlighted by a test for those interested in getting an operator’s license, and a contest to see who could contact the most stations.

The event was also used as a “mobilization exercise,” to gauge the operator’s readiness in case of an emergency, much as a fire station does when it runs a “fire drill” to test its preparedness in the event of an emergency.

During a real emergency, such as what occurred on September 11, 2001 when cellphones were rendered useless because the transmitting towers were overloaded, a radio operator, using his own generator or solar power, can still communicate with other operators. This group is known as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and is an invaluable asset to any community.

“It’s a contest to make contact with as many stations as possible in preparing for a disaster and emergency activity,” explained Carl. “And it’s also a way of giving something back to the community.”

Carl’s introduction into the world of amateur radio, or “ham” radio as it is commonly called, started in the late 1960’s when he got his first CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, changing his life forever.

“I was a CBer,” said Carl. “It was chaos and it was fun. I met so many strange and wonderful people. I was an electronic technician for IBM at the time. I started working at IBM in 1963 as a 17-year-old right out of high school as a field representative, repairing equipment.”

When the CB craze started to subside, Carl looked elsewhere for fun and adventure… and a few more “strange and wonderful people.”

“It was just a natural extension to go to amateur radio,” said Carl. “In 1970, I took the (radio operator’s) test and passed, and over the years I became a ‘extra-class’ amateur operator, which gives me all the privileges existing in the amateur radio field.”

Along the way, Carl became aware of a group called the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). Carl became a member of ARRL in 1970, but it was the 100TH Anniversary of the ARRL in 2014 that caused him to look into the earliest licensed amateurs in the Hudson, NY area. During his research he kept coming across the name “Earl Hermance.”

Hermance, a lifelong resident of Hudson, was one of the first in the country to receive his amateur radio operator’s license in 1913. The call to license and regulate “wireless” radio activity came about following the sinking of the Titanic earlier that same year.

Early radios were very primitive, sending out electric “sparks” into the air which were then picked up by large antennas. The distance the spark traveled was extremely short, but the amount of noise and static – called QRM – was extremely loud, clogging the airways and preventing distress or any other signals to get through.

To remedy this, the U.S. passed the Radio Act in August, 1912, which required anyone interested in operating an amateur radio to pass a test and follow the rules and regulations set down in the bill.  On its 50th anniversary, in 1962, Hermance was one of 70 people nationwide to be feted in New York City as the first people to hold an amateur operator’s license.

Earl’s story doesn’t end there, however. He was also an accomplished pianist, band leader and composer. During the “silent movie” era films relied on either a pianist or an organist to accompany the film, adding excitement and tension to the story. Earl, from 1914-18, became the pianist at both of the movie theaters in Hudson at the time.

His list of accomplishments as both a performer and orchestra leader are too numerous to list, including his performance with the Columbia County Philharmonic Orchestra as a pianist following World War I.

Another of his achievements was as one of the first performers nationwide to play on the radio, or what would later become “commercial” radio. WGY in Schenectady went on the air in February of 1922, with Earl on piano accompanying a vocalist in a one hour show, making both Earl and WGY one of the first in the nation to broadcast a live show on radio. Two months later, in April, Earl and his orchestra were back on the air at WGY for another one hour show.

So, this past April, in what he hopes will be a precursor to an even greater honor, Carl gave a talk at the new Hudson Library on Earl and his accomplishments as both an early amateur radio pioneer, as well as one of the earliest musicians and orchestra leaders to appear on a radio broadcast.

“So, performing art, radio art, here’s Earl again,” said Carl, “doing things that were brand new. And so, the guy is my hero.”

UTS alumni who have come to know Carl through the years, may never have known about his passion for radio and the memory of his hero, Hermance. It reminds us that there is always more to people than what you see.

Thank you Carl for your years of diligent service at UTS Barrytown and the thoroughness you demonstrate in all that you do.

It took Lebron James two years to fulfill his promise, Carl still has time on his side and the energy to fulfill his promise and commitment to bring home the “Earl Hermance Day.”