Ham radio celebrities, a long list

On the 16th of August, Italian amateur radio operators commemorate the life of Francesco Cossiga, I0FCG, who passed away about a year ago. The deceased former President of the Republic of Italy was one of many people from institutions or from the world of culture and the arts, passionate about the world of ham radio, others who hold a license and the license itself. Some died, unfortunately, before FCG and therefore aren’t able to make their presence felt on the bands. Others, on the other hand, remain active and offer, from time to time, the opportunity for a QSO, never to be forgotten. In the paragraphs to follow, we will try to recall some of those who have passed on and offer a broad look at those still active, knowing full well that we will not succeed in being completely thorough. Know, in any case, that this topic has been addressed by various websites, while being constantly revised (i.e., The Original Famous Hams and Ex-hams List, edited by N2GJ and W2SG along with a group from Facebook).

Among those silent keys, beyond question, King Hussein of Jordan was the most celebrated of ham operators, with the callsign JY1. His activity was frequent and documented, not only by those who have memories of being contacted by him, but by his QSL card, complete with a royal seal, safely kept and proudly displayed by many OMs. Similar to the case of the Jordanian ruler is that of Rajiv Ghandi, Indian Prime Minister who fell victim to the act of an assassin on 21 March 1991. His call was VU2RG (in use today by a radio club in his memory) and this page offers an autobiography and allows one to see, among other things, his QSL card and his license. It should also be pointed out that his wife, Italian Sonia Ghandi, was also his companion: VU2SON.

The list of statesmen who have warmed the airwaves would then necessarily include JI1KIT, Keizo Obuchi, the 84th Japanese Prime Minister, having died 14 May, 2000, at the age of 72. “It’s said that I am a person of ordinary means – he explains in an interview. I just want people to know that I am a man that does that which must be done.” A reflection that goes well beyond any political appraisal, but well with the spirit which should inspire a radio amateur.

Now, turning to American politics, it’s impossible not to mention Barry Goldwater, who during the sixties ran for the White House. Licensed during the twenties, he had multiple callsigns, 6BPI, K3UIG and K7UGA. The last one is now in use by a radio club in Arizona in honor of his memory. His commitment and support of amateur radio was significant: during the years of the war in Vietnam, he came up with the first organizational plan for MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System), giving numerous soldiers the opportunity to speak with their families at home. Additionally, from 1969 right up to his death (in 1998 at 89), he appeared in numerous widely distributed videos through the ARRL. The first was “The World of Amateur Radio,” produced by Dave Bell (W6AQ) in which Goldwater gave a demonstration of a contact with Antarctica.

Moving on now to individuals in entertainment, is the emblematic figure of Marlon Brando. Not so well known outside of the amateur community is the fact is that the celebrated American actor is a two-time Oscar winner. Known by the pseudonym Martin Brandeaux (you’ll find all this on the pages of QRZ.com), having had two callsigns: one American, KE6PZH, and the other ticket for his private island in French Polynesia, FO5GJ. In 1994 in the celebrity interview conducted on Larry King Live, an icon of CNN with the unmistakeable red suspenders, the actor confirmed, among other things, his passion for radio.

The list, especially among Americans would be long. We want, in any event, to mention: W1AW, Hiram Percy Maxim (SK 1936, amateur radio pioneer and among the founders of the American Radio Relay League); Walter “Pee Wee” Hunt (died in 1979), respected jazz trombonist and vocalist; W1UHI, Earnest Wheatley (1993, honored with the title of “longest living American ham”, conferred at the age of 106); W1ZE, Irving Vermilya (1964, first OM licensed in the USA as documented in this article); W2ALS, Frank Gunther (1999, gave impetus to the unparalleled development of VHF, installing the first mobile radio network used by the police); K2GL, Hazard E. Reeves (1986 inventor of the stereophonic system in use by movie theatres); Walter Kronkite, KB2SGD, 2009 celebrity television correspondent from CBS Television; Winthrop M. Leeds (1998, inventor which patented some 100 inventions); Katashi Nose, KH6IJ (a name which still lights up the eyes of American DXers from the “old guard,” popular among contesters for his mastery of CW. His call is now assigned to his daughter Frances); and we certainly can’t forget Ambrogio Fogar, I2NSF, sole navigator /MM on board the “Surprise” (went missing in 2005); and VE2AHZ/VK2AHZ, Robert W. Lane, credited for being “the father of country music in Texas,” having died in 1983 at the age of 66, having composed and copyrighted some 300 songs.

Above all, however, we can’t help but remember Polish Franciscan Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Beatified in 1971, he was proclaimed a saint by John Paul II in 1982 and is the patron saint of all radio amateurs throughout the world. He acquired a license in 1938 and was active for a few years with the call SP3RN. In 1941 he offered to take the place of the father of a family who had been ordered to the “starvation bunker” in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he perished.

With the list of “celebrity hams” still active, it’s impossible not to mention EA0JC, King Juan Carlos of Spain (here’s his QSL, now managed by URE (Union of Radio Amateurs of Spain) for QSOs made by specially operated stations in towns visited by the King, as the sovereign himself has been silent since the death of JY1), and then move right on to HS1A, the King of Thailand, Bhumipol Adulayadej and his natural heir to the throne, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, HS1D. Carlos Saul Menem, President of the Republic of Argentina during the ten year period 1989-1999 has been known by the call LU1SM. Of course, you can’t miss checking out a confirmed QSO with this distinguished colleague.

There are also many sovereigns in the Middle East with a passion for ham radio. Here’s the biography of 9K2CS, Prince Yousuf al Sabah of Kuwait. From the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you may occasionally hear HZ1TA, Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud; and HZ1TC, Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, nephew of King Abdullah. And moving on to representatives of the entertainment world, perhaps many do not know that Goran Bregovic was an amateur operator with the call YU4ZU, which, however, is now expired. Still active, on the other hand, is GO0AN, Feargal Sharkey, who found fame as the lead vocalist from the pop punk band “The Undertones.” And let us not forget to mention Eagle band member Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, who is not only known for his legacy with the Eagles, but is well known to many hams through his association with Bob Heil, K9EID of Heil Sound. In Italy there’s a ham radio threesome known as “La Scala.” They are Carlo Camerini, I2CUK, Director of the Palcoscenico of the celebrated milanese theatre, baritone Domenico Giglietti, I2DMH and I2LHZ, celloist.

We conclude with two stories which bring to light, once again, how much ham radio can be helpful in certain situations and have earned the nickname from their admirers, “radio celebrities.” In chronological order, the first, described in detail in this article from the BBC, showing Scottish publicist Les Hamilton, GM3ITN, as he advised England of the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina. In the second, on the other hand, 9K2DZ, Abdul Jabbar Marafie, in August 1990, maintained contact with the rest of the world from Kuwait, having been invaded by the Iraqis, heroic work for which he received the “Humanitarian Award” from the ARRL in 1992.

With numbers being increasingly supportive of the bands, along with their full agendas, it’s not easy to connect with one of these OMs. And however peculiar the callsign, you never know who may respond when calling CQ…

Translated by Mark Kelley, W0BG.

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21 Responses to "Ham radio celebrities, a long list"

  1. Irita Daily Blogs says:

    Where’s Frasier Crane in that list?

    • Ron says:

      There are lots of important people missing from that list…one example is Walter Cronkite

      • Sean says:

        Ron, you might want to get your eyes checked as Walter Cronkite is indeed mentioned in this article in the middle of the sixth paragraph…

    • Great to read about big people in the HAM Radio. I am also a HAM since 1972 and worked with some great HAMs.
      Thanks for such a nice information.


      Jayu Bhide VU2JAU
      Gwalior, India

  2. John says:

    Jean Shepherd, anyone?

  3. Jim Allen says:

    Somewhere in my log from decades ago is a contact with an XE who was President of Mexico some time back.

  4. Howard Kent, N6KX says:

    This article only scratches the surface. What about Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, singers Joe Walsh and Donnie Osmond, astronauts Garriott and Parisi, pilots Paul Tibbits and Richard Rutan, journalist Walter Cronkite, numerous Kings and Prime Ministers… the list goes on and on!

  5. Kenneth Grimm, K4XL says:

    Ronnie Milsap, popular country and western singer with many records is WB4KCG. He is the winner of 6 Grammy awards and had over 40 number 1 hits in country music. He is also a very nice guy and a pleasure to QSO with on 80 mx.

  6. Rohit T Purohit VU2TOO says:

    Feel proud to be a HAM even if u r not having Fame & wealth like them, may not have contacted any celebrities ever but u r also capable to concur the world with radio waves as they do.

  7. Vince Murray wn2bru says:

    Barry Gold water

  8. Baruch Atta says:

    Number of famous hams (divided by) number of famous people (equals) a very small number. Say, .00001 percent. Or so. The only remarkable thing is that anybody who is already famous would want to fool around with ham radio… hihi 73

    • Kent Marshall says:


      You might be surprised at the number of hams who got their license AFTER they became famous. Matter of fact, you could do the research…..hi hi…..

  9. Roger G0BSU says:

    A minor correction – you have the letter ‘O’ and number ‘0’ transposed in the callsign of ‘Fergal’ Sharkey – should read G0OAN not GO0AN.

  10. Jeff says:

    How about Tim Allen (KK6OTD) or Lance Bass (KG4UYY)?

  11. Steve Hokeness K1DOC says:

    Let us not forget Herbert Hoover and Arthur Godfrey

  12. Jim Allen says:

    One of the first hams was 5CY, Howard Hughes, as a boy in Houston, later W5CY. He reputedly built the first transmitter in Houston.

  13. kw4by says:

    Chet Atkins ,Joe Walsh, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless ,Lj Junstrom (38 special) .. many more

  14. Steven says:

    Jim bacon G3YLA ex BBC weatherman.

  15. Kd6mtw says:

    What about Richard Burton… don’t felons count as celebrities? I’ll QSY back to 435 now…

  16. Thank you for a great list also for including myself , My contacts were Bob McLeod VP8LP of Goose Green and Tone Pole Evans VP8HZ who lived to be the Oldest Falkland Islander.He received no recognicion for his daily passing of information, as in the first 2 weeks of the conflict the British Government hadnt a clue to where the Argies were and he daily passed to me lots of info re minefields and much more . I was given a trip down to meet him on the 20th Anniversary, he had a roast mutton dinner all ready in the oven and 4 bottles of Black Lable Scotch whisky to wash it down ..all I can say is It was some night we had. I also met Dr Alison Bleany who pleaded with General Mendez to restore inter island communications by pincing her baby’s backside to make it cry and for him to tell her to get out and give her the comms back to the outer islands!!!!

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