Famed Club Station Permanently Closed
By Dave Kaiser, AL7HG, in the July 2009 issue of QST Magazine
Saudi Arabia has been active on the ham bands for more than 50 years, but its small number of licensed stations has always made it an elusive catch. Now, says AL7HG, there is both good news and bad news in recent developments.
We don’t hear too much too often about ham radio in Saudi Arabia (HZ), but some changes over the past five years are remaking the face of our hobby there. The bad news is that many hams first Saudi contact over the years, the U.S. Military Training Mission club station, HZ1AB, active in Dhahran since 1947, has been reassigned. The good news is that the Saudi government has authorized reciprocal licensing for foreign hams, making it more likely for hams around the world to have a chance to work the desert nation. In this article, we’ll profile one expatriate ham currently operating from Saudi Arabia and look at the history of club station HZ1AB, as well as my own experiences there before the days of reciprocal licensing.
HZ1GW On the Air
Kenneth G. Dyer, HZ1GW, an expatriate from Wales with the home callsign GW0RHC, is one of the first foreigners licensed under the reciprocal licensing rules. Dyer has been working in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade and at first was limited, like other foreign hams, to operating from the Dhahran Amateur Radio Club, HZ1AB. Ken joined the club in 1993 and served as its last president, from 1999 until the station shut down permanently in 2004.
Dyer obtained his Saudi reciprocal license from the Communications and Information Technology Commission in Riyadh in late 2004, soon after CITC issued Article 4 of its Spectrum Management General Services which says:
1) Those wishing to obtain a Radio Amateur License should meet the following conditions:
a) He shall be a Saudi National or in official residence in the kingdom;
b) His age shall not be less than 18 years;
c) Has good moral conduct, never being sentenced under codified Islamic law of committed a crime related to honesty, and honor – unless proved otherwise and the defamation legally removed; and
d) Has successfully passed the Radio Amateur Test.
2)Without prejudice to the terms of paragraphs (1-A, 1-B, 1-C and 1-D of this article), the non-Saudi shall equally be allowed to operate a licensed Amateur Radio Station inside the kingdom or in its territorial waters or its space in each of the following two cases:
a) If he has a valid license from his country authorizing him to operate such a station; and
b) If he obtained a license for such station from CITC in accordance with this regulation.
Ken first set up a home station about 150 miles southeast of Medina in 2006, using a 40-foot tower and a three-element SteppIR beam. He later raised the tower to 60 feet and installed a SteppIR MonstlR antenna, operating at this location until November 2007 and racking up 213 countries with 173 confirmed. At the end of 2007, Ken moved back to Dhahran, where he is currently operating.
When Dyer returned to Wales on vacation at the end of 2005, he bought an Icom IC-7000 with a Codan 9350 antenna for mobile operating. He installed the gear in his Ford Expedition and has spent the past year operating mobile 40 meters through 10 meters, along Saudi Arabia’s east-west pipeline between Riyadh and Yanbu. He also soon expects to have a portable quad antenna that he will use while on the job at Pump Station 7 on the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) East-West Pipeline that pumps crude oil from the east to the west coast of Saudi Arabia.
A sign of the changing attitude toward foreign hams in Saudi Arabia played out at the airport when Ken returned with the equipment. Customs agents confiscated it, as has been their long-standing habit, but two weeks later Ken was able to go back to Customs and pick it up. This is quite different from the experiences I had over my nearly 25 years working in the kingdom.
My wife Sabia, WB4RUN, and I lived in Saudi Arabia from 1980 to 2004. As part of my initial agreement to work in the country, the company I worked for promised to obtain a license for my wife and me to operate there. When we flew into Jeddah, on the west coast, I hand carried a Kenwood 430, which was immediately confiscated by Customs.
Even though my employer at the time, a daily newspaper named Arab News, made an effort to get me an amateur license and have the transceiver released, the only time I was allowed to take it was when I was leaving the country. That 430, and subsequently a 440, traveled around the world several times without ever getting on the air. Each year when I went back to the U.S. on vacation, Customs would release the radio and I would carry it back to the U.S., and every year the companies I worked for would promise I could get it back in. But like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football only to have Lucy put it away time after time, I would bring back a rig each year, only to have it sit in Customs until my next trip home.
It was only through the HZ1AB club station that I was able to operate at all. In 1989, when I began working for Saudi Aramco and moved to Dhahran, hundreds of miles northeast of Jeddah, I looked forward to joining HZ1AB. At that time, being a member of the club was the only way to legally get on the air from Saudi Arabia.
In 1990, during the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, the Dhahran Amateur Radio Club officially closed down. However, about a dozen radio operators, including me, spent many hours operating HZ1AB as a MARS station and passing traffic from Saudi Arabia back and forth between troops stationed there and their families in the U.S., Canada and Britain.
While the Gulf War was going on a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit resided on HZ1AB’s antenna farm and the Beverage was destroyed. It was subsequently rebuilt several years later.
When I first joined the group, the station was located in a set of barracks on the military base. The location moved around a lot. At one time it was in a Quonset hut and later on, in the early 200s, it was moved into a trailer away from the barracks area. The security restrictions became harder to deal with, and the number of amateurs working and living in Saudi Arabia lessened as expatriates accepted jobs in safer parts of the world. During 2002 and 2003 the number of active hams operating the station dropped to a handful, and several conscientious members often drove hundreds of miles whenever they had time off during the weekend of vacation to keep the station active. By 2004, changes in licensing rules made it impossible to keep the station operating. It was permanently dismantled and the license was given up (see the sidebar “HZ1ABs History” for more.
As noted above, the HZ1AB callsign has been reissued. The current holder is Bandar Salah Al-Harby of Al-Qasim. If you hear Bandar on the air, by all means try to work him. Just be aware that it’s not the HZ1AB you might have expected. Also, do listen for Ken and any fellow expatriate hams who take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s relaxed reciprocal licensing rules. Information on amateur licensing in Saudi Arabia is available online. Click on “English,” and then “Spectrum Management” and then “Spectrum Management Services and Application Forms.” Scroll down the page a bit and you will find several choices for information about amateur licenses. Information should also be available via the ARRL.