Amateur Radio Fan Distributes in Myanmar

by Phil Dirk
The Tribune (San Luis Obispo)

Jan. 26, 2007 – David Martin of Paso Robles holds an amateur radio license issued by the Karen National Union. That’s the rebel government in a disputed region in Myanmar, the Asian country we used to call Burma. Many of us still call it Burma, including Mr. Martin.

Martin, 60, also holds the highest level amateur radio license issued by the Federal Communications Commission. He operates a one-man business, manufacturing custom radio equipment and antenna components. He also makes animation mechanisms for animated figures such as those we sometimes see in stores and restaurants.

Radio technology is his avocation, and that avocation takes him to such places as Haiti, Albania and Myanmar. What he does there is to install and improve radio stations for Christian organizations.

He entered Myanmar last February without permission from its official government. He went in from neighboring Thailand by crossing a river in a wooden boat powered by an outboard motor.

The part of Myanmar he entered is a disputed territory known as Karen State. It’s the longtime home of an ethnic population known as the Karen people, many of whom are Christian. Mr. Martin and another radio engineer had been sent there by Blessings For Obedience of Midland, Texas.

BFO is an organization that assists Christian missionaries with their communications. It also builds Christian broadcasting stations in remote places. Mr. Martin is one of BFO’s 13 or 14 volunteer radio engineers who do that work.

After crossing into Myanmar, Mr. Martin and his colleague traveled on foot accompanied by some Karen people including armed members of the Karen National Liberation Army.

Mr. Martin and his partner installed an FM radio transmitter and delivered 1,000 little solar-powered radio receivers that are tuned exclusively to that transmitter’s frequency.

They also set up an e-mail system that connects to the Internet via shortwave radio. It operates on solar and battery power. Mr. Martin said it can be a source of news and photos from Myanmar, where most other reports are censored by the military government.

Mr. Martin plans to slip into Myanmar again on Feb. 14. He plans to set up another transmitter and a power supply that can be driven by either wind or flowing water. He will also deliver some handheld, two-way, amateur radios.

There’s something else he’d like to take but probably won’t be able to. He said the Karen people need mine detectors to find the landmines that Myanmar soldiers hid in their fields and around their villages.

But Mr. Martin doesn’t spend all his time in Myanmar. He has also done Christian radio work in Indonesia, Haiti, Albania and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

He said his wife, Sandy, doesn’t object to his frequent traveling.

“She is all for what I do,” he said.