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Sky is NOT the limit for radio club marking 100 years on air

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: February 01, 2013

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Marc and Geoff look like any other Burton folk when drinking pints in Stapenhill Institute but both have rather special technical expertise in a field that allows them worldwide communications without the need for the internet.

They are both members of Burton upon Trent Amateur Radio Club and can boast of many friends across the world reached by the use of a small box.

Burton has had a club for radio amateurs in the town since just after World War One, although there were enthusiasts of wireless telegraphy in Burton well before the war. One of the founder members of the club was Mr FVA Smith, who was licensed on July 3, 1914. One month later he received a message from the Marconi spark transmitter at Poldhu, Cornwall, being sent to London, on the eve of the outbreak of the war - it announced the mobilisation of Russian French and Belgium troops.

It is 1914 that the present radio club traces its history back to and will be celebrating 100 years next year.

It was in 1919 that an official club was formed known as The Burton upon Trent Wireless Club, whose inaugural meeting was held at the Burton Mail offices, in High Street.

It was disbanded prior to the outbreak of World War Two, and in 1946 the Burton & District Radio Society was formed and meetings were held at the Education offices, in Guild street. Many of the members had previously been members of the former Burton Wireless Club, including a Mr Cyril Hartshorne, who was present at that very first meeting in 1919. He became President of the new club, remaining so until 1988.

The society moved to its current home of the Stapenhill Institute around 1958 and remained there until it was disbanded in 2003. However, a revival took place three years later when the group was renamed again as The Burton on Trent Amateur Radio Club.

From such a long and detailed history, many members have sadly passed but in their places is a wide range talent, both young and old – in fact from seven-years-old up to 70.

“It is the man that is 70 that recently took his foundation exam after being a shortwave listener for 50 years, which meant he could listen but not talk. Now he has his licence he can talk to people he has listened to for 50 years,” said Geoff Newstead.

Geoff is an old-hand at amateur radio, having acquired his advanced equivalent exam back in 1971 and now trains others in his footsteps.

Originally from Newcastle, the Burton resident is now vice chairman and technical manager of the club.

“I had always been listening to people speaking on the radio and took my equivalent of the advanced licence in 1971,” the 61-year-old said, “I have had an interest in technical things from school and because of my interest I became a professional communications engineer.”

Marc Bloore is a forklift truck driver for Coors and his passion started in Citizens Band Radio (CB), a variety of amateur radio that requires no formal training.

“It was two-way radio communication that anyone could buy but was quite limited and that progressed to amateur radio which you have to get formal qualifications to operate.

“Half the nation was playing with CB but it was illegal until 1981 when the equipment changed.”

In fact, around this time, there was a protest march from the Burton Mail offices to the town hall to get CB legalised. Before the equipment changed, it could interfere with any radios – importantly emergency services.

While a progression was made into amateur radio, the danger still remains if operated incorrectly, leading to licences being required.

Marc, who is now the club treasurer, said: “You can just go and buy equipment for amateur radio but it is illegal to operate it without qualifications because you can do damage with one. You can interfere with televisions and more importantly the emergency service’s radios.

“But it now allows you to speak to someone in Derby or Lichfield. It was the forerunner to Facebook.”

The 46-year-old, who has been a member of the club for two years, added: “I find it fascinating that a small box in my house enables me to talk to someone on the other side of the world, with no wires, no internet.

“I have spoken to people in Australia, Israel, all over the world.”

Marc has managed this feat only with the correct licence and stresses that those without a callsign (which is given to an amateur when they pass their foundation exam) are running a pirate radio and must be ignored.

Those who have passed their exam can then apply to Ofcom for a licence and a callsign which stays with them for life. A callsign is used to identify themselves to other users. Using the correct callsign for a particular person means they can easily chat to someone on the other side of the world (providing they aren’t in bed).

Burton’s club offers training to obtain such a licence, which includes foundation, intermediate and advanced. With each qualification comes more power and enables radio users to make contact further away.

Advanced user, Geoff, who is an exam trainer, said: “I have spoken to the international space station, bouncing signals off the moon.”

It is reliant on having the best conditions such as global atmospherics, sunspots and propagation

It also helps having the best aerial – with many ranging from as little as £25 straight to £10,000, but being allowed to build one is another mission.

Marc said: “The problem with getting permission (for aerials) is we get a lot of resistance from neighbours. We know that CB caused a lot of interference, but with amateur radio we don’t cause any interference. If we do we have to stop immediately. Most people, when they learn about it, they understand it and become less hostile.

“There is no cancer link and no health risks. That has been totally disproved.”

Burton upon Trent Amateur Radio Club has around 30 members and meets every Wednesday at Stapenhill Institute, in Main Street, from 7.30pm to 8pm.

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