My subscription to Life expired, but I still have a subscription to Mad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mail from Mao

Folks get into ham radio following different paths. My path to ham radio in the 1960s is probably similar in some ways to the path of other hams in that era and unique in other ways.

I became hooked on AM broadcast band DXing when I received a Remco Radiocraft crystal radio kit one Christmas. Later, AM DXing sparked my interest in shortwave listening, and I saved money from cutting lawns to buy a Hallicrafters S-200 receiver for $50.

The S-200 covered the AM broadcast band and the international shortwave broadcast bands, but I discovered that if I forced the band switch in between stops, I could monitor AM ham transmissions on 75 meters (go figure). Monitoring 75 sparked my interest in ham radio and the rest is WA1LOU history!

When I was shortwave listening, everything in radio was new and exciting and every new station I logged was a thrill. I worked all the big international broadcasters and the QSL cards starting rolling in, often arriving in exotic envelopes covered with even more exotic postage stamps.

However, when I QSL'd Radio Peking, I opened a Pandora's Box. Not only did I receive a handsome QSL card from the Chinese broadcaster, but I received propaganda  lots of it. It seemed like every week I would receive something new from Radio Peking: books, magazines, Mao's "Little Red Book," calendars, a huge poster of Chairman Mao and more! While I was having a blast receiving all this stuff, my father was very concerned.

This was at the height of the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War, and Pop was worried that after receiving so much Communist propaganda, my name was now on file with the FBI. He even went down to the post office to try and stop its delivery, but there was nothing the post office could do. To assuage Pop, I never QSL'd Radio Habana because they had a reputation of sending mass quantities of propaganda along with their QSLs, just like Radio Peking.

After snagging all the big broadcasters, my appetite was whetted for the tougher stations. The World Radio TV Handbook became my Bible; I used it to identify stations that were hard to identify because their broadcasts were not in English.

That is how I snagged Radio Hanoi. At least I thought it was Radio Hanoi. The operating time and frequency matched the schedule printed in the World Radio TV Handbook and the language spoken on the air sounded oriental, so I took a chance and sent my reception report off to North Vietnam, but I did not tell Pop.

Months passed and I heard nothing from Hanoi. I was not surprised because I was not positive that the station I heard was really Radio Hanoi, and during the war, mail service between the US and North Vietnam was convoluted or non-existent. After I had just about given up on it, a letter showed up in our mailbox plastered with stamps from North Vietnam and inside was a QSL and a note that said that Radio Hanoi would announce my name over the air as a listener!

The QSL and note took so long to get to me that the day they planned to announce my name had already passed   I could not even listen in to hear it! For the first time in my life, I would be pleased if a stranger mispronounced my last name.

I feared that the FBI would come knocking at our door any time now. In anticipation, I pulled the big switch on my S-200 and began practicing Morse code in order to get my ham license.

(The original version of this post appeared on the ARRL website.)

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious! I remember some of the bizarre broadcasts I heard on my Hallicrafters S-120 during the late 1960s. I listened to Radio Prague broadcasting from undisclosed locations during the Soviet invasion. Then there was Radio Peking during the Sino-Soviet border clashes. The announcers were apoplectic. The QSL from Radio Tirana was just a letter typed on what must have been a rickety old typewriter. I received some sort of newspaper from East Germany for years after sending them one reception report. I, too, wondered if the FBI was watching me. Years later, when I began exploring starting my own business, one crazy idea I had was to do a consumer survey to see how many people listen to shortwave and what stations. I actually received a phone call from a Radio Moscow announcer who wanted to know more about my survey. I quickly realized my idea wasn't very practical.