Former FAA air traffic controller, New Mexico State Police dispatcher and Roswell native Tommy Dow began his amateur radio hobby at age 15 and now operates with the highest class of license available. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
As a teen in Roswell, Tommy Dow was gung-ho for electronics. His father would ask him about the gadgets he would build to use as radios.
Dow smiled as he talked about the days when he first started learning code as a young amateur radio fan.
“We built our own radios back in those days,” Dow said. “I learned what not to touch. It was just a challenge that you built things. You started out small and worked up. Today, you go buy it.”
After studying and learning the code diligently, Dow’s parents drove him to Los Angeles to take his test to become licensed as a ham radio operator when he turned 15. The sight of the courthouse itself was intimidating, he said.
“I was scared to death before I even got to take my test,” he said.
Dow continued his quest to learn everything he could about amateur radio. He now holds the highest license available, authorizing him to have access to all frequencies and bands available.
“I’ve always had an interest in electronics,” Dow said.
Dow has also passed down his interest to his oldest daughter, a math teacher at New Mexico Military Institute. He gave her a teaching manual one Thanksgiving. By Christmas, his friend administered to her a code test and she passed with a perfect score, he said.
She returned at Christmas and “she aced that!” he said.
“She’s done it all on her own,” Dow said. “She just kept going. She and I took our extra class together. She didn’t miss any and I missed one. I’m really proud of her.”
Dow also has two other daughters, the second youngest is also a teacher.
At 74, Dow has many accomplishments of his own to mention.
He remembers his first emergency situation in 1954, when he was first operating a radio in Roswell. The Spring River had flooded after rain poured for three days. One house washed off its foundation and hung up on the 8th Street bridge after the house next to it also slipped off its footing.
“They had kids out on Six Mile Hill. I was on the reservoir,” he said. “We reported back and it got to the police department. We stood out there with the National Guard communicating for them. That was one of the local emergencies.”
Dow’s career has followed the path of emergency and radio communications. After school, he went to work drawing maps for geological surveys. He then started working for the Federal Aviation Administration in Albuquerque for the next four years.
Dow transferred back to Roswell to work at the old airport site on College Boulevard, next to Cielo Grande Recreation Area, as a pilot weather briefer for five years.
In 1968, when Walker Air Force Base closed, Dow was transferred to the old military tower at the airport and later became an air traffic controller until 1981.
“I loved controlling airplanes,” Dow said.
His passion for airplanes started much younger, though.
“I’ve been a pilot since I was 15 years old,” he said. “I got my private license at 17 and my commercial later on. I used to fly wherever.”
Dow owned his own airplane for a while. He later became commander of the local Civil Air Patrol for some five years. He also flew search and rescue missions and earned some 5,000 hours of flying time.
Dow recalled working as a gas boy at the airport at 17 and always checking out “everything we had there,” he said.
“I’ve been in aviation and the radio field for quite a while,” he said.
After spending four years in microwave communications towers for four years, he then went to work for the New Mexico State Police as an emergency radio dispatcher in 1985. He spent one year as a dispatcher and then became a supervisor until he retired in 2001.
Dow has never stopped enjoying his first hobby. As an active member of the Pecos Valley Amateur Radio Club, Dow participates in club events, has a mobile ham radio in his vehicle, one unit at home and writes a newsletter.
He instructs new people in radio classes and helps them operate under his license at the club office.
“It’s been a good life,” he said.