A group of seventeen amateur radio enthusiasts from the Cambridge area, part of the group known as the Camb-Hams, are operating eight ‘ham’ radio stations around the clock from a site on the Isle of Mull off the west of Scotland, until 5th May.
Why we do it
Radio amateurs enjoy the challenge of communicating with other people, specifically trying to contact every different country and island in the world. This challenge is a great way to improve your operating skills, your knowledge of how radio waves travel and the equipment you are using, some of which you might have built yourself, and fancied it as the best handheld radio.
A number of islands, and even some entire countries, have few resident radio amateurs, and so other amateurs will often travel to those ‘rare’ places to put them on-air for other radio amateurs to contact. We call these trips ‘DXpeditions’.
Of course, we could just use technology like a phone or the internet. But just as people take sailing boats out on the water even though engines exist, so we enjoy the independence that your ‘own steam’ brings. Like the sailing boat pilots, we are guided by nothing but nature and our own skill. Radio amateurs are not averse to technology, however, and indeed our licences encourage us to continuously improve our technical knowledge. Whilst amateur radio is a hobby, many of us have gone on to get professional roles in engineering, using the technical knowledge gained while operating our radio equipment.
The Camb-Hams is the ‘social side’ of Cambridgeshire Repeater Group (CRG), which operates a number of amateur radio sites in and around Cambridgeshire, allowing radio amateurs to communicate more effectively. The CRG was formed out of the PYE Telecomms Radio Club and is currently celebrating the 40th anniversary of our first site, which was also the first in the UK.
Every year, the Camb-Hams go on a DXpedition to one of the Scottish islands: In the last few years, these trips have included visits to Harris, Arran and, this year, Mull.
So far, we’ve made about 8500 contacts with stations in 104 countries for this DXpedition alone; 25,000 contacts and 150 countries from previous DXpeditions. You can find our current total in our Online Logbook, which also includes the callsigns of the stations we have spoken to most recently.
We make the majority of our contacts by bouncing our signals off the ionosphere, a layer in the atmosphere 200km above us, which allows us to talk to people around the world. Using this method, we’ve spoken to people in places as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and in unusual locations like Svalbard (in the Arctic Circle) and the Falkland Islands.
This year, we’ve also made some contacts by bouncing our signals off meteor trails and, in one case, the moon. This requires a great deal of technical skill and patience, because the signals are so random or weak, but in the last few days we’ve managed to speak to most countries in Europe, Russia and Japan this way.
Our visit to Mull has also been covered in the ICQ Podcast, from 25 minutes in.
How to become a radio amateur
Getting an amateur radio licence is fairly easy and requires you to pass a fairly simple examination to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. This is required because the licence gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and to build your own radio equipment, and you wouldn’t want to risk causing interference to the emergency services or air traffic control!
The Camb-Hams can advise you on the steps you need to take to get your licence, help you to learn what you need, and put you in touch with the local teams that run the licence exams. Please do contact us if you would like to learn more.
On a national level, the hobby is overseen by the Radio Society of Great Britain, whose patron is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. You can find out more at www.rsgb.org