There are some DXCC entities, which, regardless of their position on the “most wanted” list, really get DXers’ blood pumping. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is no doubt one of these. According to “DX Magazine,” it occupies the 79th position on the worldwide list of most wanted countries. For the American West Coast it is a “most wanted” included in the first 30 elements of the list, occupying the 44th positions in Asia and in Japan. Only in Europe is it included in the 100th position which doesnt seem to frighten European DXers, whose calls produce that unbreachable wall dampening expectations of all those hoping to obtain even just a single QSO.Why is the SMOM Country?
The Order of Malta, defined by its more than nine hundred year history, views it’s own reality from a patient perspective with the term “millennial” at the forefront. That’s why determination is an essential element for those who want to come into contact with such an ancient and prestigious institution.
And it is precisely for this that we owe thanks to a group of people from the Roman capital with unwielding determination that SMOM was added amongst the entities admitted to the prestigious DX Century Club on 29th September, 1981 (with the QSL confirmation from January 1982).
Certainly, with all that has been done, we should thank those who have believed in this project from the beginning, having put a lot of effort in it. I make reference to this history making core of individuals composed of Mario Gallavotti I0MGM, Mario Monaco I0MXM, Alfonso Porretta I0AMU, Tony Privitera I0IJ, Antonio Vernucci I0JX and many others I’m not able to list, but yet struggled along with in order to, despite extraordinary peculiarities, that the Order of Malta be recognized by the ARRL in the 1980s. Many months were spent studying the complicated and troubled history of the Order gave to Rome the prerogative of being the only capital city boasting three DXCC entities in its territory.
Only few people know that the 1A prefix was chosen on occasion of its first programs, to be precise, in the 1980s, following the practice of that period, according to which other “particular” entities using the prefixes of the 1AA-1ZZ group, not having been allocated by the ITU. It was, in fact, a set of prefixes left free for radio amateur activities, springing from otherwise “ambiguous” or “contested” territories. In those years, Spratly used 1S, while the operations from Minerva Reef took place using the 1M prefix. So, the Capitolian team decided to adopt 1A, which had never been used before, trying to underscore that activities were not taking place from Italian territory. From that moment, this decision was never questioned, but the suffix was debated. In those years, a 1A0A station sounded like a pirate operation. One should forget today’s callsign trends characterized by shorter and shorter contests; that’s why the two letters KM (Knight of Malta) were chosen. In that way an agreement was reached and 1A0KM made DX history.
The birth of 1A0C
The circumstances, which actually led to the birth of the first operational station from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, are also famous for less than fortuitous reasons. In fact, 1A0KM was born in an effort to support communications between the unities of the Order that operated in the territories shaken by the terrible 1980 earthquakes and that of the head office of Rome. To a certain extent, 1A0C was born in similar circumstances. In fact, some CISOM radio amateurs (the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps) felt the need to study this aspect concerning emergency communications in depth.
A large scale project addressing this very theme had been at the ready for quite some time and, more than one year before, some radio amateur callsigns had been issued by the Grand Magistry and the Reliefs Corps, having been assigned to a number of operators. Consequently, the emergency surrounding the earthquake in Emilia completely changed the situation, showing its dramatic capability and underlining the importance of these skills in the areas in which CISOM operates every day.
An entity difficult to avtivate
However, as widely known, it’s necessary to be aware of the difference between permissions and authorizations involving a station from the territory of this DXCC entity.
Permissions allowing for the setting up of an amateur station are granted in small numbers and always during times of the year when diplomatic and service activities allow for such. These are usually short periods and they often do not coincide with the best band openings, where it’s necessary to manage various stations working simultaneously in an area only 100 meters long and 70 meters wide.
The way which angles, paths, radials, allotted space and proper guying have to be analysed has to be much more similar to a “Tetris” field than to a “field day.” Everything has to perfectly fit into an area where many compromises become necessary, compromising performance and antenna dimensions. Eventually, some choices have to be made and something has to give. This year, this meant knowing full well that we wouldn’t be working on 160 meters.
Moreover, difficulties concerning equipment are not the only ones that those operating from 1A have to face. Rome, as all big cities, is characterized by a quite high noise level. Actually, the desire is to obtain the best possible outcome regarding any kind of noise. But, regardless of all these challenges, the excitement felt when transmitting from that small patch of real estate in the heart of a big city, is unique.
41.000 QSO in 4 days
From the outside, it is almost impossible to judge an expedition in light of all the factors. Certainly from an insider’s point of view, a team knows if the group dynamics have been successful and whether the expected goals have been achieved or not. I think 41000 QSOs in such a short time can place this operation among the greatest successes of the thirty year history of the prefix. Preliminary efforts leading us to this event can be defined as long and tiring. From the very first moment we knew we wouldn’t be able to do all that needed to be done. That’s why we decided to invest all our energy towards two particular areas of the world: the USA (in particular the West Coast) and Japan. Moreover, these are the areas with the highest OM density and with the greatest number of those looking for a QSO with an Order of Malta station. Propagation, even if a better solar cycle than during the activities of 2007, gave us two powerful “flares,” which reduced considerably the likelihood of DX during two out of the four on air periods. To be honest, I think with America, it would have been hard to do better, but the result could have been better towards Asia. Unfortunately, in that direction physical obstacles on-site were numerous and signals coming from Japan were faint and difficult to process (because of huge pile-ups). Maybe the situation could have been improved by having a Japanese operator on the team. He or she would have been able to speed up contacts on SSB, using his or her mother tongue. Unfortunately, we were not able to recruit a Japanese colleague in time for the activation.
Modern by tradition
I would like to conclude this short report of the 1A0C activation while briefly commenting on the fund-raising campaign benefitting CISOM. I would like to individually thank all those who contributed to the initiative through a small or notable grant. Funds raised will be used for the acquisition of radio equipment to be employed by CISOM in emergency situations, under constant operation. As soon as possible, we will furnish you with all pertinent information by means of a detailed report.
I personally marvel that during this period of worldwide economic crisis, radio amateurs engage in solidarity, with no cultural barriers; it’s beautiful (and the simplicity of this word is not the least bit serendipitous). Evidence of this: the international nature of the offers we continue to collect.
So, while we take down our radio amateur equipment from the villa, our eyes fall on a series of panels set up makeshift in the yard. A series of images, taken in the most desolate and sorrow-filled places of the world, where humanitarian activities of the Order of Malta are immortalized. Among them, three sentences which strike me do indeed stand out: the first one states “Let’s go where others do not want to go”; the second one states, “Let’s do what the others do not want to do”; the third concludes “We are the last ones to leave.” So, while I close the box on my Hexbeam, I feel proud of having taken part, even if just for a few days, in this glorious, almost millennial moment in history.
1A0C: the 6 meters adventure
by Jose Ramon Hierro Peris
Having the idea of activating SMOM during the summer, the 6 meter band came first to our minds. And with the lack of a firm F2 so far this cycle to offer DX at mid latitudes, Sporadic E propagation is always a refuge for magic band enthusiasts.
Since 1A was added to the DXCC program on September 1981, several groups of aficionados have operated from Villa Magistrale dell’Aventino.
Outside the Sporadic E season, in the bottom part of the solar cycle, few contacts are made using tropospheric ducting and terrestrial communication means.
The ones made on 6 meters during the summer with Sergio, IK0FTA at the key, produced contacts to most places with a ham radio population with one or two “Es” hops.
At the Aventine Summit, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, you not only can enjoy the quiet atmosphere around but have an almost clean 50 MHz spectrum, which surprised us, considering you are in the middle of a bustling large city.
The antenna location was chosen on the most suitable place to cover North America, Japan and most of the European territory. Our focus was to contact those countries not widely covered by previous operations, mainly in the Americas and the Far East.
Although Sporadic E mechanisms are not very clear yet, it is widely accepted that high solar activity does not favor it. Before and during our four day stay, El Sol was very flare productive. There were 81 C and 15 M class flares during a 9 day period. X-Ray radiation from those events sparked off plentiful radio blackouts on the HF bands, obvious on 50 MHz.
Whatsoever the reason was, the only full day with the excitement of a strong Es was the first one, 1 July. At 9:51 UTC we saw the kick off. And the band folded at 19:00Z. The next day the band looked promising but shortly after noon only weak openings were to be seen. Meanwhile, the band was Es absent; and although we were not in the middle of an important meteor shower, we managed to log lots of stations via propagation reflected off the rocks,not forgetting reflections off Saint Peter’s Dome, as Sergio, IK0FTA suggested.
We were not able to hear or to be heard in Japan but managed to grab some 23 QSOs with North America in two brief openings via Es multi-hop.
Notwithstanding bad propagation, ending with 2125 QSOs and 57 different DXCC entities in 4 continents – this fulfilled our expectations for such a short operating time.
What is CISOM?
The Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps (CISOM), counts some 3000 volunteers (medical, paramedical staff and assistants) in the three North-Central-South units among which the corps is divided in Italy. Founded in 1970, it carries out rescue and assistance operations during natural disasters. It intervened during the earthquakes in Irpinia, Umbria, Puglia, Basilicata and Abruzzo.
In addition to its work in Italy, the Corps has also participated in international humanitarian initiatives such as the consignment of food aid for children in Hungary after the collapse of the Soviet bloc (1990) and, more recently, in Kosovo and in the entire Balkan region.
What is the SMOM?
The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign body, as provided by international law. The Order – based in Rome, on via Condotti, has its own government, an independent magistracy, bilateral diplomatic relations with 104 countries and is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organisations such as the United Nations. The six Grand Priories, six Subpriories and 47 National Associations of Knights on five continents manage its operational activities. The Order issues its own passports and stamps and creates public institutions, endowed with judicial autonomy. The Order’s day to day life is governed by a Constitution and Code, reformed in 1997.
The Grand Master governs the Order both as sovereign and religious head. He is elected for life, within the professed knights in perpetual vows. He is assisted by and presides over the Sovereign Council, which is composed of four high offices – Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure – as well as six other members, all elected by the Order’s Chapter General for a five-year term. The Council of Government and the Board of Auditors, whose compositions reflect the international character of the Order, assist the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council. The Chapter General also elects these two bodies for a five-year term.
More info in www.orderofmalta.int