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Report from Thailand

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

Champ C. Muangamphun, E21EIC

Figure 1. Uncle Fred K3ZO gave a little talk to a group of Thai HAMs that was founded in 1996. (Picture taken in 2002)

This is the second part of Fred Laun’s K3ZO legacy, particularly his personal contribution towards amateur radio in Thailand. Most of the account here is through Uncle Fred’s long-term friendship with Champ E21EIC. Uncle Fred’s ambition was always to plant HS firmly on the HF bands. To accomplish this, he created the momentum needed to draw in young enthusiasts, funded club stations so that newcomers have a chance to go on the air, offered numerous advice and guidance to the locals, and actively promoted Thai HAMs to the world wherever he went. Ultimately though, his goal was to ensure that HAM radio will live on even when he no longer does.

Figure 2. Uncle Fred K3ZO visiting Champ E21EIC’s station twice when Champ completed his new house in 2011 and 2014.

Champ E21EIC was one of Uncle Fred’s prodigies. He first read about Uncle Fred from the 25th Radio Amateur Society of Thailand under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King (RAST) Anniversary Magazine, and got to meet him in person for the first time in 1996. In that year, Champ founded a DX group along with fellow Thai HAMs who were interested in contesting and chasing rare DXCCs. Uncle Fred had taken a liking to the group, joined in on their meetings and were very supportive of their endeavour. He suggested that the group could draw in newcomers to the HF bands if they promoted the concept of “contesting” to everybody. Because the majority of Thai HAMs were stuck on the 2m FM band, CQ WW VHF Contest was the obvious choice for this campaign. From that year on, the VHF Contest gained a lot of popularity and more HAMs started to upgrade their licenses to Intermediate and Advance to try their hands at CW and contesting at international level.

Figure 3. Pictures taken from 1997 of K3ZO/HSØZAR, TK5AE, E21EIC, HS1CHB, HS1…, E21IZC, and JR3XMG at E22AAA station in Muang Thong Thani.

In 1997, Champ was invited to see Uncle Fred’s team with 3-4 people including Francois Milano TK5AE, Masao Umemoto JR3XMG compete at E22AAA Club Station in Muang Thong Thani. This station belonged to Gen. Narissara Shaowanasai (John) HS1CHB who was also Champ’s elmer at the time. The contest provided Champ with the opportunity to observe how a team comprised of foreign contesters operate for the first time, and gave him the chance to get to know Uncle Fred better.

Figure 4. The atmosphere from CQWW CW Contest in 2000 under M/M category from HSØAC.Champ E21EIC was using ICOM IC-781.

More excitement came in 2000 when Uncle Fred K3ZO accepted the invitation to join CQWW CW with the young Thai HAMs along with John Gagen HSØZDJ (W2YR), Pornchai Semjang (HS2JFW), Ray Gerrard HSØZDZ (G3NOM, SK), and Sam Nordenstroem HSØZDY (SM3DYU) at HSØAC Club Station at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Rangsit, Pathum Thani, under M/M category. Shirow Kinoshita (JF6DEA) also pop by to observe the operation. The entire event was documented in Uncle Fred’s 53-page book titled “Biography of Alfred A. Laun III K3ZO-HSØZAR and the CQWW CW Contest from HSØAC” which he had written in 2002 and entrusted to Niwes Suwanboos (HS5AYO) and Champ (E21EIC). Uncle Fred gave a very clear instruction that any income gained from the sale of this book goes towards the Thai group for the benefit of Amateur Radio in Thailand. That was how big his heart was.

Throughout the years, every time The Post and Telegraph Department (PTD), then The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), and later The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) held an Intermediate or Advanced Class Examination for Thai HAMs, Champ was responsible for updating Uncle Fred about how many more novices managed to upgrade their licenses along with their respective callsigns. By doing so, Uncle Fred was able to compile his own database and monitor the growth of amateur radio in Thailand over the years.

Figure 5. RAST ex-President Mrs Mayuree Chotikul, HS1YL (SK), signed a 3-year lease agreement with Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) for HSØAC Club Station on AIT’s Pathum Thani campus in 2004. Many witnesses were present including the ex-Treasurer of YASME Foundation, Charles Epps (W6OAT).

Another potential setback happened in 2004 when AIT asked that RAST’s only Club Station, HSØAC, which was originally stationed on the ground floor of “Dormitory K”, be relocated to a different site on the campus along with the antenna farms on the rooftop; and on top of that, the Society must come up with the means to erect a new building themselves if they want to stay on the University ground. At that time, HF rigs and equipment were extremely expensive, costing almost double of what they should be if bought in the US. For this reason, HF stations were limited to only a handful of individuals in Thailand. HSØAC Club Station was therefore vital for the students and undergraduates who did not have the funds to set up a HAM station themselves. Without HSØAC, the future of amateur radio in Thailand will be greatly hindered as the hobby will be out of reach to many of these youngsters. Seeing this, Uncle Fred K3ZO donated all the funds needed to construct a new building through YASME Foundation, and sent one of the Foundation’s Committee Rusty Epps (W6OAT) to join the opening ceremony at AIT in 2004. The students were able to enjoy their hobby once again at the new building.

Figure 6. Pictures from WRTC 2006 in Brazil where Uncle Fred K3ZO provided financial support for Champ to get there.

This HSØAC Club Station did indeed prove to be imperative for the younger generation as Champ E21EIC, who had been under Uncle Fred’s guidance for several years by now, managed to use the station to participate in all the major contests and qualify for the World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) in Brazil in 2006 at the age of just 28 years old. This was very young by radio standard as he would be up against seasoned contesters who had many more decades of experience than him. Uncle Fred was extremely thrilled by this and saw it as an opportunity to promote Thai HAMs on the world stage. Without any means to get there, Uncle Fred donated once again through YASME Foundation, a total of USD 2000 for the flight tickets and help Champ reach Brazil for the competition. Champ came back home having won 1st place in the Multi-National Multi-Single Category alongside Andy (UU0JM), Rod (PY2KC), Marcelo (PY2NA), Marcos (PY1KX), and Marcos (PY2WS). Uncle Fred could not have been prouder.

Figure 7. Champ E21EIC at Uncle Fred’s K3ZO QTH in Temple Hills, Maryland, and W3-QSL Bureau

Figure 8. (Top) Uncle Fred K3ZO at Smithsonian Institute, (Bottom) Uncle Fred K3ZO and Champ E21EIC visiting W3LPL and W3UR (The Daily DX editor) in 2007.

Figure 9. (Top) Pictures from N3HBX station, (Bottom) Pictures from N3KS station

One year later, Champ had the chance to visit the US and stayed at Uncle Fred’s house in Temple Hill, Maryland. Champ met Uncle Fred in Visalia DX Convention in California where he announced on the stage about the progress of amateur radio in Thailand and introduced Champ to the crowd. Whilst in the US, Uncle Fred showed him the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, joined the PVRC meeting, and visited many of PVRC member’s radio stations including W3LPL (M/M), K4VV (SK), N3HBX (M/2), and N3KS (now TI7W in Costa Rica). At PVRC meeting, Champ made many new friends including WX3B, W3ZZ (SK), KD4D, NN3W, K3MM, KI3O, KC3VO and WM3O. Uncle Fred was using Ten-Tec Orion II at that time and Champ got the chance to QRV from Uncle Fred’s station under W3/E21EIC as well as participated in CQ WPX CW Contest in May 2007. He learnt about how to manage the QSL Bureau from Uncle Fred, listened to all of Uncle Fred’s stories and his lifetime achievements, and saw all the many awards decorating Uncle Fred’s wall – including historical ones such as The Siam Award.

Figure 10. (Top) The atmosphere at the PVRC meeting, and Champ E21EIC presenting RAST Banner to Jim Nitzberg WX3B, the PVRC President in 2007, (Bottom) Uncle Fred’s K3ZO Wall of Awards

In 2011, the mismanagement in the water storage of the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams located upstream of the Chao Phraya River Basin, and the arrival of five tropical storms between June and October, caused Thailand to suffer its worst flood in more than half a century. The flood had spread across 66 out of 77 provinces, affected 4 million households, 13.4 million people, and resulted in an estimated economic loss of US $46.5 billion. The HSØAC Club Station which was situated on the ground floor was not spared. The floodwater came fast and the entire floor was quickly submerged. This lasted months. By the time the water receded, the destruction was already done and all the equipment was utterly destroyed. Seeing this, Uncle Fred once again provided financial aids through the YASME Foundation to bring about the restoration work. He also helped to coordinate with various parties to procure the necessary transceivers and gears for the Club Station.

Figure 11. The state of HSØAC Club Station after the big flood in 2011 where everything was destroyed.

Sadly 2011 was also the year that Uncle Fred’s XYL Somporn passed away in America. Until then, Uncle Fred regularly came to visit Thailand, sometimes twice a year. With her passing, Uncle Fred sent her body back to Thailand and Champ helped to oversee that she received a proper Buddhist funeral on his behalf. It was a tremendously sad time for Uncle Fred, and he came back to visit Thailand less after that.

Figure 12. (Top) Pictures from CQWW CW 2010 Contest at HSØAC Club Station, (Bottom) Pictures from CQWW CW 2016 and 2019 Contests under the callsign HSØZAR at Ban Ta Bong, Thailand

As time goes by, the building at HSØAC was starting to become run down after having gone through a major flood. On top of that, AIT was not sure whether it was going to continue its lease with Thammasart University due to lack of funding. This automatically meant that HSØAC Club Station which was still on AIT campus was under a precarious situation, and so it was later moved to Rajapruk University.

Uncle Fred also funded Stig Lindblom’s (HSØZGD/LA7JO) contest station in Ban Ta Bong, partly so that Thai HAMs will always have a place to experience the world of contesting here if they so wish. It was agreed that Ban Ta Bong will always be active in CQWW Contest of every year. With Uncle Fred’s financial contribution going towards the antennas, towers, filters and various equipment, Ban Ta Bong station a.k.a. The Center of the World, was up and running by 2013. Champ had the opportunity to joined in M/2 category here from 2014 onwards either under HSØZAR or E2A. They always placed very highly on the score table and was definitely one of the top stations from Asia.

Figure 13. Pictures from CQWW CW in 2016 (top), and 2017 (bottom) from HSØZAR in Ban Ta Bong, Thailand

Uncle Fred came to Thailand for the last time in 2019 for CQ WW CW Contest. That year, all his friends organised a surprise 80th birthday party at his stay in Nonthaburi. Even though Uncle Fred was getting older, his passion still remained and he regularly checked in on how the contest station was doing throughout this period. In 2018, Ban Ta Bong once again operated in CQ WW CW contest under E2A in M/M category. Unfortunately, the station had to take a 2 years’ break because of COVID, but managed to come back online in time for CQ WW SSB and CW Contests in October and November of 2022 under M/2 category. The primary objective for the 2022 contests was to give the Thai WRTC Team comprising of Champ E21EIC and Mew E29TGW a chance to practice for their WRTC in Italy in 2023. The team was thrilled to contact Uncle Fred in Maryland during the competition – from his very own contest station! Everyone can imagine the smile on Uncle Fred’s face when he heard them calling.

Figure 14. The wonderful man at Friedrichshafen in 2019, Uncle Fred K3ZO

Champ met Uncle Fred for the last time in Friedrichshafen HAM Fair in Germany in 2019. Uncle Fred came to visit RAST’s booth and admired the progress RAST had made with amateur radio in Thailand.

In 2022, as soon as Uncle Fred learned that the Thai WRTC Team (AS#6) still lack any site sponsorship for the competition that was due to take place in 10 months’ time, he wired the money straight away without any hesitance. No questions asked. Champ will always be forever grateful for all that Uncle Fred has done for him and for Thailand.

Figure 15, A wonderful memory of Champ E21EIC with Uncle Fred K3ZO/HSØZAR

Uncle Fred started to become ill on 18th December 2022 and sadly passed away peacefully on 3rd January 2023 at the age of 85.

Uncle Fred has always been the beaming light for HAMs around the world, but particular so for Thailand. Ever since he set foot in this country in 1967, he helped to establish amateur radio and ensured that it grew to become a stable hobby for all those who love radios as much as he did. He was a good role model for everybody, and was a friend and a father to Champ. Everywhere he went, he made sure that everybody knew of Thailand.

Figure 16, (L-R) John HS1CHB, Uncle Fred K3ZO/HSØZAR, and Champ E21EIC. Two generation of elmers : Uncle Fred K3ZO was John’s elmer, who in turn was also Champ’s elmer in addition to Uncle Fred.

To Uncle Fred : We will keep on CQ-ing from Thailand. It is the best way to honour your memory and to keep your legacy alive. Rest in peace Uncle Fred, K3ZO. With love, from all HAMs in HS-land.

Corrections to Uncle Fred Laun K3ZO Silent Key (Part I) :
- Fred read an article from the magazine called "Boy's Life", written by W2PAU and W2GND, which detailed the account of Vic Clark (W4KFC SK), an avid HAM operator.
- Kenneth Clark (W4KFC) is Vic Clark's son.

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