In Memory of Steve Finberg

Steve Finberg at Swapfest on April 15, 2007. Photographed by Andy Ihnatko (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Steve Finberg, W1GSL, on the evening of April 23, 2021.

Steve touched many lives, both at MIT and within the wider community of amateur radio. He was a cherished member of the MIT Radio Society and MIT UHF Repeater Association since his time as a student in the 1970s, mentoring younger hams and helping on projects through all of those years. He served as trustee for W1XM for over 2 decades and also several officer roles.

In the 1980s, he helped found Swapfest, the ham radio and electronics flea market jointly sponsored by the MIT Radio Society, MIT UHF Repeater Association, MITERS, and the Harvard Wireless Club. Ever since, Steve, with his trademark straw hat and red shirt, continued to be a staple of the event, growing it into New England’s premier flea market for all things high-tech and attracting buyers and sellers from across the northeast.

Steve was also prolific in other circles of the MIT community. He frequently appeared at MITERS, and worked at Draper in Technology Square after concluding his studies at MIT. He was also involved in many of MIT’s well known aerospace projects, most notably Daedalus, which to this day holds the record for the longest distance and duration human powered flight. In addition to amateur radio, Steve’s hobbies also included photography and working on cars.

To those of us in the MIT Radio Society, Steve will always be remembered as a mentor and a treasured friend. He always told the most interesting stories, never failed to have helpful advice on projects, and often turned up with exactly the thing we needed to make a new radio system work. MIT will be a very different place without him, and he will be dearly missed.

We’re still working on ideas for a gathering to celebrate Steve’s life, likely for once it is safe for all of us to meet again in person. As we know more, we will share it here.

If you would like to pass along stories or memories you shared with Steve, and optionally have them published below, please reach out to us at w1gsl-memories@mit.edu

Comments from the community

I first met Steve before my freshman year of high school. At the time he was simply the eccentric person in the red shirt who ran Swapfest, but over the years since I came to know him as a mentor and a friend. He was always there as a source of entertaining stories and technical advice on projects, and he will be dearly missed.
— Daniel Sheen, SB ‘19, KC1EPN
Steve was key in helping Greg Allan, Christian Haughwout, Joey Murphy and myself set up the MIT CubeSat campus UHF ground station on Building 37. He was involved in making sure we had the right PA, that we had it thermally sunk properly, and also in making sure that we didn't hose ourselves on receive with its noise floor. I have rarely laughed as hard, or been as impressed, as I was when Steve and the guys showed up in the lab, armed with a huge wastebasket-sized cavity filter for the output of the power amp and a sharpie to make sure we marked where the original tuners were set before messing with it. Worked like a charm; probably like most of the projects he touched. He will be missed very much.
— Kerri Cahoy, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, KB1ZSS
"Finberg Stories" are legend among the alumni of the Daedalus Human Powered Airplane Project. Steve Finberg was an engineer of exceptional insight and creativity. Project colleagues (on Daedalus but also earlier MIT HPA projects) turned to Steve to solve very unusual and demanding problems. We all respected his passions (the MIT Radio Society, the MIT Electronics “Flea” and his beloved Sunbeams stored in stored in garages all over Cambridge). And we loved him for his quirks (a lifetime supply of red shirts, a penchant for penny pinching) and his kindness.

I first met Steve Finberg in 1985 when I was a young historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum assigned to serve as the museum’s liaison to the Daedalus Human Powered Airplane Project. Steve asked me a lot of questions about history; I asked him a lot of questions about instrumentation and electronics. I learned about his patents and research papers. Reflecting back, I am struck by how many times it was through Steve that I learned about cutting edge technologies 2-3 years before the general public became aware. He provided me with rudimentary lessons in Morse Code and year after year, Steve distributed brochures and flyers about the MIT Museum and our Cambridge Science Festival, just because I worked there.

In addition to engineering, Steve was also a wonderful photographer and I am pleased that we could feature some of his beautiful photographs in our MIT150 Exhibition (one mural was 10’ high x 8’ wide) as well as in the exhibition catalog and on our website. Others of his images have been featured in books and national publications and even tweets. If you have a Finberg "story," I hope you share it with a friend or colleague. He loved Draper Laboratory and he loved many of his colleagues and I am sure he will be missed by many.
— Deborah Douglas, Director of Collections and Curator of Science and Technology, MIT Museum
It's been quite a while, which I suppose underscores the extent of Steve's contributions over the decades; I remember him as a tireless Swapfest organizer and a perennial source of wisdom, delivered in a distinctive "mellifluous" voice that intermittently managed to set off W1XM's autopatch.
May his memory be a blessing.
— Aaron M. Ucko '00, MEng. '01, KB1CJC
What I miss most about Steve is the immense passion he showed for Swapfest and how he always seemed to have a bottomless bag of tools, obscure equipment, and knowledge whenever someone needed it.
— Tristan Honscheid SB ‘18, KD8YHB

Steve Finberg photograph by Andy Ihnatko and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0