Robert Mott, WØAC
Bureaucrats, vintage equipment and a visit to Radio Moscow make Russian radio a vacation to remember.
Ah, the hobby of Amateur Radio! How many fond memories do you have of time spent exploring the many aspects of this hobby? How many of us have found knowledge, careers, lifelong friends and many priceless memories? I had an early interest in electronics and got my Novice license at the young age of 13 in August of 1962. It helped me qualify for radar maintenance school in the Army and ultimately led to a 30 year career at IBM. I can remember the excitement of Amateur Radio and the annoyance of my parents telling me to “clean up my mess,” “give it a break and go outside and play,” or “what do you need all these wires around the house for?” Well, in later years I traded my parents for a spouse (W7AZA) and the comments are much the same today! Will I ever grow up?
Well, I could fill a QST with stories, of course, but this story is based on several particularly interesting events in my travels to Russia. You see, my wife is from the southern Russian Republic of North Ossetia, and over the years I have traveled to Russia seven times. In the summer of 2002 we traveled to Moscow for a month. I decided to get a Russian license and to bring my HF gear with me. With the help of my friend and well-known Russian ham Larry Agabekov, N2WW/UA6HZ, and the footwork of my brother-in-law Sergei Bazoev in Moscow I got my license.
Well, it was required at the time to list any items that you were bringing into the country on the entry documents when you entered the Russian Federation. They were all listed by the Russian Radio Frequency Commission on my license documentation. I had all the right paperwork from the Russian government so I did the right thing and listed it all. I even took my receipts along with me just in case I needed them for proof of purchase. No problem, right? Wrong. As I confidently displayed all of my gear to the customs official, I was politely asked where my import license was.
My jaw dropped as I explained to them that I didn’t have a clue that I needed an import license and, in fact, it was never suggested to me by anyone. To my shock, I was told that I could not bring my radio equipment past customs. What do I do now? Well I quickly asked my spouse Izabella, W7AZA, to get her brother, Sergei who was waiting for us on the other side of the customs wall. After many minutes of conversation in Russian that I didn’t understand, the customs person looked me in the eye and said “I will let you bring in your equipment, but you will never get out of the country without an export license!”
Moscow License Marathon
I gave a sigh of relief — but how can I get an export license? We spent many hours on the phone trying to track down the right person at the Radio Frequency Commission to help us. Well, that’s not quite true. Because of my Russian language deficiency, my spouse and mother-in-law shouldered with this responsibility. As the time went on my Amateur Radio hobby turned out to be quite annoying to them. Well, to make a long story short, after all of these phone calls and long trips to the Radio Frequency Commission I got my export license.
Well, I have to tell you that I really enjoyed my operating in Moscow and I met many great people in my time there. I set up my station, which consisted of a Kenwood TS-50, power supply, antenna tuner and keyer on a small balcony in my mother-in-law’s sixth floor flat. My brother-in-law Vova helped me string up my dipole creatively in the tops of some maple trees. We ran the feed line in through the window in the living room under the rugs and then through a bedroom and into my makeshift shack on a balcony with a footprint of about 4×3 feet. It worked like a charm and I contacted several hundred stations in 89 countries. The interesting thing is that I worked people who lived within 10 miles of my home location that I never knew before.
On the day we arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport to leave Russia I approached customs with my Russian Amateur Radio license and the hard-won export license in hand, ready to hand it to the customs agent. To my surprise, he just motioned us through and didn’t want to see anything. I don’t understand, when you don’t have it they want it and when you have it they don’t want it. Go figure. All I can say is “that’s life.”
Another high point of this trip was just amazing and still to this day I have many fond memories of it. Those of you who operated in the 40 meter Novice band back in the early ’60s will remember hearing the very strong signal of Radio Moscow. Most of the time it was an annoyance for hams, but one segment that caught my ear repeatedly and was always of interest to me was Moscow Mailbag hosted by Mr Joe Adamov. Joe started work as an announcer at the foreign language service of Radio Moscow in 1942 and for years hosted one of the station’s most popular programs.
Well, during this 2002 trip to Moscow one of the places that I wanted to visit was the “Voice of Russia.” Without any calls to find out what would be a good time to visit, we just showed early one afternoon and were led to the English language service. The staff there were great people and were very nice to us. It was wonderful. They asked me what my experience was with the “Voice of Russia” and I explained about Joe and ham radio. I was shocked when they told me that I was in luck as Joe was due in momentarily to tape an upcoming segment of, can you believe it, Moscow Mailbag.
Not only did we get to chat for a while but I got to sit in the sound booth with him while he taped the episode. Unbelievable! It was one of those moments that I just kept saying to myself “who would have ever thought in 1962 that I would someday be where I was?” What an experience, one that I will cherish forever.
In December of 2005, the “Voice of Russia” announced his death after a long illness, just a few weeks short of his 86th birthday and after 62 years on the job. In case his name is not familiar to those of this era, maybe his catch-phrase is familiar to you. “You can’t do better than send us that letter and in it tell Joe what you think of his show!”
Radio History Russian Style
Now it is 2011 and my spouse and I just got back from a wonderful 3 week stay in Moscow. Visiting the wife’s friends and relatives was terrific as were the museums, culture and lifestyle. My mother always told me that if you have nothing good to say about something, don’t say it so I will skip saying anything about the weather. It was wonderful spending New Year’s Eve in Moscow. We were fortunate to spend it at my brother-in-law Sergei’s friends’ dacha (summer home) in the suburbs.
A highpoint of my 2011 trip was an invitation to visit a radio museum in Moscow. My brother-in-law, Vova, who is a great guy and president of a Moscow society for the deaf found out about an obscure radio museum in Moscow. So off we went tracking through the snow to find this out of the way place. To my surprise Eugene Lukhoverkhov, UA3AJT, met us. We found that the Museum had an operating station using call sign RK3F. What can I say about this museum? It was absolutely fantastic. There are all kinds of military equipment dating back to WWII from not only Russia, but other countries including the USA. There were many displays of Amateur Radio equipment. These ranged from simple to very elaborate homebrew transceivers whose complexity and magnificent construction would just blow you away. There are even Heathkit radios in perfect condition.
Please take the time to look at the website for this wonderful place and see if you can find our picture. If you are ever in Moscow, please stop by and visit Eugene and his associates as they would love to show you around. You will not be disappointed that I can promise you. [The website is in Russian but if you click the third link down on the home page you can see a nice selection of photos of the museum, which seems very well stocked with vintage gear. — Ed.]
Great news! As of May 23, 2011 US hams can now operate in Russia without all the red tape (no pun intended). See the ARRL®news item for details.
Russia is a great place to visit, with a great culture, history and the people are so wonderful. I am blessed to have family there and that makes each visit terrific.
Bob Mott, WØAC, an ARRL member, has been licensed since 1962 and has held several call signs including G5DDA and R3/WØAC. After completing a stint in the Army as a radar mechanic, IBM hired him as a customer engineer. He progressed rapidly to Development Engineering Manager, retiring in 1997 after 30 years. In all that time Bob has the good fortune to have lived all over the country, finally retiring in North Port, Florida, a ham friendly community and a great place to live. He was a president of the North Port ARC and is a member of the Peace River Radio Association. Bob’s spouse Dr Izabella Bazoeva, W7AZA, is an economics professor at Edison State College in Punta Gorda where he works as the campus test proctor.
Bob loves CW, DXing and operating using Internet Radio Linking Project node 4155 and EchoLink node 41555 in the North Port/Port Charlotte area of southwest Florida. He can be reached at 5255 Arley Rd, North Port, FL 34288, firstname.lastname@example.org.