My life and experiences in Burma and the status of Ham Radio by Gurbux Singh, W6BUX

Where is Burma located? Burma is now called Myanmar, but most people still call it Burma. Has anyone been to Burma or worked Burma on Amateur Radio?

The British ruled over Asia and Burma and India were colonies. India became independent in 1947 and Burma in 1948. My father and mother were both born in Burma and and lived in Rangoon now named Yangon. Rangoon is the Capital of Burma and is well designed and with lots of Colonial type buildings.

Father and Grandfather had the largest Machine shop and Foundry and were Contractors and designed and built Rice and Flour mills. Every part was made in-house and had to be certified to meet design and safety standards of the British Government.

My father Tara Singh was licensed as an Amateur Radio operator in 1938 and was very active on the bands. The station was of mostly homebrew equipment and war surplus stuff. World War II got bad and the occupying Japanese forces were brutal and not safe for anyone to be found with radio transmitting equipment. Father hid the radios in the attic and my parents had to trek overland on foot to evacuate to India.

I was born in Punjab, India on August 4th 1943 and my parents moved back to Rangoon in 1945 and found the house and radio equipment safe. I went Catholic schools and got a very good education and although not a Catholic, my father arranged donations to the school which was enough to bend the rules to accept me as a student.

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I got interested in Morse Code and used a bicycle horn as a buzzer to practice sending and also listening to the ham radio bands. Built a one tube receiver and studied for the test to get a license. The test was given at the Telecoms Dept. and sending and receiving code at 13 words a minute. The technical test was a test of Radio theory and and this was certified by two hams who were friends of my father. Got licensed as second operator for my father’s station XZ2KN. Burma had a license for Amateur Radio operator and a license for a ham radio station. Since I was living at the same location as the station of my father, anther station license seem redundant and not issued. I got my license in 1955 at 12 years of age and enjoyed CW. New hams were only allowed CW privileges for one year and then phone privileges were made available. I like CW and even after a year, rarely used AM Phone to work stations. It was the height of the band openings and working DX was no problem at all. Of the 22 licensed hams in Burma, only 3 or 4 were active and in the later years, our station was the only one that was active on a regular basis.

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In 1962, the Military staged a coup and things got hot with the General  following the lead and advice of China, started turning the country into a Socialist State. To appease the people that they were not becoming Communist, the system was called The Burmese Way to Socialism. There was nothing different about it from how China was being governed. We had a feeling that Amateur radio was going to be banned and it was a matter of time. All businesses were nationalized and the Government controlled everything from the only radio broadcast station and newspapers were heavily censored for content.

We confirmed all contacts with QSL cards being sent to stations that wanted one which was about every one. We kept getting paper money in the mail from people who were desperate to get a card from Burma. It was dangerous to have foreign currency especially US Dollars and stations would still send money even though we told them not to do it. Needless to say we had to stash it a in a safe and hidden place.

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We made all our antennas in our Machine Shop and it produced great results. We had a full sized four element beam on 20 meters with a boom of 44 feet. The boom was made of one inch steel Angle-iron and the elements were 3/4 inch diameter copper tubing. The driven element was a folded dipole and our signal was famous all over the world. Had plenty of WWII surplus electronic equipment and used old parts to keep our station on the air. Having learned to read schematics and solder connections, keeping the RCA AR88 receivers going was a full time job as the oil filled capacitors would keep leaking and we had to cannibalize parts and use them. We had a couple of AR88s,BC221,BC348, Hallicrefters receiver, Collins R107 and other so called Junk. The main transmitter was a RCA ET4336  transmitter with two 813s in the finals and a couple of 807s to modulate. A home brew speech amplifier made up the station.

The 20 meter beam was gigantic and weighed about 500 pounds. It was supported on 4 inch steel boiler tubing as a mast. Three 20 foot lengths were joined together and the joints welded together for strength. The element joints were also brazed with copper where needed. The whole setup was supported on a heavy duty thrust bearing which was from the wheel bearing of a tank. A winch was installed and steel cables run to the mast for turning the beam using the Armstrong method which worked well. The winch was also from a Tank.

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When the Allies withdrew from Burma, all equipment was destroyed or left behind and you could buy stuff for pennies or just hauling it away. It was not unusual to see local shops using Collins or RCA receivers to listen to shortwave broadcasts. Almost all visiting hams would stop by our place to see the antenna and station of XZ2KN which had a very loud signal on the air. We also built beam antennas for 10 and 15 meters and having a machine shop and foundry of our own , cost was not a consideration.

Some of the notable hams that visited and worked from our station that come to mind are David L Marks W2APF who went by Uncle Dave, Father Moran 9N1MM, and Senator Barry Goldwater who was on a quick private trip spent almost 4 hours on the air and said if he had not seen the monstrosity of an antenna and how well it worked, he would not have believed it. My father always believed that you had to be able to hear the other station to make a contact and it was this thinking that we used to tune our antennas.

We had many QSOs with King Hussein of Jordan and on my first contact with him, I was calling him Hussein as he gave his name and was jolted to reality when my father said you are talking to the King of Jordan. Frank Smith W5VA owned an NBC TV station in Corpus Christi and wanted to make and confirm a contact with Burma.

We had then inherited a Johnson Viking Ranger from a Greek ship and it was headed to the junkyard when I asked to take it off their hands. The Captain of the ship said it  stopped working and they got another system to replace it. The Viking Ranger came with a Johnson Matchbox antenna tuner and we were elated to get modern stuff. The only thing wrong was it had a cold solder joint and it put out 65 watts on AM. W5VA wrote us for a sked and we set it up after exchanging letters by snail mail. This was before computers and Internet.  W5VA had the top of the line equipment and a beam antenna on top of a 200 foot tower for 20 meters. At  the scheduled date and time, I called his station on CW and he was waiting for the call. We completed the QSO and of course he had some of his friends waiting to make their contacts and work Burma. I received a QSL card in the mail from Frank and a note saying how happy he was to have confirmed a contact with Burma. Also said that our signal was the louder on the band.

 The Military dictatorship ruled with an iron fist and all private ownership of guns and arms were banned. As expected, Amateur Radio was stopped and banned in Burma on March 10 1968. We had about 12 hours advance notice and we did not waste any time in letting the world know and making a lot of hams happy by confirming contacts with Burma. Amateur Radio was not allowed after that and officially Burma is still not active except for some special occasions when permission was given to some hams to activate Burma. 

My father was a champion golfer having won the Championship twice and played to a scratch handicap. I played indoor badminton and won the singles championship twice. Indoor badminton is like racketball and is a very fast paced game requiring excellent eye and hand coordination.

Because of the stagnant business climate and volatile political situation, I decided to leave Burma and started my paperwork for an immigrant visa in 1967. This meant making numerous trips to the US Embassy and also the British Embassy. The Burmese government was not issuing travel documents but as I was born in India during the British occupation, I qualified for a British Passport. Thus the trips to the British Embassy. Getting things done the proper and official way meant jumping through many hoops and facing Catch 22 situations. I got my US visa in the first week of June 1972 and booked a flight out for the following week.

On the 12th of June, I was taken into ‘Protective Custody” by the military intelligence people and thrown in to an eight foot by eight foot cell solitary confinement for seventeen and a half months. I was finally allowed to leave the country and made United States my home in March of 1974 and I cannot think of a happier occasion.  

If there  is interest and people want me to share my time in Protective Custody, please communicate and I will do my best to share this. I pray that no one has to go through something like this in their lifetime.

73, Gurbux. W6BUX

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