This is a story of a couple of two week periods ---- one in 1978 and the other in 1980 ---- both in the month of February. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the call signs and did not take a lot of pictures (this was pre-cell phones), but it involved what was indeed a one in a million (or thereabouts) ham radio coincidence.
It was February, 1978. I had been a licensed ham for about four years and was scheduled for a couple of weeks of Naval Reserve annual duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO). This, of course, was before the infamous prison camp there, which was established after “911.” When I arrived, I learned that in order to operate amateur radio, I had to visit the communications officer and get a “KG4“ plus a 2 letter suffix call sign for use during my stay. Hams were not allowed to use their regular stateside calls (mine was WA4IVG at the time). Upon visiting the “com officer” with a copy of my license (‘twas either General or Advanced at the time) I was asked what two letter suffix I wanted. Since I did not think “GD” would be well-received, I chose “KP” for Kingsport, my home town. The guy opened an old-fashioned ledger book in which all GTMO calls were listed in longhand and found that “KG4KP” was indeed available, so it was mine for my visit.
Operating was from the GTMO club station’s equipment located in a small dedicated building. A young ham from “zero land” (I can’t recall his name or call), who was a Navy radioman volunteered to show me how to tune up the gear, loaned me a key to the building, etc. Most evenings while I was there I operated, and I certainly collected a lot of interesting contacts from all over the world. I learned that KG4’s were highly valued as there were only about 20 hams stationed at GTMO, and the 40 square mile base counted as a separate country. That two weeks prompted me to have some KG4KP QSL cards printed when I got back home, and although I have never been big on QSL’ing or counting countries, I certainly had to respond to all of these guys. On those nights my zeroland buddy and I consumed a good bit of pizza and beer. Speaking of beer, he even found buried out in back of the shack a very old Hatuey beer bottle. The brand was bottled by the Bacardi company in the pre-Castro years. Its correct pronunciation was “OT-tway,” but the Navy guys called it “Hot TOO-ee” their slang name for the Indian chief emblem, which emblazed every bottle. (I still have the bottle.) I enjoyed my visit immensely. My Navy job while assigned at GTMO was to assist the local Armed Forces Radio and TV (AFRTS) broadcast stations with “management” advice. I was pleased to get back there in February on 1982, but was not has “ham active” on that trip, although I again was assigned the KG4KP call.
Now we move on to 1980. Again in the month of February, this time I was assigned to the AFRTS detachment at Keflavik, Iceland, for my annual two weeks of active duty. Well in advance of my visit, I sent a letter to the Icelandic Postal Service per ARRL instructions in order to get a reciprocal operating permit to operate from Iceland during my visit. I never got a response. Upon arriving at Keflavik (without my luggage for a few days; it had gone on to Germany by mistake) I was told that all visiting officers had to meet “the Admiral” in charge of the base. When I did, I noticed a telegraph key on his desk and asked him about it. As it turned out he was a ham; so I asked about the reciprocal operating permits. His response was that if I figured out how to get one, I should let him know, because he had been there for over a year and was still trying to get one with no results.
During my time at the AFRTS detachment I got to know the chief engineer, an Icelandic chap named Sigundur Johnsonn. He even invited me to have dinner with his family at his home, which, by the way, was heated by hot water coming up from the ground on this volcanic island. It fed pipes in the concrete walls of his home. You regulated the amount of heat with a valve increasing or decreasing the amount of hot water circulating. By the way, when I left Tennessee the days were in the 20 degree F. range. In Iceland that February the daytime temps reached the 40’s. The gulf stream certainly affects weather there even though part of the island was covered by glaciers. There were also more sheep in Iceland than people, but back to my radio story.
“Siggie” as he was called told me that his brother was the President of the Icelandic Amateur Radio Society and asked me if I would like to attend one of their meetings, which as luck would have it, was that very evening in the capital, Rekjavik. Of course, I said “yes” and off we went. During the meeting I asked if anyone knew about the reciprocal licensing issue whereupon one of the members went to a shelf and pulled down a large cardboard box filled with mostly- unopened letters. He said the postal service had been sending these over for a long time, and the club really did not know what to do with them. ‘Mystery solved! I tried to explain. Then I was asked if I would like to operate the club’s station, and of course, I said “yes.” The guys tuned it up for me (on 40 meters, as I recall), and I called “CQ” using their club call. Out of the blue came a response: “Is that you, George?” Amazingly it was the young radioman from zero- land I had met at GTMO almost exactly two years earlier! He was on a ship (a destroyer, as I recall) in the Mediterranean Sea. WOW!! ‘What a coincidence! I was flabbergasted, but very pleased. I only wish I could remember his name and call sign, but almost 45 years have wiped them from my memory.
That was the highlight of my visit to Iceland. One other interesting memory, however, was a visit to the Icelandic government TV station. The biggest department in the station was the captioning department. Icelandic is only spoken in Iceland. With a population of only around 150,000 at the time, these guys had to caption every show secured from the U.S., Europe, or elsewhere. Rights could be secured with the audio in English, Spanish, French, or German, but not in Icelandic, since it was spoken nowhere else in the world! Another interesting fact was that while Iceland’s main problems at the time were alcoholism and illegitimate childbirths both mostly among young people, the TV station signed on around 4 in the afternoon and off around 9 pm. With little TV to watch, what was a young couple to do?
George DeVault was a public affairs officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1970 to 1994 retiring in the rank of Captain. In civilian life he was a manager at (and for almost 35 years President of) Holston Valley Broadcasting Corporation in Kingsport, Tennessee, from 1968 until his retirement in 2017. While his original amateur radio call was WA4IVG, for the past several years it has been W3KPT in honor of his broadcast station “alma mater” WKPT. He is a former Vice President of the Kingsport (TN) Amateur Radio Club and a life member of both the ARRL and The Bristol (TN/VA) Amateur Radio Club.