Are you reading me?
Kieran Nash – Saturday, March 27, 2010 6:01
Radio enthusiasts are breathing life into a dormant frequency at a Bucklands Beach station. Kieran Nash listens in.
In a beautiful art deco building overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, a group of amateur radio enthusiasts are reviving a radio frequency that harks back to the days of the Titanic.
While there’s no equipment from 1912 to hand, the enthusiasts at Musick Memorial Station in Bucklands Beach are surrounded by equipment that dates from the 1940s.
They are back on air on a 500kHz frequency – the first time this frequency has been in use for more than a decade.
The station’s caretaker and custodian, Ian Walker, is excited. “We’ve brought the whole system back to life from the old days. It’s a big event worldwide. We are the first ones to revive the band in New Zealand.”
The group has been working on this project for 11 years and for the last two weeks news of the event has been reported internationally.
“It’s been in Aussie, and we’ve got information to say it’s in the UK that we were on the air.”
The enthusiasts got the historic frequency up and running so they could tinker with it to improve its broadcast range.
Their main motivation was not being beaten by the difficulty. “It’s a challenge to use it. It’s like Mt Everest. Mt Everest is there, so you have to climb it,” says Walker.
A large part of this challenge was getting the equipment into working order. “We tried to put back all the old stuff, the vintage stuff, to get it back on the air. It was hard work getting the equipment to function. We had to service it and connect it to the mains.”
The first step was getting the transmitter going, which involved hunting for expensive and hard-to-come-by replacement parts. “That has been one major task. A lot of the components are old, irreplaceable, some of them.”
Another mission was getting a proper aerial that would work with the transmitter; the team uses two 12m (or 40ft) aerials. The revived frequency has started a movement within amateur radio circles, says Walker. “There is a lot of amateur radio stations who are building to retrieve the band all round the country.”
The 500kHz frequency – used as a distress signal by aircraft, the coastguard and shipping – was discontinued about 10 years ago, replaced by much faster and easier satellite technology.
Another member of the team, David Morey, says the station is still relevant by having the latest D STAR high frequency transmitter. “What I like about this place is the two extremes. We’ve got the oldest technology – used when the Titanic went down. Now we’ve got the most modern internet-based radio technology.
“That’s the most exciting thing about this hobby – it doesn’t stay still.”
Musick to the airs
The station is based at Musick Point, which was named after aviator Captain Edwin C Musick.
In 1942, Prime Minister Peter Fraser opened the Musick Point Air Radio Station. The station provided radio contact for ships and aircraft. Initially, it was operated by NZ Post Office and Civil Aviation Corporation.
In later years, ownership changed to Telecom NZ for the maritime service, and is now leased from the Crown by Telecom NZ which, after the marine services were closed down, retained the use of the building for its cellular network.
© The Aucklander 27 March 2010.
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