By Clark Fair
In 1964, when amateur Ham radio operator Zilla Maile wanted a new, state-of-the-art radio, she knew the man to contact: Al Hershberger, owner of Hershberger’s Radio and TV store in Soldotna.
What Maile didn’t know was the important role that synchronicity and her new radio would play during one of the most memorable events in Alaska history.
Maile owned and operated The Yarn Shop, a storefront that had been built onto her home just across the playground from Soldotna Elementary School. (Her home, which she shared with her husband, Justin, and their son, Larry, also partly consisted of Soldotna’s original post office.) In one section of the house were three small rooms — Larry’s bedroom, a guest room and Zilla’s radio room.
Larry called his mother “sort of a hobbyist” in the radio world. “When we were kids, she used to spend evenings in her radio room talking to people across the country,” he said. “She also made contacts in Europe, but usually those only worked given specific weather conditions that allowed the signal to skip.”
In Zilla’s radio room was a 2-meter Heathkit used strictly for local communication, and an older radio that could communicate only through Morse code and was used when Maile had her Novice Class license. After she moved to the Advanced Class license, she desired a more sophisticated radio — thus the visit to Hershberger, a licensed dealer for Hallicrafters electronics.
One of the best Ham radios commercially available at that time was the Hallicrafters SR-150 Ham transceiver, a radio combining a transmitter and a receiver in a single unit. Maile put in an order with Hershberger and waited for her new radio to arrive.