COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - For the Depression-era farm boy fascinated with science, research was relegated to pondering the occasional lightning strike or puddles dappled with tractor oil.

Yet Paul Herman vowed to climb from his Pennsylvania roots to answer life's nagging questions.

"I found things interesting that, it seemed to me, the other kids didn't pay attention to," he recalled. "I imagined that I might be different from other kids."

The towering radio antenna outside his Clintonville home today is evidence that the 92-year-old still is different, and still is searching the airwaves for information.

He's one of about 703,000 ham-radio operators nationwide, according to the Connecticut-based National Association for Amateur Radio. "There are more operators in the country than ever before," said association spokesman Allen Pitts. "And it is growing."

Those aren't Facebook numbers, but they're evidence that one of the oldest forms of electronic communication isn't ready to die just yet.

Herman's entree to radio was mastering Morse code at age 17. It was a skill needed on cargo ships ferrying goods across the Atlantic Ocean. By the end of 1937, he had his amateur radio license and a job in the U.S. Merchant Marine, then an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy.

He was assigned to trans-Atlantic trips aboard a 50-foot tugboat - a seaworthy but nausea-inducing vessel in the open sea.

"I soon realized why no knowledgeable (radio) operators would take a job on a seagoing tug," Herman recalled.

Lt. Herman eventually took a job in Puerto Rico, supervising other radio operators and building his own shortwave radio with discarded parts.

Following the war, Herman moved to Clintonville, where he married and became a television repairman, a career spanning almost three decades. By middle age, he could have retired comfortably.

"We almost did. We considered moving to New Mexico," Herman said. "But we decided that Columbus was the happier place to live."

Here, prodded by his wife, Vera, he enrolled at Ohio State University, earning an electrical-engineering degree in 1982.


Herman would design and build COSI's original pendulum, create electronic music, earn a pilot's license and teach himself to play tuba just to join a friend's band: Harry Epp and the Muskat Ramblers.

But the man with varied interests couldn't shake the shortwave radio bug. His crowning achievement arrived eight years ago in six UPS cartons.

The shipment contained a 55-foot retractable antenna and ham-radio system that today dominates his Delhi Avenue home. The living room is the "radio shack," filled with computers, receivers, amplifiers and speakers.

Herman's system "detects the little guy putting out even 5 watts in Patagonia," Pitts said. "There's nothing between them but air - it's magical."

Operators in their late teens and early 20s, along with those in their 50s and 60s, are the fastest-growing segment of users, Pitts said. Many detest monthly bills or distrust cellphone reliability during emergencies. And the FCC dropped the Morse Code requirement needed for a license a few years ago.

Herman communicates with a core of about 50 like-minded enthusiasts on the East Coast.

"We talk a lot about equipment," he said. "We had an extended discussion about the quantity of pi. But a lot of our conversation is about good food and brands of beer."

Mrs. Herman, 89, a retired assistant professor of geography, doesn't mind.

"No, I just go along with whatever he does," she said. "I always admired his ability to solve problems and to think."


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,