Broadcasting to the world and beyond

RHIANNON MCCONNELL
Last updated 14:46 01/08/2012
Chester Clark/Manawatu Amateur Radio Society
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ

Tuning in: Manawatu Amateur Radio Society contact officer Chester Clark at the clubrooms of the New Zealand Amateur Radio Transmitters branch in Palmerston North

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Not many people can say they have communicated directly with astronauts on the International Space Station, but members of the Manawatu Amateur Radio Society have.

"People around the world are able to communicate directly with . . . the astronauts as [the space station's] been orbiting around the Earth," society member Bob Hodgson says.

This is because many of the astronauts have their amateur radio licence. Mr Hodgson has been a member of the Manawatu society for four years and he loves it.

"There's quite a sense of community. We all have friends all around the world."

One member won a prestigious international award for making contact with the more than 300 countries that have amateur radio call numbers.

Last year the society ran an event in schools for Radio 2ZA's Voice of the Manawatu anniversary, which the children greatly enjoyed, Mr Hodgson says.

"They talked to a gravedigger in Barnsley in Yorkshire, who was pretending to be at the bottom of a grave at 10 o'clock at night."

They also talked to a science officer in Antarctica.

But it's not all just fun - helping Civil Defence and Search and Rescue teams are a big part of being a member of an amateur radio club.

The society's clubrooms are a backup for Civil Defence in the Manawatu region.

During the response to the Christchurch earthquakes, amateur radio played a big role.

When the phone lines and internet were down or busy, radio provided the perfect way for people to communicate.

"The radio amateurs had quite a role working with the emergency services," Mr Hodgson says.

"In a big earthquake, the radio amateurs can keep going."

Amateur operators also helped organise the student army in the post-quake cleanup.

"That was all organised with the radio amateurs, who provided their communications."

Club vice-president Chester Clark says the society has about 40 licensed members, ranging in age from 11 to the 90s.

But the club always welcomes newcomers and is currently helping two new members get their licences.

"It takes a few months of basically lessons and study," Mr Clark says.

Candidates must sit a technical exam and pay a $100 licence fee.

They also receive a call number, which helps identify them on air.

It is not an expensive hobby - a typical radio costs less then $100.

Members use all sorts of radios and have started using the internet for some communication.

Licensed members have freedom to use the airwaves, but have to meet certain requirements, such as not using the radio for commercial use.

Mr Hodgson says you can always tell an amateur radio member's home by the antennas in the garden.

"My wife would like to see fewer antennas."

The club was started in 1932 in Feilding and moved to its current clubrooms on Totara Rd in 1978.

For more information on the Manawatu Amateur Radio Society visit zl2ko.org.nz or email contact-officer@zl2ko.org.nz.

The club meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 7pm in its clubrooms, 65 Totara Rd, Palmerston North.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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