4U1UN, That wild first night
Who other than a man of the first hour could better report about the first 4U1UN activity. John, W6ISQ, was one of them and wrote an article in the July 1989 QST.
Thanks to the courtesy of the ARRL and John, W6ISQ, you can read this amazing story here.
4U1UN… That Wild First Night (QST, July 1989)
A tribute and farewell to Mister UN Radio, HB9RS.
By John G. Troster, W6ISQ, (sk)
It is exciting to operate from a rare DX country. But it is the dream of all DXers to participate in the first operation from a brand-new DXCC country, a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity.
It was with great enthusiasm, therefore, that I accepted an invitation from my old friend Max to be an operator at 4U1UN when it was put on the air for the first time. It was exciting to be sure, but as it turned out, rather bizarre.
Max, of course, is Dr Maximilian C. DeHenseler, HB9RS, Chief Cartographer of the United Nations, who was president of the United Nations Radio Club. If you have talked to 4U1UN in the last 10 years, you probably talked to Max, particularly if it was other than a contest, since Max generally prefers to chat rather than make contest QSOs. And if you found Max on a Saturday or Sunday morning, probably his devoted wife, Renata, was sitting right alongside him, too, reading a book or the newspaper. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
A Little Background
The first United Nations Amateur Radio operation was in May 1948 from K2UN at Lake Success, New York, the original location of the United Nations headquarters. That station was on the air only a short time.
After the United Nations moved to its present well-known address on the East River in midtown Manhattan, K2UN was reactivated in October 1976, located on the third floor of the Church Center for the United Nations, across First Avenue from the Secretariat Building (but still UN territory).
However, there was still no official approval for the station from the Secretary General of the United Nations to operate as an amateur station under the UN flag and sanction. K2UN was just another FCC-licensed station in New York, albeit with an interesting call, operated by members of the UN Radio Club.
So, Max went to work. Through his efforts, the Secretary General approved the operation of a specifically designated UN amateur station using the call 4U1UN in early 1978. It was to be located on the 40th floor (top floor) of the UN Secretariat Building. And it was Max’s one-man drive and determination that finally established 4U1UN as a separate DXCC country, similar to that granted by the ARRL to 4U1ITU, the amateur station at the headquarters of the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Switzerland.
That First Night
So it was that a group of us gathered on the top floor of the UN building on February 4, 1978, for that first new-country operation from the United Nations. That was the beginning of the phone weekend of the ARRL DX Contest. Max thought that would be a great time to introduce 4U I UN to the world.
The equipment was all hooked up and in operating order in the UN employees recreation room on the 40th floor. This large room was shared with the art club, the exercise club, the ballet club and others. . . most especially a club we would soon meet.
About 6 PM local (2300 UTC), one hour before the contest started, Max suggested we have a little supper. Down we went to the UN cafeteria, talking about the exciting feeling of putting a "new one" on the air.
At 2350, we went back to the 40th floor. As we approached the recreation room we heard strange loud bangs and yelps and thuds— something like a 20-meter phone pileup. What was going on here?
Oh, oh! Standing within a foot of our operating table was a short, stocky, scowling gentleman dressed in a shaggy white uniform with a black belt around his middle. It was the UN karate class instructor, along with 20 or so students jabbing and pounding each other to the floor. And Mr Black Belt showed no inclination to allow us to approach our equipment, which he appeared to be guarding.
What do you do when a black belt karate instructor is conducting class almost on top of your equipment? You wait! So we waited. About 0045 UTC, Mr Black Belt finally moved and we scampered across the karate mats to get on the air, 45 minutes late.
Of course, Max was given the honor of being the first operator to speak from the new country. And away we went, taking turns for the first half-hour or so before settling into sustained contest operation.
There was a lot of explaining to do on the air. The stations we worked asked us all kinds of questions like, "What was that call again?" "Where are you located?" "Never heard of 4U1UN." "You say it is a new multiplier?" "You count as New York?" "You in Geneva?" and so on. It appeared that not everyone had gotten the word that the ARRL had approved 4UIUN as a new country. Indeed, we doubted that many of those stations realized that they were among the first to work a brand-new country. But we were having fun with the whole event, despite the fact that many of those we worked thought we were a pirate!
About 11 PM (0400 UTC), I decided to pack it in so I would be able to return first thing in the morning to relieve the all-night operators. So I left.
The Next Day
Next morning about 7 AM, I took the elevator up to the 37th floor and walked up the last three flights to the big recreation room. I opened the door and.. . nothing. No lights, no noise, no people - nothing. There was the operating table, but there was nothing on it - no rigs, no wires, not even a scrap of paper. I must be dreaming, I thought. Those old ghost stories flashed through my mind, the ones where people vanish without a trace. Or the kind of tale that turned out to be a complete hallucination or fantasy all along. But there was a radio station here last night. I knew it! I reassured myself that I had been on the air, and there were other people there too. . . I think!
In a sweat I sprinted back down to the first floor and called Max’s home. Renata answered and told me Max was at K2UN. Well, at least I’m still sane, I reassured myself. Or is that where we really were last night? For some reason (I guess I was still in shock), I didn’t ask "why" or any other obvious question. "Thanks Renata" was all I managed, and I took off across First Avenue, to the third floor of the UN Church Center, where (as mentioned previously) radio station K2UN had been located in the mid-70s.
I opened the door of the large closet which was K2UN’s home. There was Max, operating the contest: "4U1UN, QRZed?"
"Max," I asked, "what happened? Last night, 40th floor, ARRL contest..."
"You’re 5 and 9, 4 Uniform 1 United Nations."
"What happened to all the equipment?"
"Oh, that?" said Max, as if nothing had happened.
"Yeah, that.. .those kilopounds of radios on the 40th floor across the street - they’re all gone!"
"Well," Max began, "we operated until about 1 AM when three UN security guards suddenly appeared. It seems that since early evening our "brand-new country" radio station had completely destroyed the security system of the United Nations headquarters.They shut us down."
"But all that equipment. . .
"After the operators left," Max continued, "I decided it was too bad that our new country was going to be shut down on its first night. So, Renata and I moved the equipment over here."
What Max was really saying was that, in the middle of the night, he and Renata carried load after load of heavy radio gear, cables and all the peripherals down those three flights of stairs, then down 37 floors on the elevator, out of the building and 200 yards across icy First Avenue, to the building where K2UN had been located. Then up to the third floor and finally hooking all the pieces back together again, all this in the dead of a bitterly cold February night in New York City.
"QRZed contest," said Max.
You now have some idea of Max’s determination and dedication, the same kind of determination that culminated in 4U1UN being approved by the UN Secretary General in the first place.
4U1UN Continues Operation
Since that night, 4UIUN has been very active on the bands for over a decade. You can find it on the air particularly during the major DX contests, under the direction of present station manager Dave Rosen, K2GM.
Incidentally, the reason that 4U1UN interfered with the UN security system was that the triband vertical was put up in the dark, right next to the VHF antenna used by the security police. Better spacing solved the problem and brought about a peaceful coexistence from then on to the present, with 4U1UN resuming its operation from the UN employees recreation room on the 40th floor of the Secretariat Building. The UN station still operates from a sheltered corner of the recreation room, with one significant addition: the 4U1UN/B 20-meter beacon is housed at the other end of the room. 4U1UN/B is the first beacon to key in the 10-minute cycle of beacon stations in the Northern California DX Foundation’s worldwide beacon net operating on 14.1 MHz.
Max served as president of the UN Radio Club for most of the past 10 years. He is now president emeritus.
Max is an avid collector of Hallicrafters equipment, having amassed one of the most complete collections in the world. He has all but a few of the sets ever manufactured by Hallicrafters. He has also just completed a book on Hallicrafters gear which will be published by the Antique Wireless Association.
When Max retires in July 1989, he will return to Montreux, Switzerland, where he will assume duties as director of the Swiss Radio and TV Museum "Audiorama." You may be sure all those Hallicrafters rigs will be on display! Oh yes, all the sets in his collection were in working order the last time they were turned on.
The Audiorama will have an on-site amateur station with the call HB9M. Max says the "M" is for Museum or Montreux. But we know it really stands for Max!
So, when you hear 4U1UN on the air this month, break in and say, "Hello, Max
thanks for 4U1UN." Chances are Max will be at the mike or close by. You might also send 88 to Renata, who will probably be there, right next to him, reading the paper.
Good luck, 73, and see you both from HB9M soon, and thanks, Max and Renata.
Jack, W6ISQ (sk)
Max, HB9RS (sk) in QSO with 4U60UN, December 2005