In no uncertain terms, hospital nurses told Doug Hotchkiss he would end up ‘wheeled out the back door in a box’ or ‘pushed out the front door in a wheelchair’.
The frank words came as the now 90-year-old battled serious illness during a frightening two-year stint at the now-closed Haslar Hospital, in Gosport, as a young man.
Little did he know at the time he would have his whole life ahead of him – and is still going enviably strong, it must be noted – so with no haste he sought a purposeful hobby.
With a background in radar, the not-so-distant prospect of becoming a radio amateur appealed to him – not least because medics’ latter forecast would amount to the restriction of his mobility – but because he wanted a way to combine a deep-rooted passion for electronics with the mental and personal benefits of socialising.
Against the odds, he sat his City and Guilds Radio Amateurs’ Examination from his hospital bed – and passed with flying colours. He was the recipient of some good news at last and he was ready to transmit.
This wave of fortune rolled on and his troubling 24 months in care elapsed. Contrary to damning estimation, he walked away from Haslar Hospital in full health and went on to pursue a career at sea.
And today, his body’s unwillingness to throw in the towel is toasted by the fact he sits as president of the Horndean and District Amateur Radio Club (HDARC) – of which he is the only surviving founder, of three.
‘About five years ago the members decided they wanted a president, so they nominated me to take it on – it was and still is an honour and I suppose I’m the elder statesman of the group,’ he explains.
While his fellow founders Sid Jenkins and Mike Matthews have now passed away, the club lives on with some 40 to 50 members on its roster, who meet at Deverell Hall, Purbrook, on the first and third Friday of every month (7pm-9.30pm) to revel in the interest of amateur radio.
They construct their own radio equipment and, upon climbing the three ranks of licencing – for which the club offers complete training and examination – transmit to amateurs across the country, Europe and globe in a bid to form far-flung friendships and sharpen their technical ability.
Members transmit data, Morse code, television signals and satellite communications, but the most engrossing and arguably rewarding mode is voice – which is built on an underpinning of faultless etiquette.
‘The thing about radio is that the amateur is a very friendly sort of person and they always help one another – I have friends all over the world because of this,' Doug explains.
‘Regardless of how long they have been around, if anyone at the club has a query or a concern about something they’re building or anything else, another member will gladly step in and give them guidance.’
When communicating, radio amateurs address each other only with their Christian name and call sign – a personal identity code which differentiates at each of the three licence tiers. In this regard, everyone shares a mutual fairness and respect.
Doug explains: ‘It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lollipop man or the King of Jordan, everybody knows to be polite and everybody is treated the same way.’
Emblematic of Doug’s enthusiasm, husband and wife Julia and Simon Tribe have risen up the club ranks since 1979 after being taken under his wing.
That support saw the pair’s passion for radio and its quirks skyrocket – so much so they both possess full licences and play a key role in training candidates, examining their eventual test papers at the first two tiers, foundation and intermediate.
And aside from the unique experience of beaming out a signal for ‘anyone in the world who can hear it’, they say there is no greater sensation than sharing the good news of exam success with a junior enthusiast.
‘Getting that qualification is a magic moment and to tell someone they have passed their exam is extremely fulfilling,’ explains Julia, who is 64.
‘We feel that more so with the youngsters. It’s the candidate who has to put the work in of course, but we feel that we’ve achieved something because somebody is now able to go on and do exactly what they want to do.’
In their growing experience of tuition for HDARC, there is one candidate victory which has stayed long in the memory – and in their eyes is symbolic of what makes the club so poignant.
‘The first person we ever put through, in 2009, was a young lad. When he trained he was eight and the first day he had to take his exam was his ninth birthday.
‘He passed – and we brought him a cake to enjoy with all the other candidates there and then. It really was special.
‘He got all the other licences and I know for a fact he is still operating, but I am not sure where he is now.’
Striving to deliver that joy long into the future, the club is eager to take on new recruits – who like those hundreds before them can bask in a friendly, talented environment.
One such prospect is Daniel Cooper, a pupil at Purbrook Park School, who is champing at the bit to begin training with his father David in February, 2019.
‘I can’t wait to start transmitting,’ the youngster says. ‘Me and dad both love electronics and we’ve made quite a few tweaks of our own at home to televisions – turning them into radios and antennae. It will be a lot of work, but my ultimate goal is to get all three licences and starting talking to people all over the world.’
EFFORT PAYS OFF FOR CLUB MEMBERS
Not only are members of the Horndean and District Amateur Radio club encouraged to progress through examination, but there are a number of internal awards up for grabs every year.
Here are the honours you can have a shot at winning if you become part of the club and rise through the ranks.
- The Harold Newton Award: This is the award for the person who has contributed the most effort to the club throughout the year, in the opinion of the committee.
- The HDARC Trophy: The winner of this must contact a given number of amateur radio stations using call signs to form a phrase set out by the previous year’s winner.
- The HDARC Award: This is given to the amateur who makes contact with a specified number of club members using high frequency (HF) and/or very high frequency (VHF) bands.
- The Mike Matthews Award: A six-monthly honour given to the person who contacts a specified number of amateur radio stations using Morse code.
- The John Taylor-Cram Scribe Award: This is given to the person who writes the most popular article for HDARC’s two-monthly club journal. Voted for by club members.
The G4BEQ CW: (Morse) achievement award (G4BEQ is the callsign of our current club President, Doug Hotchkiss), and requiring a certain number of the contacts to be made using Morse Code.
The Constructors Award: An award with three tiers which invites club members to wow their peers by building a piece of electronic equipment of their choice.
What are the three grades of call signs?
Amateurs must have a licence to begin transmitting and they communicate farther afield at each level.
Radio amateurs can choose their call sign once they have their first licence – everybody’s is different and prefixes have been updated constantly since records began.
Those trained to the first level, foundation, have call signs beginning with M3 or M6, followed by three letters.
At the second level, intermediate, signs begin 2E0 or 2E1, followed by three letters.
And full-licence signs begin G0 to G8, followed by a combination of two or three letters, or M0, M1 or M3 – followed by three letters.
To learn more or join Horndean and District Amateur Radio Club, visit hdarc.co.uk or call Julia on (023) 9278 5568.