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Report from Thailand

Fred Laun K3ZO Silent Key (Part I)
A great loss for amateur radio

Champ C. Muangamphun, E21EIC

Figure 1. Fred Laun K3ZO/HS0ZAR in the opening ceremony of the SEANET Convention 2000 in Pattaya, Thailand

The world of amateur radio has suffered yet another great loss. For over 75 years, Fred Laun K3ZO had the confidence, love and faith in amateur radio. He was one of the main driving forces behind the legalisation of amateur radio in Thailand in its early days and had always provided counsel and financial support to the local Thai HAMs for the past 60 years. Every year, Fred would travel to Thailand for the CQ WW CW contest and the last time I had the opportunity to compete together as a team with him was in 2019 under Multi-Two category with the callsign “HSØZAR” which was Fred’s personal callsign. He was my Elmer and my idol.

Fred Laun K3ZO was born on 9th December 1937 in Milwaukee. He became interested in radio at the age of 7 and began listening to AM broadcast stations, noting down their signal reports and posting his findings back to various stations to keep them informed. When his father saw this, he brought Fred a White’s Radio Log book and Fred started to record all the programs he could hear into the book. He continued to write letters to these stations and asking them to provide him with their broadcasting programs in return.

Figure 2. Fred Laun K3ZO at National Capital DX Association’s ARRL Incoming QSL Bureau System Third Call Area

One day, Fred tuned his shortwave receiver to Bob Sievers (W9FJT SK) in Indiana. He wrote a letter to Bob asking, "What kind of station are you?” and sent along a complete signal report. Bob W9FJT was well-renowned as he was the announcer of WOWO, a commercial radio station licensed to Fort Wayne with a transmission power of 50kW. Bob W9FJT responded to Fred with a lengthy reply of his own including a full description of what amateur radio is. That reply helped spur Fred to become a Short-Wave Listener (SWL) of amateur radio stations as well as broadcasting stations.

Fred discovered that his family owned a 1930 Vintage RCA that was capable of picking up short waves. He tuned it to the frequencies below the AM band and heard MCW signal that kept repeating itself over and over. Fred remembered from his Scout book a section about Morse Code and began to decode the message himself.

Fueled by Fred’s passion, his parents bought him a Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio so he can listen to the bands in his bedroom. That radio took Fred around the world and he then started to send out SWL reports across the continents. By then, Fred was able to pick-up relatively long Maritime callsigns sent in CW at 20 WPM.

Even though Fred met W9YAR during the Scout Jamboree in the local area, the idea of becoming an amateur radio did not dawn on him until he read an article called “Boys’ Life”, written by W2PAU and W2GND which detailed the account of Kenneth Clark (W4KFC SK), an avid HAM operator. Fred received his first amateur radio license as WN9SZR in 1952 at 15 years old, then W9SZR from 1952 to 1976.

Figure 3. (L-R) Glenn Rattmann K6NA (ex: W6MAR), Phil Goetz N6ZZ (ex: W6DQX/K9ELT, SK), Fred Laun K3ZO (ex: W9SZR, SK) in 1974 at DX Convention

Between 1955 and 1962, Fred enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and graduated with a BA in Political Science and Journalism. During his time there, Fred’s love of radio continued and he became a member of Badger Amateur Radio Society. He, together with his friends in the Engineering Department including W9RQN, W9SDC, W9VOO, W9VAK, W5YSC, and W9ZQA, brought the W9YT Club Station that was previously set up by the older boys in 1930 back to life. Several of these students became lifelong friends of Fred’s, and Badger Amateur Radio Society is still active to this day.

Fred also worked as an engineer for radio station WIBA, and among other duties had to turn on the radio tower for the morning broadcast. He formed a friendship there with George Vukelich, whose “North Country Notebook” radio programs and “Listening In” newspaper columns were Madison favorites for many years.

Figure 4. Founders of Radio Amateur Society of Thailand (RAST): Robert Leo, W7LR (ex: HS1L 1963-1965) SK on 23rd March 2022 at the age of 102 years old. Together with HS3WT, E21EIC, K3ZO, and W6OAT at Visalia DX Convention in 2007, CA, USA.

In 1963 and 1964, Fred joined the United States Information Agency and was relocated to Washington DC. Whilst there he became a member of Potomac Valley Radio Club (PVRC), met his idol Bob Sievers (W4KFC, SK), and joined him in a contest under Multi-Single category with W3TMZ. Fred then competed with W4BVV team in CQWW CW contest for the first time in 1963; which also happened to be the time when the whole country was grieving for the loss of their president, John F. Kennedy.

Fred became a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Information Agency and served in several countries for 25 years. His first assignment was in the Dominican Republic, where he set up an amateur radio station in his home and transmitted information during a revolution that broke out during his service there. He later served in Nicaragua, Argentina and Colombia in Latin America, and in Thailand and Vietnam in South East Asia.

Figure 5. (L-R) HS1WR (SK), HSØZAA(SK), HS1ALV (HSØZDY), and HS1ABD (K3ZO/HSØZAR, SK) in 1978

Figure 6. (L-R) HS1WR (SK), HS1ABD (K3ZO/HSØZAR, SK), and HS1AIR (YB7AAA) in 1978

During Fred’s service in Cordoba, Argentina in 1974 he was kidnapped from his home by leftist guerrillas, who shot him in the back when he courageously reached for a gun one of his kidnappers laid on a table in front of him. His captors took him for some medical care, then dropped him off alongside a river and called a radio station to say where he could be found. He was located and given emergency medical care in Argentina before being taken to Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, where he was treated before completing his recovery at his family’s home on Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. He received an award for his bravery from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a letter of commendation from President Richard Nixon.

Concerning the amateur radio operations in Thailand, Fred first came to Thailand in 1968-1970 as the Assistant Branch Public Affairs Officer for United States Information Service (USIS) in Chiang Mai province. The assignment was a counter-insurgency program to prevent Thailand from falling into the hands of the worldwide Communist juggernaut. Prior to the post, Fred spent 10 months in an intensive Thai language training while contemplating how he could get himself on the air from Thailand – a rare DXCC at that time. Don Reibhoff K7CBZ (HS3DR) telephoned Fred telling him that he was also being posted to Thailand and will probably arrive there before Fred does.

Figure 7. Fred Laun’s HS3AL QSL Card from Thailand in 1968

Once in Thailand, both Fred W9SZR (K3ZO) and Don K7CBZ became members of Society of Thai Amateur Radio (STAR). During that time, amateur radio was not formally legal in Thailand and carried a heavy sentence if found. Only 1-2 licenses were official granted and only to Thai nationals. The only mode that was permitted was phone. CW was out of bound in fear of encrypted messages. Nevertheless, with the help of Lt. Chankij Boonyaratvej (HS1CB), the President of STAR, Fred managed to get his callsign HS3AL (HS for Thailand, 3 for call area, and AL for Alfred Laun), and he himself was later elected as Vice President of STAR.

One important event that helped put Thailand on the correct path for amateur radio was the removal of Thailand from the ITU Banned List. Fred engaged in an extensive conversation with Dick Baldwin (W1RU) then assistant secretary of the ARRL (later to become president of IARU), and Ted Robinson (F8RU) of the ITU in order to find out why Thailand was on the ITU banned list. Another American member of STAR, Bob Daniel (HS1BD/W6LCB) had close relations with Sribhumi Sukhanetr (HS1SS), then the Deputy Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs Department (PTD) which was the Thai Government entity tasked with issuing radio licenses amongst other things, who advised that Thailand had never asked the ITU to place it on the amateur radio banned list in the first place.

Figure 8. Fred Laun (K3ZO/HSØZAR, SK) operating in CQWW CW 2000 (Left) and CQWW CW 2010 (Right) from HSØAC under M/M category. HSØAC’s new building was supported by YASME Foundation following the big flood.

Ted Robinson (F8RU) sent Fred a copy of the document which the ITU said was the reason for Thailand's being placed on the banned list. It was a questionnaire about radio in general, written in French – the official language of ITU – with one question about amateur radio among some 50 total questions. The question asked “Does your administration prohibit amateur radio stations in your country from communicating with those of other countries?” and whoever had answered the questionnaire on the part of the Thai PTD had answered “oui”…. yes! To rectify this, Fred invited Michael Owen, VK3KI (SK), then an official of IARU Region 3, to visit Thailand, where they gave him an extensive briefing on ham radio in Thailand, including a written explanation for the special problems of amateur radio within the country, and STAR was eventually accepted into IARU membership around 1969 which helped boost the status and confidence of amateur radio in Thailand. Fred's Callsign was later changed from HS3AL to HS5ABD on 1st January 1 1970. He was able to operate CW and subsequently returned to the U.S. in 1970.

Figure 9. Fred Laun’s QSL Cards for HS5ABD (Left) and HS1ABD (Right)

Fred returned to Thailand between 1978 and 1980 as an Embassy Press Officer, and the Society of Thai Amateur Radio (STAR) changed its name to Radio Amateur Society of Thailand (RAST). At the time, the President of RAST was Col. Kamchai Chotikul, HS1WR (SK), aka “Mr Ham Radio” of Thailand. Col. Kamchai fought hard for amateur radio to become legalised in Thailand and he sadly succumbed to cancer in 1982. Fred was very active on the air during that period under the callsign “HS1ABD” when the sun spot number was at its peak. He was also elected to be the Chairman of the IARU Region 3 Conference in Bangkok in 1978.

Once amateur radio became a more permanent fixture in Thailand with a clear governing body and fully supported by the laws, Fred’s Thai callsign changed once again for the last time from HS1ABD to HSØZAR in 1993.

Figure 10. Fred Laun’s QSL card for HSØZAR

Figure 11. Fred Laun’s Thai Advanced Amateur Radio Operator License which was renewed only 1 week before he sadly passed away

Figure 12. Fred Laun’s XYL Somporn and Fred at Karl’s (K4YT) house in 2007

In his personal life, Fred married Somporn Ninabutra of Thailand in 1986, and she accompanied him to his overseas assignments until she passed away in 2011. When Fred retired after 25 years in government service, he settled back in his home in Temple Hills, Maryland, only a short distance from the United States Capitol, and continued his communications with friends in many countries through amateur radio.

Fred also took a leading role in supporting organizations of amateur radio operators in the United States and abroad. He, as callsign K3ZO, was inducted into the CQ Contest Hall of Fame in April 1993. He was a member of the Potomac Valley Radio Club, President of the National Capitol DC Association, A1 Operator Club, First Class Operator Club (FOC) and a life member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). Fred was a very active Director of the YASME Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation organized to support scientific and educational projects related to amateur radio, including long distance communication, and the introduction and promotion of amateur radio in developing countries.

Fred will be greatly missed by the thousands of operators all over the world who looked forward to conversing with him on the radio or meeting him at gatherings of amateur radio operators in the United States and abroad. After decades of transmissions with thousands of friends, Fred’s voice, and his counsel to operators all over the world, will be missed tremendously.

Fred leaves behind a brother, John (Jack) Laun, who lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.
We will miss “Kilowatt-Three-Zanzibar-Ocean” on the bands. RIP Uncle Fred.

(Follow for Part II next month)

Report from Thailand backnumber

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