Warren Hill, MD, an ophthalmologist in private practice in Mesa, AZ, learned when he was in his teens that the world isn't really all that big. His junior high hobby of contacting people around the world using amateur radio-called "DX" or "DXing"-later developed into a passion for traveling the world and using Morse code to communicate with whomever he can.
Dr. Hill has been licensed as an amateur radio operator since 1964 and is a member of the German High Speed Morse Code Society. Using the call sign K7WX, he holds multiple foreign amateur radio licenses and participates in worldwide DX contests (where operators have 48 hours to see how many countries they can contact). He has collected more than 20,000 QSL verification of reception cards from contacts he has made with other radio operators around the world. His greatest accomplishments as a radio operator have been occasions when he and members of the Central Arizona DX Association have helped to improve or restore amateur radio in countries where it has been previously shut down, or severely limited. "It's a special privilege to obtain permission to put faraway countries and unusual locations back on the air," said Dr. Hill. "For a middle-aged white guy from the suburbs, convincing the members of military junta to allow this kind of activity would certainly be considered an unusual hobby."
From faraway places
Ghana had been off the air for 13 years previously, making amateur radio a banned activity. "Following more than a decade of silence, the recently renewed activity there made it a very desirable location, making it possible to win the contest," Dr. Hill explained. Additionally, Dr. Hill and his team members had the opportunity to install equipment donated by his group and demonstrate for students at the Accra Technical Training Center. He left Ghana inspired by the renewed interest in Ghanian amateur radio.
Southeast Asia-Another opportunity to promote amateur radio in a country where it had been mostly silent came in 1996. Through the efforts of Dr. Hill in the United States and Martti Laine in Finland, members of the Central Arizona DX Association were allowed to run a large-scale operation from Yangon, the capital city of the Union of Myanmar (formerly known, and often still referred to, as Burma).
Although a DXpedition in Myanmar in 1995 had been successful, amateur radio activity in the country remained banned by the military government.
"It was decided that a face-to-face meeting with Myanmar government officials was the only was to get our operation back on track," said Dr. Hill. He and two other radio enthusiasts from Japan and Finland traveled to Yangon in August 1996 and met with high-level government officials. They were able to persuade Myanmar's military leaders to allow a "demonstration project" and were issued one of the rarest items in amateur radio, a Burmese amateur radio license with the call sign XZ1N.
"This was a truly unique experience," said Dr. Hill. "The fact that amateur radio had not been permitted in this country is hardly a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the post-war history of Burma. By winning the support of Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt (the equivalent of the prime minister of the Union of Myanmar) and Lt. Gen. Kyaw Ba, it became possible for the foundation of amateur radio once again to be laid on a solid footing."
Dr. Hill and his team of operators have since returned to the Union of Myanmar several times to conduct radio operations.
Indian Ocean-In 1998, Dr. Hill was part of the 8Q7AA team that planned a DXpedition to the Maldive Republic in the Indian Ocean. "These are considered by many to be the most beautiful islands in the world," said Dr. Hill. His team had the first place world 160-meter score in this contest and enjoyed some snorkeling and the local culture.
Albania-In 2003, Dr. Hill led the U.S. Amateur Radio Delegation to Tirana, Albania as part of a multi-national training program. Albania had been closed to amateur radio from the 1940s to 1991. "This effort was used to train engineering students at the Polytechnic University in Tirana as radio operators and set up a licensing system in Albania that would be consistent with the rest of Europe," said Dr. Hill.
"It takes about a year to plan for a DXpedition-working with government officials at many levels, recruiting the best radio operators from around the world who have the skills necessary to handle the volume of contacts, getting equipment ready, making travel plans, etc.," said Dr. Hill.
"Isolation is never a good thing," said Dr. Hill. "It's against human nature. Amateur radio allows anyone with a government-issued license to talk over the radio to any other such licensed person in any other country. And, Morse code enables communication over longer distances with fewer language issues to get in the way.
"After doing Morse code for more than 40 years, I no longer hear dots and dashes, but only letters, words, and numbers," Dr. Hill said.
Over the years, many famous people have been amateur radio operators-King Juan Carlos of Spain, Barry Goldwater, Marlon Brando, Walter Cronkite, Chet Atkins, Hugh Downs, and numerous American astronauts, to name just a few.
"I started this hobby as a 14-year-old with little more than a homemade radio transmitter that a neighbor helped me construct using parts from an old television," he said.
"From that simple beginning, I've had the opportunity to communicate with people all over the world. Having done this for most of my life has allowed me to develop a sense of proportion, an intimate understanding of geography, amazing travel opportunities, and lifelong friendships that would have not been possible any other way."