Interviewed by Geoff Taylor – Waikato Times
Cecil James and Brendan Farrell share something unique: they are the oldest and youngest ham radio operators in New Zealand and they belong to the Hamilton Radio Electronics Group.
“I’m 92 years old. I was always interested in radios. As a boy I used to make single valve and crystal radio sets. I farmed, then in later years became a Federated Farmers rep in the Waikato. I covered a 50-mile radius so I used a CB radio. That was really the start of my radio career. I got myself a CB radio and I got some advice from an electronics expert in Hamilton named Brian Farrell, and that started me off in radio. I got my ham radio licence in 1983 and joined the radio club. The club, now known as the Radio Electronics Group, has been going for over 40 years. I like talking to people (on the radio). It’s not hard to find things to talk about. I always find that one thing leads to another. I like the fact that you can talk to people anywhere in the world. Not just abut climatic conditions but about what they do. I remember talking to a guy in Russia. I said ‘What is the temperature where you are?’ and he said ‘About -17’. I said the temperature was about the same in our deep freeze.
“I was always building aerials. I would drive around looking at people’s aerials and then I would figure out how to build one. You need different aerials for different conditions and purposes. I got a great deal of satisfaction out of building them.
“I’ve followed a few yachts around the Pacific. One guy rang me and asked me to follow him for two years. I contacted him every day and recorded his position. I did that for two or three yachts. One guy was delivering a yacht and I followed him all the way to the Panama Canal. He ran into some awful winds and was battling. When I recorded his position one day I told him `you’re going backwards, boy’. He’d actually lost ground.
“I go on the air every morning at about 7am on the 80m band, which covers the Pacific. Many people you make regular contact with. One guy in Australia is the same age as me although I haven’t heard from him for a month. People from the club go on it on a Thursday night and people join in from all over the country.
“I was talking to a guy in Palmerston North one time and by talking we gradually found out that we were the same age and were born on the same day January 16, 1916 and were born at the same town Feilding.
“One of the features of the club is the help and advice club members offer. They help each other as a matter of goodwill.”
“What really started me off was my dad (Brian Farrell), who has always been into ham radio. My grandfather was into ham radio as well. I went into Dad’s room one day when I was seven or eight and he was speaking to a guy in the US. I thought ‘that looks pretty good fun speaking on the radio to the rest of the world’. Me and Dad got a training CD from the NZART (New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters). I studied for about a year on and off and on then I said to Dad ‘set a date (for the exam) and I’ll just cram’. I passed it and got my licence about six weeks ago. It was Ohm’s law on electrical current that really got me through. I worked really hard at that. I still haven’t got it fully but I’ve got the basic idea.
“The exam was in Taupo. It went for two hours. I sat there for about 30 minutes and then spent some time checking. There are 600 questions you have to cover and they choose 60 to put into the paper. You have to get 40 right. I got 42, which is pretty good for my age. I was happy and surprised when I passed.
“Would other kids like to become ham radio users? I don’t know. It depends how much they like to use a radio. You don’t have to be really intelligent but you do need to be able to sit down and study.
“I’ve made a friend recently on the radio who lives near Salt Lake City in the US and who is 13. Because of the time difference we speak mainly at weekends.
“I’m hoping to get some QSL cards, which are cards which are a record of a two-way communication. You can get those when you make contact with people from around the world. We’re also going to swap Scout badges. I also use the radio on Thursday and whenever I can.
“I took the radio to a camp I went to at Waingaro. It was quite funny. We ran out of milk and supplies like lemonade, so I called Dad on the radio and they came out and brought some stuff.
“A girl got her licence at the age of nine a few years ago but I’m the youngest in New Zealand to have it now.
“Cecil gave me a present when I got my licence a couple of handheld radios.”
© Waikato Times 01/01/2009.
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