Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wireless Full Of Wires

What is that thing that is oval in shape and is surrounded by hair?

You dirty pig, I am not answering that question.

What? What is dirty about it? It is an oval-shaped pond in the middle of a park and it is surrounded by lush green grass and flowers.

Oh OK. I didn’t think of that :)

So, once again, what did you say was that thing that is oval in shape and is surrounded by hair?

Simple - it is an oval-shaped pond in the middle of a park and it is surrounded by lush green grass and flowers.

No, No, No! It is that which you thought earlier.

That was a joke told to me by a friend with whom I was travelling in a bus from Siliguri to Calcutta. One of the Skylab space stations launched and operated by NASA had disintegrated and was hurtling towards earth. No one knew where it would land. Governments around the world ordered the grounding of train and airplane services. Thus, I had to take the Rocket bus from Siliguri to Calcutta where I was then posted.

The above joke reminded me of something that is not a joke. In fact it is something dead serious. So let me ask you the questions:

What is that thing that is called wireless but is full of wires?

What is that thing that comes to life when everything else is dead?

What is that thing that a King used to send out international distress calls, even as his Kingdom was being attacked and taken over by an invading power?

When the irritatingly pesky cellular network fails, when the internet is down and when the telephone system is bust, when the TV and the radio broadcasts are silenced, what is that thing that you can use to communicate freely and boundlessly - all the way to the South Pole and the North Pole and to all the Poles in between?

What is that means of communication that requires no set destination, no pre-determined recipient, no numbers and can be broadcast to few million people around the world?

In an era of super wide and fast bandwidth, in the age of super fast satellite communications, what is that primitive form of communication that still enthrall and attract passionate interest from the very best brains such as inventors, doctors, scientists, astronauts and engineers?

The answer to all that is: Ham Radio or Amateur Radio.

In times of natural disasters and emergencies and when every form of telecommunication fails, ham radio is the only means of communication that will still work and come to the rescue of relief workers. It can operate from the middle of the ocean or from the top of the Mount Everest. It can be set up and become operational in minutes. At any given time, close to four million users are active and listening in on to the radio signals around the world. Ham radio is perhaps the only multi-modal communication system that can transmit and receive Voice, Text, Morse Code, Graphics and Image data over the open airwaves. And, best of all, there is no charges to be paid to any service providers. It is all FREE!

Many people over the years have used the Ham Radio for a variety of purposes and emergencies but one of the most famous among them is the case of Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last King of Sikkim. A little after 6 PM on 9th April, 1975, he sent out the following distress call using his Ham radio equipment:

“Mayday! Mayday! Alpha Charlie Three Papa Tango calling. I am the Chogyal of Sikkim, my name is Palden Thondup Namgyal. Please tell the world that my country is being attacked and taken over by Indian troops. There is fighting in my Palace. Some members of my Palace guard have already been killed. All telephone and communication lines have been cut off by the Indians. I have only got my amateur radio equipment to call attention to this. India wishes to keep this annexation secret as long as possible and to invent a cover-up story. Please help me by telling the world”.

From that day on, Sikkim ceased to exist as a nation.

Amateur radio employs the use of wireless transceivers (all modern wireless sets are transceivers - device that is a combination of a transmitter and a receiver). It is the earliest form of telecommunications invented by men. And yet, look at the list of luminaries who are the users of this primitive form of communication:

AC3PT     King Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim (sk)
HS1A       King Bhumiphol Adulayadej - King of Thailand
JY1           King Hussain of Jordan (sk)
CN8MH    King Hassan II - King of Morocco (sk)
EA0JC       King Carlos of Spain
A4XAA     King Qabus Bib Said, Sultan of Oman
SU1VN      Prince Talal of Saudi Arabia
VU2RG      Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (sk)
JI1KIT        Keizo Obuchi - Japanese Prime Minister
UA1LO      Yuri Gagarin - First man in space (sk)
N5YYV      Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan Ph.D. NASA astronaut.
    First American woman to walk in space in 1984
GB1MIR     Helen Sharman - First British woman into space
KG6FZX     Dennis Tito - First space tourist
NY6YOS     Priscilla Presley – Ex-wife of Elvis Presley
FO5GJ         Marlon Brando, Actor (sk)
A51AA        Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan  :)-

Some pecularities about Ham aadio:
In Ham radio parlance, “SK” stands for “Silent Key” - meaning that the Ham operator is dead.

A lady Ham may be 100 years old, but she is always referred to as “YL” – meaning “Young Lady”. Likewise, a 12 year old male operator is addressed as “OM” which stands for “Old Man”.

The Hams may not speak English and yet, the medium of conversation is ENGLISH - they all converse in English when they communicate with each other over the radio.

A Ham may be stone deaf and you are likely to develop tonsillitis shouting at the top of your voice trying to converse with him/her and yet, he/she will hear the faintest of the crackle and squeak of radio signals emanating out of his wireless set.

The population figures for Hams around the world are as follows:

Japan      1,296,059          First place
USA          679,864          Second place
Bhutan                 7          Possibly, the last place

Bhutan at 7 Hams may rank as the country with the lowest number of Hams, but it is possible that North Korea may not have even one since, in the Ham world, North Korea is ranked as the rarest in the world. The reason is that there is no Ham radio operating out of that country. Until the year 2000, Bhutan was ranked at #2 but our ranking has been sliding since we legalized Ham radio usage under an Act in 1999.

Bhutan’s legally licneced Hams are as follows:

A51YL          Ambika Gurung
A51UD          Dorji Yeshey
A51KC          Kesang Namgyel (sk)
A51PK          Parop Kinley Dorji
A51PR          Pema Rinzin
A51WD        Wangpo Dorji
A51AA         Yeshey Dorji

Three of the earliest ladies who operated ham radio from Bhutan are:

A52FH          Ms Thierry Veuve Le Cleach       French
A52VJ           Ms Vivien Johnson                     American
A52YL          Ms Melissa Johnson                    American

The youngest ham to ever operate from Bhutan is Paul Johnson (W0PJ) from USA – he was 13 years of age in 2000-2001 when he operated from Bhutan. He used the Call Sign A52PJ.

The oldest Ham to operate from Bhutan was: Ms Thierry Veuve Le Cleach (F6HWU) - a French national. She was born in 1924. She operated from Bhutan in the year 2000. She was then over 76 years old!! She operated under the group Callsign: A52FH.

A Call Sign with the pre-fix “A51” is issued only to national amateurs. However, there are two none-Bhutanese persons who have been accorded the rare honour of having been issued Call Signs with a national prefix. They have been honored for their contribution to the development of Ham Radio activity in the Kingdom of Bhutan. They are:

Yasuo Miyazawa, Japan             A51A
Glenn Johnson, USA                  A51B

Official records show that the first ever Ham radio call that was sent out from Bhutan was in the year 1955 - from Rida in Wangduephodrang.

The first western operator to operate from Bhutan was Mr. Gus Browning - a legendary Ham from USA.

Bhutan was first listed in the original pre-war ARRL, DXCC Countries list - published in 1937. However, due to lack of Ham radio activity, it appears that a country pre-fix was not allocated to Bhutan. In a letter dated 1972, the then Director of Bhutan Wireless writes that Bhutan has been allocated a country pre-fix - exact date when it was done in not known but it is safe to assume that it was an outcome of Bhutan joining the UN system in 1971.

It is rumoured that His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan kept himself abreast of world news - a Ham operator in New Delhi Embassy Morse-coded the entire day’s issue of the newspaper of his choice - a near impossible job!


  1. Dear Yeshey,

    I recently bought A52A, sure I'll see it in a much informed way.


  2. Dear Yeshey,
    Last year when I read your article on someone going SK, I thought you were talking about an RJ. Now I understand the sort of radio you are talking about.
    By the way, Did the Chogyel of Sikkim receive any respond to his distress call?
    And, can we own one today? What all does it take to have one?

  3. Very interesting. I am just curious to know the answers for Passu's question.

  4. This is very elaborate! Almost everything about Ham. Yea, Aue Yeshey, I would wait for PaSsu's questions to be answered. What are the formalities it takes to own one? Won't mind owning one.

  5. Carlos,

    What do you mean you recently bought A52A??

  6. Saw this post only today and read through it in awe. I mean I have some idea of the ham thanx to you, but still I sure enjoyed reading the simple but important facts. Thanx for sharing ! I still hope one day to be a hamster...may be when I am past three scores or so....Anon.

  7. Still waiting for your responses to Passu's inquiry. Thanks for sharing the story. Best

  8. Dear Anon,

    You seem to have missed out my response to Passu's inquity ... please read my post "Reply to Passu's ......

  9. Darn...I wanna be a join the luminaries.....hehe

  10. Thank you Yeshey for an excellent 2 weeks in Bhutan.
    Much appreciated.
    You were an perfect host and will definitely be contacting you for a visit next year.

    Iain GH4SGX A52JF

  11. Any Idea how one can learn how to operate a Ham radio in Thimphu/Bhutan???

    1. Dear Sonam Yangzom,

      You should ask anyone of the above listed Ham´s in Bhutan to teach you or to introduce you. As I did read that they took their exams according to US American regulations, you should be able to find quite some amount of technical Information + questions/answers on the Internet.

      Learing how to operate could be shown to you by those you are license holders. To be allowed to operate a Ham Radio yourself you have to pass an exam.

      The above link is a German site which you might be able to get translated into English. There you can find some pdf-files in English, with technical questions and all the other things to know, if Bhuthan is following the US Standards, this should give you an idea.

      Here you might find some other Information or People you might contact:

      I hope to have provided some useful Information for you.

      All the Best, and a happy and successful 2014!

      Jens / DG9MHN