What happened after 1990 when amateur radio operations started from Albania is known by everyone. Several local hams are active now and also visitors can be worked regularly. However I still like to tell my story as it was quite an experience to see the contrast between my own operation in 1994 and the preceding 30 years.
In October 1994, I had to be in Tirana for a week to work for Albanian Telecom. On Monday I asked one of the staff if he could bring me to the office where they could issue me a license. He took me to the office in the Head Quarters of Albanian Telecom where I met Mr. Frederik Kote, secretary of the Radio Communications Administrative Center, which is the executive body of the National Radio Communication Commission.
I explained that I would like to apply for an Albanian Amateur Radio license and presented copies of my Dutch license, a letter of recommendation and some other additional papers. He said that it was OK and gave me a kind of an invoice which I had to pay in the Post Office. The amount was 5000 Leke which is about $60. After payment, the license could be picked up on Wednesday. After I had paid the fee, I went to Mr. Kote on Wednesday with my receipt and he gave me my license, printed in the Albanian language and English.
When I saw the Head Quarters of Albanian Telecom the first time, I spotted a 3 element beam which was installed there during the IARU mission. So I asked Mr. Kote if I could see the radio station. He informed me that the station was removed and that only the beam was left in its place. I had hoped to use the radio station in the building because that would avoid bringing my own gear. When asking about bringing in my own radio station, Mr. Kote said that I could do so, now I had my license. Customs would not be any problem.
During my first visit I had already inspected the small apartment where I was living. Very limited space and lots of TV antennas and satellite dishes in the surrounding. I decided to prepare my good old Butternut HF6V and a 40 meter dipole and some extra wire.
I left Albania on Friday, and would return again the next Wednesday. During the weekend I packed my station and antenna. The FT-990 was already prepared for Dxpedition trips and was packed into a rugged suitcase, together with the headset, microphone, cables, Bencher paddle and ETM keyer.
It was quite a job to find all the components of the Butternut, as it was scattered over various boxes due to the recent moving from Indonesia back to the Netherlands. I used a triangle shaped carton box to pack the coils and tubes of the Butternut vertical which could be checked-in as normal luggage at the airliner.
The 20 meters of coax and the dipole were packed into my normal suitcase. All together it was about 40 kilos. Fortunately, I had to travel with one of my colleagues who had no baggage so he could check in one of my cases.
On arrival, all baggage is checked by X-rays and of course one of the customs asked my what I had in my suitcase. “A radio”, I explained. He would like to see it. During the time I was trying to find the key to open it, I was asked where I was working. When I explained that it was for Albanian Telecom, there was no need to open the box anymore.
After we arrived in the apartment, I was eager to install the radio. However, it was already late and there was no time to do anything on the antenna installation. Therefore I just intended to listen to the radio and for that purpose I connected a wire between the transceiver and the curtain rod (like you see in old radio books!). To my surprise, I was able to make contacts with this unusual antenna and with only 10 watts output!
Due to the heavy workload, I was only able to start installing my Butternut on Saturday afternoon. It was finished just after sunset. As I fixed the base of the antenna on top of the metal frame of some sort of a carport, I assumed the original radial set was not necessary. On all bands I had a good SWR except 80 meters, but after adjusting the coil, it worked perfect.
Conditions during the next two weeks were rather poor and operations took place mainly on 80, 40 and 30 meters. Only during the weekends I had the opportunity to work on the higher bands, including the WARC bands. During the CQ-WW-CW contest, I managed to work also some stations on 15 and 10 meters. I visited also Mr. Frederik Kote, secretary of the Radio Communications Administrative Center, which is the executive body of the National Radio Communication Commission.
The re-introduction of amateur radio in Albania took place in 1990 with a rather confusing situation for the Albanians. A major activity was organised by the IARU, initiated by Martti Laine OH2BH and others, but at the same time, a group of Hungarian amateurs were involved in a similar operation. For that reason it happened that two groups were in Albania at the same time. The Hungarians having an invitation from the ministry of culture were carrying out their activities in the town of Elbasan, where Albanian hams had gathered for this purpose. In fact the interested Albanians were recruited from a society of telegraphy enthusiasts. They were practicing CW, but not on the air! The operation of the Hungarian group resulted in 60-80K QSO’s.
However, there was quite some confusion in Albania about the status of the invitation received from the ministry of culture, as the only authority for giving licenses in Albania was the Ministry for transport and communication. During the mission of the IARU, several (10) transceivers have been donated and training for local hams were given. Somewhat later, an other 5 transceivers were donated by the VERON, the Dutch amateur radio society.
In order to operate from Albania, one has to pass the examination for theoretical matters, regulations, etc. and eventually CW. There are levels in examination. After the examination has been passed successfully, the person can request an operating permission and a callsign. At that time, only 2 letter suffixes were issued to the local hams. Visitors will get a ZA/homecall registration.
The country has been divided into 5 call areas 1 to 5. In 1994, 34 licenses had been issued to local amateurs, who were mostly located in Tirana (ZA1). Only a few were located in Vlora (ZA3) and Elbasan (ZA1). The station which was established by the IARU team, had been abandoned and only the 3 element beam remained on the roof of the Head\Quarters of Albanian Telecom.