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20 Oct. 2006
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Nuclear-Armed Holdout

North Korea has been much in the news recently.  Although they are at the top of the world's attention right now, they've been in my sights for decades.  As I may have mentioned, I'm a ham radio operator.  (May have mentioned more than once, in fact.)  And one of the things hams do is collect QSL cards.  A large subset of hams, including this writer, are "DXers," whose goal is to collect QSL cards from as many different places in the world as possible, with "different places" being defined by the ham organization The ARRL.

For various reasons, this list of places changes slowly but inexorably.  A new country forms (Montenegro) and becomes a place, which the ARRL calls "entity."  There are some obvious ones, e.g., Spain, Japan.  There are some less obvious, e.g., France.  There are some totally obscure, such as Bouvet Island.  There are some by extraterritoriality such as the UN, or politics such as ITU (International Telecommunications Union) HQ.  The logic and rules that make an entity are obscure and arguably flawed, but since everyone striving toward the goal follows the same rules, there is no excessive complaint.  I have been striving for the ultimate goal, to get a card from every entity, since I was a teenager.

Oddly, the really obscure ones are not necessarily the most difficult.  To activate a radio station on Bouvet Island requires no more than an intrepid band of adventurers with little regard for their continued existence and a whole lot of money.  The truly difficult ones are those where the local politicians decide that ham radio isn't allowed.  (No, you can't just smuggle a radio in and go on the air.  You would also have to convincingly forge documents showing government approval.)  No surprise to find that North Korea is on the top of the list.  It used to share the top with Albania, which finally saw the light with some attendant turmoil.  The Andaman Islands were in a similar situation, with the Indian government forbidding radio there, but that turned around recently when some hams were very helpful during the enormous tsunami of December 2004.

VU4AN/VU3RYE QSL Card, with thanks to Franz, the station operator

At that time, Andaman (VU4) and North Korea were the ONLY TWO entities that I didn't have cards from.  As you can see at the left, I have one from Andaman now!  Thus, to complete my lifelong quest, all I needed was a card from North Korea.

Well, not exactly.  To make sure that the lifelong quest remains a quest rather than becomes an accomplishment, new entities appear, and old ones disappear.  (Sometimes literally.  There is at least one that appears mostly at high tide, and if the ocean rises just a bit it will be gone.)  Entity list change is a slow process, fortunately, as we hams tend to be an aging population and subjecting us to a continuous frenzy would result in a rapid diminution of the ARRL membership ranks.  I think they want to avoid that.  The list of entities grows and shrinks in a time span measured typically in years.  Occasionally several years go by with no changes at all.  Atypically, this year sported two additions, Montenegro and Swain's Island.  Unlike Bouvet, Swain's Island is in the Pacific tropics and is not unduly dangerous.  Immediately upon its declaration as an entity, a so-called DXPedition set up shop and provided many DXers with the requisite confirmation.
 
KH8SI QSL Card - Swain's Island

Swain's Island doesn't look all that forbidding, does it?

 

But my quest, you will recall, is to get cards from ALL, that is to say 100% of the "entities" that make up the world in the canon of the ARRL.  Although I show no card from Montenegro here, it is not a challenge, being a major European country with, so far as we know, a government as sane as one can be, and I'm sure I'll receive a QSL in due course.  Which leaves the  "Democratic People's Republic of Korea," or the DPRK. Now that the USSR is no longer with us, we can transfer the "four letters, four lies" epithet to this charming nation.

There were two brief and limited radio operations from this country in their pre-nuclear days; I not only never contacted them, I never even heard them.  Now that the DPRK has "The Bomb," or at least a modest claim to a fizzle, I can only surmise that they will continue to thwart their basic obligation to hamanity by continuing to refuse to permit radio operations, thus thwarting my lifelong goal.

It is probably futile to hope that the United Nations Security Council will include among their sanctions a demand that Dear Leader construct a ham station in the Great Hall of the People. (They almost certainly have one, but they keep its location a state secret.)  Instead, the UN will insist on things like ship inspection, trade restrictions, and other demands that will prevent so-called "nuclear proliferation."  Not a word about ham radio operations or a DXPedition!  And people wonder why the UN has lost so much respect.

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