Sun, Feb 17, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The only ‘ham’ in Taiwan for 25 years

Tim Chen was famous among amateur radio enthusiasts as the only person allowed to operate in Taiwan until 1985, when the government started issuing more licenses

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Tim Chen sends out radio signals in 1998 in Pratas Island.

Photo: Wang Jui-te, Taipei Times

Feb. 18 to Feb. 24

Until 1985, Taiwan’s amateur (ham) radio scene consisted of one person: Tim Chen (陳實忻), who held the country’s only license due to Martial Law era restrictions. According to a Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) report, this resulted in the unusual situation where Taiwan Garrison Command had to establish a set of amateur radio regulations just for him.

Since there was nobody else in Taiwan to talk to, Chen connected with people around the world, using Morse code at first via his station BV2A, and gaining voice communication capabilities in 1974 through BV2B. Chen was strictly forbidden to speak with anyone in China or the Soviet Union, but he enjoyed much popularity as the world’s only BV (Taiwan’s country code) station operator — so much so that US senator and fellow ham enthusiast Barry Goldwater specifically requested to tour Chen’s two stations when he visited Taiwan in 1986.

When Chen died on Feb. 22, 2006, an American Radio Relay League (ARRL) obituary noted that Chen was “more famous than he knew.” Indeed, Chen told Commonwealth Magazine in 1984 that his favorite part of amateur radio was the people he could connect to.

“Think about it, now there’s at least 70,000 or 80,000 people in the world who know me,” Chen said. “Where else would you have the chance to make so many friends?”

FROM The NORTH POLE TO ANTARCTICA

Chen got his start in amateur radio when he was a 19 year old in China. He stopped for several years after retreating to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 1949, but in 1955 he rekindled his passion by forming the Chinese Radio Association (中國無線電協進會) with a few friends. He managed to obtain a operating license through the association before the government decided that it was too risky to issue any more.

Chen established BV2A in 1960, drawing quite a stir around the ham world. He tells Commonwealth Magazine that since enthusiasts are drawn to remote and obscure locations, they jumped at the chance to speak to the first and only operator in Taiwan.

By the time Commonwealth Magazine visited Chen’s 5-ping (16.5m2) space, he had connected with people on every continent — including Antarctica and the North Pole. Chen told the magazine that he dutily performed his part in “citizen diplomacy” by explaining to his contacts where Taiwan was located and the difference between the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China.

Chen was always excited to send out a signal because he never knew where it would go or who he would get on the other end. After exchanging names and addresses, enthusiasts would mail “QSL cards” to each other. The size of a postcard, this card provides the user’s frequency, address, times for communication and other vital information.

Instead of a personal emblem, Chen station’s QSL identification card, which he had mailed to more than 200,000 users around the world by 1983, displayed an ROC flag. The walls of his cramped space were plastered with QSL cards he had received. A favorite story he liked to tell was when he picked up signals from a station belonging to Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Sikkim in today’s India. Unfortunately, the king did not reciprocate, leading to a missed connection.

His contacts came in handy when he and his wife traveled abroad, as people whom he never met would show up to give them a tour of each city. When they were denied entry into the UK, two British radio enthusiasts showed up to serve as guarantors.

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