Harry Weiss, KA3NZR (1983)
i was employed by the department of defense as a detached service officer at misawa air base, japan, in the northeast corner of honshu. my primary job was to liaison between the military and civilian communicators.
after i arrived at misawa i met several air force nco's who belonged to the base support team (bst) and i became interested in joining it. the bst's job to provide supplementary emergency radio support, such as earthquakes. before joining i would have to pass the amateur radio novice test and obtain a license from the fcc.
MSgt george bourelle gave me my Morse test which i passed easily. i learned "the code" when i was about nine years old from a u.s. navy radioman. after high school i joined the navy and became a communications technician (CTR) for two years. after the code test i studied for and passed the Novice written exam and became known as kb6aor. mind you, at this point i had no real aspirations to become an active ham.
next i became a mars operator - afa8hw. i was then issued my bst vhf radio and participated in bst activities which consisted of weekly on-the-air meetings and the occasional simulated emergency test. thankfully we never activated for a real emergency even though we had several earthquakes while i was in japan, 1983-85. i soon became involved in mars phone patches to the united states, working as a mars ground radio operator passing traffic and, because i could type well, a mars rtty operator. I do not remember the exact radio equipment in use at the misawa air base mars station except the make - collins. they also had a magnificant log periodic antenna on top of a 75-foot tower. well it wasn't long before i wanted my own transceiver so i could participate in mars hf nets out of tokyo. i did a little research and decided on the kenwood ts-430s because it could easily be modified to transmit on mars frequencies. i was given a hustler 12-foot vertical for my station by MSgt Bourelle.
next came the fun part, i had to submit a whole host of paperwork to erect a station in my government owned quarters. after a few weeks the paperwork was approved, i planted the vertical in my front yard and hooked it up to the TS-430S. i was on the air!
after i had worked several mars nets one of the tokyo operators asked me what ham band i liked to work on. after a short discussion he had triggered my interest enough for me to look into becoming an active american ham in japan.
at that time the united states and japan did not have a reciprocal agreement. so my first task was to apply for an auxiliary military radio system (amrs) authorization and i was issued the call sign - ka8hw. "ka8" for the sendai district and "hw" for my initials. (locally i soon became known as "king arthur ate hot water" which i never used that on the air.) since CW was my preferred mode purchase a nye straight key. it wasnt long before i bought a mfj-422 keyer/paddle combo.
being "ignorant," with respect to amateur radio, really did prove to be bliss in my case.
because there was no reciprocal agreement ALL classes of amrs operators had the same privileges - pretty much those of an amateur extra in the united states! there were a few differences from u.s. requirements, mainly we were restricted to 500 watts for 160 through 15 meters and 50 watts for 10, 6, and 2 meters. also the frequencies within the extra class bands were slightly different. can you imagine being a novice with those privileges? this was like letting a bull loose in a china shop. i eventually spent all of my spare time "playing" on my radio...
my first contact was sm3lpc, gill gillsberg, in sparreheim, sweden. in my excitment i broke into a sweat and was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. i immediately sent gil my qsl card, a short letter explaining to him he was my first QSO and some green stamps. in return i recieved not only a qsl card but pictures, a letter and my greenstamps were returned. one of the pictures showed gill relieving himself next to his company vehicle. he was a police communications repairman working primairly in northern sweden near the norway border. he and his work mates certainly had a sense of humor! now i was hooked. eventually i became the most active CW ham operator on misawa air base.
at the time it never dawned on me that "i" was a dx station of minor rarity. however, what i did know was, some old guy in california always tagged me as an illegal station when he heard me working ssb. no amount of explaining about the amrs calls, and amateurs associated with american forces in japan, worked on the guy. so i just learned ignored him.
with my station set up, and the propagation that existed at the time, i was able to work into finland, argentina, new zeland, austrilia, guam, the united states, canada, italy, korea, the former yugoslavia, mongolia, communist china, and of course the USSR, with regularity. being so close to the soviet union i worked hundreds of "R" and "U" calls, which was a real thrill at the time since the iron curtain still existed. i became friends with kh6uq (whom i got an eye ball on while laying over in HI during my return to the states in 1985), and vk5jc. for a few years i exchanged christmas cards and gifts with vk5jc. it didn't take long for me to discover that making friends in the ham community was fun and very rewarding.
there was one amateur operator that sticks in my mind to this day; UA0KCP, Valia (a YL), located at Cape Schmidt, on the kamchatka peninsula. she regularly answered my CQs to ask for radio and time (QTR) checks. looking through my old log books i see that she was probably my most prolific contact during the 18 months i was a ham in japan.
being a novice in japan was a unique experience to say the least. however, my return to the united states it was a real let down, almost depressing. i became "just another novice" for lack of a better expression. it didnt take long for me to realize that it was a good idea to upgrade as soon as possible. before i had a chance to take the tech test i was reassigned overseas. for the next 15 years i was pretty much off the air due to family and career needs. it was not until i retired in 2000, and moved to VA, was i able to upgrade. i may not have held my novice ticket longer than some folks but i certainly must be close to the record - nearly 20 years!
these days i spend as much time as i can working the warc bands as well as sorting through and mailing qsl cards for the fists qsl bureau. i have had several hobbies in my lifetime but amateur radio is by far the most fun and most rewarding.