By Richard Byford – Conservation Volunteer, HMS Belfast Bridge Wireless Office team (Personal radio callsign G4MKR).
Richard is a member of IWM’s HMS Belfast Bridge Wireless Office (BWO) team; a group of volunteers who divide their their time between talking to the many visitors who visit the ship and discussions with the many amateur radio enthusiasts the ship’s radio station – GB2RN – is in contact with across the world.
A keen and experienced member of the BWO team – he first recieved his amateur radio licence in 1981 – he describes a little of what the role on HMS Belfast involves.
OUR AMATEUR RADIO OPERATIONS from the Bridge Wireless Office (BWO) are very popular with visitors, who stop by to ask questions about the ship and the radio activity.
Recently a pair of ladies watched with interest as a group of school children operated a Morse code key to send their names.
One of the ladies then asked to send her name.
Having successfully done so, she was presented with a certificate to commemorate her success.
Imagine the shock of the BWO crew when she burst into tears!
After she had calmed down she explained that when she was younger she had been pronounced mentally challenged at school and then ridiculed as a child and young adult.
That Morse code certificate was the first certificate she had ever obtained and she felt so proud.
This day trip to HMS Belfast would be remembered for a long time.
Many people do not realise that in order to operate an amateur radio station it requires a licence issued by OFCOM, the UK OFice of COMmunications the government regulator of all radio communications in the UK.
To obtain that licence an examination is taken that covers both the operation of the radio and the conditions that it may be operated under.
Why is a licence required?
Well, incorrectly run, a radio transmitter could cause interference to important services that use radio frequencies.
We are the only licenced service that allows users to build their own equipment.
Currently, there are three classes of amateur radio licence, each with a corresponding examination that increases in difficulty as progression in the hobby is made.
The radio callsign that is issued by OFCOM indicates what level of licence the owner has achieved.
Here on HMS Belfast we have a special callsign that is only allowed to be activated in the presence of a full licensee.
So we are always keen to have our members who are foundation or intermediate licence holders operate and enjoy the fun of our special callsign.
Is a licence required to listen to amateur radio frequencies? No.
A radio that receives these frequencies is known as a communications receiver, and many people who do not hold a licence still enjoy listening to distant amateur radio stations on their receiver.
We are always mindful when we are talking to another radio ham, many people may be eavesdropping on the chat!
It’s also for that reason that we try to avoid controversial topics for discussion, as others may feel offended by some subjects. Amateur radio is really a fraternity of like-minded people who enjoy chatting together and wish to get on.
Volunteering in the BWO we find that people are always pleased to talk to such a famous ship, and learn about the IWM’s preservation of a historic maritime artefact.
See the Royal Navy Amateur Radio Society London Group’s website at the link below for news and details of the Group’s activities.
A potted biography of Richard’s radio activity can be found at the link below.