HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio History: Father Marshall D. Moran, 9N1MM: The Voice of the Himalayas

A Chicago native born on May 29, 1906, Marshall D. Moran, 9N1MM, was a Jesuit priest who served as part of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus. His mission work led him to India and Nepal where he served as an educator and founded many non-conventional schools, breaking cultural norms to allow students of varying social, economic, and religious backgrounds access to education.

And he was also a longtime ham. Known as “The Voice of the Himalayas,” he was, in fact, the only voice to make its mark on amateur radio airwaves out of Nepal for decades.

He picked up the amateur radio hobby as a child in Chicago but would get his Technician license and call sign, VU2SX, in India in 1947. But being a ham never felt like a hobby to Moran. In the NJS 50th Anniversary Book, Father John Locke wrote that Moran felt, “It was a way to give concrete education to the students in physics and geography.” And that wasn’t just in the classroom. Moran knew firsthand the value amateur radio could bring to a real-world crisis—be it an earthquake, shipwreck, or emergency illness. He would experience all these and more on the air, using the skills from his “hobby” to save lives.

He would later travel to Nepal to work at the Godavari Saint Xavier School, south of Kathmandu, which is where he first set up his amateur radio station with the call sign 9N1MM. And he made good use of it, spending countless hours operating as the only ham in Nepal and a highly sought-after QSO. He would remain the only operator for many decades, earning him a sort of on-air fame. But it wasn’t “fame” that Moran was after—it was friendship.

According to Locke, “It was his way of reaching out in friendship to a bewildering variety of different faiths and nationalities.” And reach out he did—but even more so, they did. Moran would make more than 90,000 contacts with other amateur radio operators while in Nepal.

And it wasn’t just the rarity of his QSO that drew so many operators. Or his fun call sign, 9N1MM (Nine En One Mickey Mouse). Moran was much beloved by many and well regarded for his kindness, politeness, and top-notch operating etiquette. He was regularly bombarded with requests for public speaking engagements, particularly when traveling back to the United States.

He relied heavily on the friendships he made to minimize backlash as he built schools, involving communities, creating leadership teams from high-ranking local lawyers, doctors, and businesspeople, and never pushing his own religious proclivities onto others. He depended on support from highly influential friends on the air and off to further his goals for non-conventional school setups, even, and maybe especially, during times of economic and political upheaval.

His list of advocates included royalty, ambassadors, actors and actresses, astronauts, politicians, and bureaucrats—most notably Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who Moran chauffeured around in Bihar during India’s fight for independence; King Mahendra, who Moran chewed the rag with twice while traveling abroad; and the King of Jordan.

It was these friendships that allowed him such great success in expanding ideologies of tolerance and inclusion in the educational system. He would help to establish more than eight schools in India and Nepal, all while continuing to operate on the air.

When Moran passed away on April 14, 1992, he was likely operating without government permission—simply because the government possessed no legal mechanism to grant formal licenses at the time. But he was granted express permission to operate by the Nepali king. Access much appreciated by every amateur radio operator or real-world associate afforded the pleasure of calling Moran a friend on the air and off.

Listen to an interview with Moran here.

(Article source: the Nepal Jesuit Society.)

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