N6PSE Interview with OH2BH-Martti Laine
Martti Laine, OH2BH, is one of the most accomplished and famous amateurs of our time. He has excelled in both the Contesting and DXing worlds and is a member of both the CQ Magazine Contesting Hall of Fame and the DX Hall of Fame. Martti has organized or participated in many DXpeditions, including a number of them to newly created countries or entities.
Here is a partial list:
E44DX, 3C0AN, OJ0 many times, S0RASD, 4J1FS, BV9P, BS7H, H40AA, P51BH, TX0DX, ZA1A, XZ1A, BY1DX, XZ2BH, XU2BH, C21BH, 3D2AM, VP8SSI, ZS9Z/1, FW8ZZ, XF4L, ST2FF/ST0, AH3C/KH5J, ZD3X, JY8BH, XX9X, 5T5BH, 6T1YP, EA8BH, JT1A, MU2K, 8R1K, V51Z, OH0BH, Z60K, Z68BH.
Martti OH2BH: Thanks, Paul and delighted to give you some answers to your interesting and timely questions. I am answering them “in the air” as I am now flying to my second home in the Azores, CU2KG. It is a 5+ hour flight so a good way of killing time and thinking of the old times and more recent years and the fun of DX and the time spent at the DX stage as a new term is surfacing at the end of your interview.
The Azores is a great place to be and do Amateur Radio – when the weather is clear, we can see the Statue of Liberty from there. And it takes the same amount of time to reach the East Coast of the United States from the Azores as it takes to get back home to Finland. We are between the Old and New Worlds – and can hear both types of pileup behavior!
DX is good here, too and, as a matter of fact, this is the only piece of Europe that is beyond the UTC/GMT dateline – 1 hour! I am here also to do the CQWW DX Contest, as I always done for past 50+years.
Behind every successful man is a good woman. Martti has Lena behind him always.
Martti’s well-appointed station in Espoo, Finland. OH2BH always has a tremendous signal.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, you have been to many dangerous places. What was the worst experience you have had, was it malaria after 3C0AN?
Martti-OH2BH: Annobon certainly ranks high on the list. Having multiple malaria cases made life miserable for several weeks and even the diagnostics were complicated as there were more than one. But our time was not up then – many wonderful things were to happen, including getting married immediately upon getting back to life.
But actually each and every rare country activation is full of high risks, and many times we came to the edge. If you get hold of a book entitled “Most Dangerous Places on Earth”, it can also serve as a list of my activated countries. North Korea makes the first chapter of the book, and I visited that country many times and it seems to be one of your next questions?
I recall that in 2013 Ken, K4ZW/Z81Z was in South Sudan, classified by the U.S. State Department as being so dangerous that he was not allowed to go any place after dusk or without escort. We at Z81X had a wonderful time with the locals day and night. Things are relative and in DX even more so. In many cases, you personally create your own environment of danger or safety – common sense is the best way to guide you among strange people and through lands of potential danger.
Martti has operated many times from Kosovo. Here he is as Z68BH.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, please share with us your thoughts on Kosovo? Should the ARRL modify their entity rules and allow Kosovo on the DXCC entities list?
Martti OH2BH: The ARRL DXCC Countries List today is based solely on the roster of United Nations member states, and potential new countries will go through the UN decision making process. Most of these prospective new candidates are subject to a conflict of some sort. We were all proud of the United Nations some time back. But today no one is. Aside from Kosovo, think of today’s conflicts and lost lives – take, for example, Syria. The UN is not functional and, in the case of Syria, it is just a waste of space. How about Russia today in relation to Ukraine?
Today’s world is such that the structure of the UN does not work. The world’s complexity is back with us and the resolution of many international conflicts is put on hold. The exercise of the veto right by Security Council members simply serves their own interests and does not make the world any better. The UN may have a role in the world but today it is confined more to peacekeeping, food aid and education through relevant UN agencies.
Unfortunately, Kosovo has fallen into that trap. If I were the ARRL, I would somehow be mindful of United States foreign policy in these turbulent times. The aim of that policy is to guide your great nation so that it can stand unified and fair in its dealings with the world at large – including Amateur Radio. The United States led Kosovo on its path toward status as a sovereign nation fully recognized by the U.S. State Department and endorsed by the International Court of Justice at the Hague. A majority of members of the international community agree with that path. Today your wise men at the ARRL should stand tall with your own foreign policy and do what the incapacitated United Nations organization is unable to do. Not recognizing Kosovo may make ARRL appear in conflict with U.S foreign policy – perhaps not supporting U.S policy makes ARRL appear to support someone else’s policy.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, your activation of the DPRK as P51BH is the stuff of lore. Can you please share with us how this activation came about?
Martti OH2BH: When I was based in China for many years, it was the DPRK that drew my attention and not the other way around. All Asian countries did so as those were the years when each Asian country was going for their first cellular networks and we at Nokia Corporation with European standards and political standing were their favorites. But as we were not the DPRK’s potential operating partner – only the leading network provider – they chose Loxley Corporation of Thailand as their partner. I stood close to the DPRK telecommunications authorities through Loxley in Thailand. I had visited the DPRK many times professionally in my telecoms capacity, as it was in those days.
Additionally, as I was part of the Hong Kong business community, I noticed that the Hong Kong/Macao casino group Emperor http://cms.emperor.com.hk/page.php?p_id=238 was in the process of establishing a Las Vegas type casino near the city of Rajin in North Korea with the personal blessing of the then Dear Leader of the DPRK.
Together with these telecoms and casino people, I was in the DPRK and obtained the P51BH permit for operating the radio equipment – an FT-847 – that I carried with me. These many projects did not materialize in the planned fashion or within the desired timescale. Thus my personal future activation was not yet to happen. Today a cellular network is operational in North Korea but with no international gateway. Their operating partner is from Egypt.
Ultimately, I was QRV from the city of Rajin from a telecoms center, with a mobile utility container next to a huge telecoms tower as my base. North Korean telecoms people hoisted my dipoles. There are many fond memories associated with that visit, including a party at the home of the mayor of the city of Rajin after the casino people had painted his house as a matter of kindness. Happy occasions to remember!
When I was based in Beijing, China, we also founded Korea Business Consultants and, as a personal founding member, I am still actively involved in KBC activities. See http://www.kbc-global.com
I am extremely proud of those several limited activations which culminated in my involvement to get P5/4L4FN on the air big time from the strictly controlled embassy district of Pyongyang. Ed, 4L4FN only recently moved to Syria on a UNWFP assignment, having spent the last three years in the DPRK but he was not reissued his previous permit even with his professional status at UNWFP in charge of several telecoms activities internally and externally.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, please share with us your views on HamSphere? Is there any risk of potential new hams enjoying HamSphere and staying with HS rather than getting their radio license?
Martti OH2BH: HamSphere, a simulated Amateur Radio platform, is a great invention. Very real as real-time propagation is now used as a basis for making QSOs, just as we do in the real world. Many other functions are quite advanced as well. One such feature is a real-time exchange of QSLs. You have your partners QSLing instantly in front of you during your QSO. Very neat.
As the intake of youth has diminished dramatically in many countries, this is a great tool to demonstrate Amateur Radio to young people without an immediate need for a license or investment in equipment.
I would not share your concern. A simulator is always a simulator but it will certainly have a role in promoting Amateur Radio among the tablet generation, as the RSGB President labeled today’s youngsters. Time-honored promotional activities and courses and distance learning work well in many evolving societies but unfortunately not in the Western world with its fast pace of life and a variety of competing activities vying for the souls of young people.
Have you tried the simulator yet? We just did a first “simulator based” Market Reef DXpedition and the pileups where huge and real. Those with beams were loud and those with good operating procedure were the first to get through into the log. As the terrestrial Internet was out of reach on Market Reef, we used a fast satellite link which certainly added today’s state-of-the-art technology to the simulator. So, the simulator prompted us Old Timers to learn and try out the latest in technology. See http://www.qrz.com/db/oj0am
Paul N6PSE: Martti, you are one of the leaders of Radio Arcala which runs DX Summit. Does Radio Arcala have any plans to address the profanity on DX Summit? Some clusters and websites have certain words and phrases that are blocked from being published. Has Radio Arcala considered this for DX Summit?
Martti OH2BH: We have just launched the new MY DX SUMMIT and it seems that many of the new features are welcomed. See http://www.dxsummit.fi. Yes, we have specifically addressed the bad language problem in two new ways. Adding to the basic bad language filter of more than thousand bad words and expressions, we have now built a remote control tool so that assigned administrators can take immediate action within practical time zones on those causing problems.
Additionally, the source identity – a sender’s IP address – can be easily blocked for a defined time period. But remember, MY DX SUMMIT users have got a new tool as well since they can exclude any undesired sender or spot by themselves from their own keyboard. This is just about all we can do as the inventors and overall administrators of the system.
We are currently employing full-time software specialists and are working hard to secure more resources to do more in the future.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, it seems that European pileups can get quite unruly at times. Do you have any special tips or techniques for the way that you so effectively handle large European pileups?
Martti OH2BH: Coming to grips with European pileups smoothly is an art form. Many issues are working against the operator and we should take note of those. But the ultimate truth is that some can handle a European pileup and others cannot! So, if we accept that as a starting point, carefully observing the methods of the real masters can lead us to the ultimate truth. Jerry, WB9Z can run a European pileup smoothly down to the last station calling, with minimum distraction on his transmitting frequency. How come?
The traffic moves systematically, effectively and QSOs are made without too much hassle. With Jerry, there is always hope for people in the DX audience – meaning that the callers have a realistic chance of cracking the pileup and getting into the log. As long as there is hope, no tomatoes will be thrown onto the stage. When hope is lost, the end is near.
Why not do an interview with Jerry exclusively as this is burning on many minds. I know the answer and I know the skill set that it will take. There are about ten dedicated skills that are needed and the fact is that talking English to an overheated multitude of Europeans who are not native English speakers makes things worse. A smooth pileup sounds like a thundering Latin tango dance – full of love and determination – and it definitely takes two to tango on the same wavelength. In a pileup, it also takes two – a DXpedition operator and a suffering multitude of callers – to dance to the tune of a shared DX serenade.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, you have written that the DX pileup’s behavior is a reflection of the skills of the operator. With FT5ZM and FT4TA pileups in mind, do you still feel that way?
Martti OH2BH: Absolutely. It is a phrase that all leading DXpedition operators keep next to their radio when going on a DXpedition. It is my legacy. I hear some argument about this but not too much. Let me explain it more in detail. Strict control of any crowd is key to any orderly gathering, including the gathering of keen people on radio with limited time or propagation. How you can maintain control or manage the situation is a complex mix of many skill elements coming together at once but also a variety of them changing from minute to minute. That is what Jerry, WB9Z would tell you.
There are some geographical differences and temperaments but they all come to make a further contribution and add to the chaos that will eventually result from the behavior of an operator who has not yet picked the ball. Remember, if you plot a causal curve, WB9Z and others like him appear far on the right, away from the middle. Every DXpeditioner, big or small, should plot his skills and standing in that curve as seen by their audience – with those in the pileup expressing their like or dislike orally and verbally. “Idiot go home” is on the left with QRM – “where do you go next?” is on the right.
Just yesterday I heard 5W0UU (DF2UU) who was on the job for the first time. He was infuriated by U.S. out-of-turn callers to the extent that he quit due to high blood pressure. Think of it – he traveled all the way to Samoa to go overboard with an unruly U.S. pileup, as he saw it. Can that pileup be a mirror of DF2UU or is there something else involved? I plan to interview him soon – he may have a story to tell and a lesson to learn when it comes to understanding the mirror concept since things are relative and, as said, in DX even more so.
Martti and his Formula 1 Contesting Team. Big wins and big signals!
Paul N6PSE: Martti, you have accomplished more than any other DXer. What in your mind would you consider “unfinished business” or an activation that has been elusive and you would still like to activate?
Martti OH2BH: Yes, DXing is a state of mind – a way of life. Being able to travel the world and experience different values and lifestyles has definitely made me a different person over these past 50 years. I still hope to have a role in all this.
I am definitely happy with and proud of the missionary aspect of DXpeditioning that has given me a new lease of life and unlimited opportunities there. The world will never be complete – Amateur Radio included – and we all have a role in it. Smaller or bigger. Giving more than taking in the target country has proved an attractive formula.
The day when I discovered that not all my QSOs should be made by myself but including those who see the world much the same way as I do has also enriched my life.Yes, I have unfinished business and my DXpedition outfits are ready to go – those for the Arctic freeze and those for the burning sun. Dry land or rough seas. Every morning I keep asking that magic question which is also the title of my book: “Where Do We Go Next?”
Paul N6PSE: Martti, do you think Don Miller, W9WNV was treated fairly by the DX community? Should he be welcomed back? Personally, I think we could all learn things from Don Miller.
Martti OH2BH: Different societies react differently. Don Miller was my idol of those other years and will always stay that way. He is back as he has settled his accounts. I have met Don a few times and keep in touch with him. He was a shining DX star of his own time and many of his statements of those other days still ring very true. Everyone should have read his DX Handbook. Hopefully we welcome him back to the stage the same way we did in the 1960’s. The Good Times may still come back – Don Miller never complained about unruly European pileups. He was one of a kind.
Martti worked long and hard for many years to open Albania to amateur radio.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, can you share with us your remembrances of 1960’s DX heroes such as Don Miller, Gus Browning and Lloyd and Iris Colvin?
OH2BH: Indeed, digging deep into the lives of those that we still treasure in DX, I hold these truths to be self-evident that DXers are dreamers – dreaming of bigger antennas, higher towers…and that if you are young enough to wait long enough, you will get to the top… As a Director of Yasme Foundation and in the spirit of the original Yasme, I together with my colleagues try to perpetuate the legacy of the Golden Days of DXing to make today’s DX better. Look at many of the recognitions that we are going to announce just around this Christmas in the spirit of Lloyd and Iris.
But life is different now – many of the things familiar from the 1960’s are not applicable today. The past or the spirit of the early years should only be used as a backdrop or a basis for understanding the present age better. To give you an example, two things amaze me positively. Our early heroes did everything single-handedly and they spent a long period of time in the target countries. Remember, their QSO totals were quite modest in comparison with today’s multi-band/mode machines – they only made a few thousand.
Let me share a golden memory with you: Lloyd and Iris were operating from Walvis Bay, ZS9 – a new country back in those days. I was in Namibia, V51Z with N7NG for a CQWW Contest and, as Namibia was situated next to Walvis Bay, we flew on a small plane to see Lloyd and Iris. We had noticed that for their new memory keyer they had programed the “TU” button to include “CQ de W6KG/ZS9” after each QSO. While the others were basking outdoors under the scorching African sun, I discreetly slipped indoors and deleted the “CQ” part, leaving only the “TU”.
QSOs got shorter and it was fun listening to the Colvins the following day handing out Qs in real rapid-fire fashion. While they were at it with some years under their belt, they probably did not notice the difference. And as strange as it was, after Lloyd and Iris had became SK, Wayne, N7NG became Yasme president and I became first Yasme’s director outside of the U.S.
Nowadays, when I hear some DXpeditions programed with their own call after each QSO, I remember that very special occasion. FT5ZM at times sounded like that. Many large DXpeditions have standardized their operating procedures down to every detail, including their computer messages. FT4TA was one of those – congratulations! Maybe K1N is next?
Martti has operated many times from OJ0-Market Reef.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, the ARRL is considering modifying their DXCC rules around the use of remotes. You and I both like to use remotes for fun and for DXing. What would you like to see the ARRL decide on the issue of remotes?
Martti OH2BH: Simply, you cannot stop progress! I remember when Old Timers were up at arms when the Internet entered the world of Amateur Radio. They wanted to stop it. I recall when LA5QK, now SK, wanted to limit contesting to the use of a straight key only. The world is now such that remote operation is possible to each and every one. It has many advantages specifically for those who cannot build a full-bore station for a variety of reasons. It is a pity that on this issue the ARRL is an Old Timer organization and creates more barriers than opportunities. It should be the other way around.
Many of us do remote for our own pleasure and technical learning – we are known to promote the latest in technology and often claim that we even have a role in it. Whether remote fits into the DXCC rules is less important. One day in the not too distant future it will.
Martti’s US license/callsign is AH3D, based on Johnston Atoll.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, today’s DXpeditions are often 14-20 men for two weeks on 10-160 meters making more than 100,000 contacts and costing many thousands of dollars (or euros). Do you think things have gone too far? Should we go back to smaller teams with smaller goals and expectations?
Martti OH2BH: We should have variety, a wide range of DX performances – one should not limit or exclude the other. For a major show, you need a cast. Some DXpeditions that may happen only every twenty years should be well conducted and offered to every needy DXer. There large may serve better. Look at ON4WW’s initiative for a one-man DXpedition to Bouvet for three months. What a wonderful three months it would be for all of us and would elevate the adventure factor of a DXpedition to new heights.
Myanmar and Cambodia were very rare and exotic when Martti activated them.
These are extremes but they are needed – just as we need ordinary DX shows. Why is it that people go on DXpeditions? I guess the adventure factor is one of the reasons that make us all go whether the show is small or large. Apart from the adventure factor, what are these other considerations? After 50 years of marriage and DXpeditioning, my wife presented another idea. DXpeditions are just part of Amateur Radio’s entertainment segment. Those once on the stage will always want to appear again and again as the stars of the best show on Broadway – they are today’s Fred Astaires of Broadway.+)
After landing at FT5ZM and then again at K1N, those guys desperately want to be on the stage. The props are roughly the same as are the actors! And let them be that way since they seem to have fun and resources and they enjoy themselves. They are today’s cast of Gus Brownings and Lloyd Colvins – maybe not the kind of Don Millers when it comes to an ability to take people as they are – slow or fast – even taking two at once. Two to dance with at the same time. But those days and issues will soon fade into the horizon as we make room for new star performers. That’s the way it has always been and will always be. Amen.
Paul N6PSE: Martti there has always been speculation among some in the DX Fraternity that there was a rivalry between OH2BH and DJ6SI. Can you speak to it?
Martti OH2BH: The question about rivalry between DXpeditioners is actually rather interesting. More and more we see potential DX operations targeting one and the same location. Some terrible results ensued in the past, even in the case of rare and expensive ones. Heard Island has such a history with two vessels heading way there at same time while today two parties are making plans to land on Bouvet simultaneously. Not to mention K6VVA and your plans to activate North Korea. This is difficult for all parties involved, DXpeditioners themselves, funding organizations as well as those issuing the permits for radio and/or landing. There is no prioritizing or “reserving the place” in considering the best resources to do the job.
I do not personally recall any rivalry with DJ6SI as such but some potential lessons may be drawn from the issue. Aland Islands was funny as we indeed met on the same boat sailing to OH0. Baldur was on a DXpedition and I was “going home” to my place there that I have had for 36 years. So here is the dilemma – DXpeditioners should ideally communicate with the locals as a matter of courtesy and as a way of securing all local help which can be very valuable in case of trouble.
We’d faced a big struggle on Saint Barthelemy (FJ) as the locals were not aware that one Christmas morning their island would become a new DXCC country. On that morning they found OH0XX and OH2BH operating from their home turf. An interesting question is whether locals should be given an exclusive right to a first operation even if they do not know that all of a sudden they happen to live in a new DXCC entity. As we knew that other hungry DXpeditioners were on their way, we decided to proceed in privacy on our own without involving anyone in public or in our final destination.
The S0RASD QSL card.
In the case of Western Sahara, there is a lesson to be learned as well. Western Sahara (S0) being former Spanish Sahara, EA2JG & Co. had close ties with the local administrators which meant that all political and security hurdles were overcome in advance. We were after all going to find ourselves in the midst of a desert war between Western Sahara and Morocco – which is very much in evidence even today although it does not make international news headline. You were talking about most dangerous places – this was definitely one at the time of its first activation.
URE, the Spanish national Amateur Radio society, those days led by EA9IE & Co., had launched a project to make Western Sahara a new DXCC country. They invited me to collect all needed material and make a presentation to the ARRL – which I did. Western Sahara was a nation in exile and there were plans for a UN supervised referendum. More than one-hundred countries had recognized Western Sahara’s statehood. Here the ITU had never issued a callsign block for this particular entity. But Western Sahara made it to DXCC which has given us great visibility to another world conflict with people struggling in the shadow of a desert war. The UN’s role in its resolution? None.
Upon our arrival in Western Sahara, we were met by Polisario’s head of radio communications, Naama whom we made a ham already on our first visit. As true-blue DXers know today, he signs S01A. Naama and his folks have coordinated all S0 expeditions ever since.
S0RASD was a missionary DXpedition at its best. Today the Saharawis even have an Amateur Radio society and you can follow their activities. http://saharadx.jimdo.com/s%C3%B8rasd/
The locals at S01WS are doing great! As I was just an invited delegation member of a first ever S0RASD activity, in the wake of a successful Western Sahara presentation to the ARRL, I do not have any details on the circumstances surrounding the confiscation of DJ6SI’s gear at the border. I can only guess that his license was not good enough as Naama was not there to receive a rare visitor with a radio transmitter. This can be a scary package in some sensitive destinations.
But on that expedition I had another important role of which I retain many fond memories. All my family and friends and advisors stated in clear terms that no one should travel with radios to a country embroiled in a desert war. I was dismissed as stupid since the Polisario Front was thought to have a poor record of acting as a humanitarian organization – but the contrary was true.
In those days, I had been an invited guest visiting Jordan and King Hussein as part of the King’s introduction of Amateur Radio in the country. Some 50 Drake stations were incorporated into the Jordanian school system and clubs. I had the pleasure of being an instructor there for two weeks. I became good friends with His Majesty, so much so that his Chief of Protocol allowed me to address the King on a first name basis and to be based at his Guest Palace. Many of these great events culminated in the King’s visit to Finland and another eyeball then on my home turf.
When making final preparations for our Western Sahara operation, I had to please my family and friends in a unique way – to make sure that Dad would get back home safe and sound. I contacted His Majesty and asked for his advice. Not many explanations were needed, and he wished me bon voyage and said that he would not only call me for a new one but would also help me – no more.
After our arrival in Western Sahara, the fighting and attacking suddenly came to a halt. Morocco did not react to anything and all frontier attacks were frozen, as it were. It turned out that His Majesty the King of Jordan had contacted Morocco’s Royal House and asked them to give their blessing to our non-political DXpedition, now in motion. We were next to the frontier zone with our beam noticeable on Morocco radars – but that prompted no attacks. One of my best QSOs ever was from there with JY1 who friendly voice dispatched a most welcome message to us – “You are safe!”
This whole Western Sahara story is another great adventure but also another emotional and rich experience in many ways. It is discussed in detail in my book while touching only lightly on His Majesty’s role in the DXpedition since, as an ultimate peacemaker, he wanted to be on good terms with both sides, the Kingdom of Morocco and the suffering Saharawis scattered in their lonely desert.
I guess we all should learn from the Jordanian Monarch’s statesmanship and take the message to our conflicting and competing world – Amateur Radio and DXpeditioning included.
Martti’s friend, JY1-Late King Hussein of Jordan.
RIP JY1. Your legacy is still alive.
Paul N6PSE: Martti, on behalf of a grateful world-wide DX Community, let me thank you for all that you have done for the DX Community over the past fifty years. You have given many of us a much desired “new one” time and time again, always with a big signal and great cheer in your voice. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy travels and contest schedule to share your views with the readers of my Blog.
Martti always brings good cheer to the bands! Christmas 2014 included – just get tuned for Santa and the elves at OF9X. see http://qrz.com/db/of9x
+) Fred Astaire (1899-1987), dancer, film star, and choreographer, the son of an Austrian immigrant. Together with his sister, Adele Astaire, he showed unusual talent in early dancing school recitals. Taken to New York in 1904 by their mother for professional training, the two soon began performing successfully in vaudeville.
Fred Astaire made an impact in many ways. He helped enormously to define and develop a genre, he brought out the best in some of the era’s leading composers and lyricists, he influenced a generation of choreographers, and he inspired many people to take up dance. He also activated the fancies and fantasies of millions in his audiences, and he will continue to do so as long as shows are staged.
Fred Astaire’s profile is easy to connect with DX and the best actors within DXpeditioning industry from the past down to the present day. Do you see the point?