Years of radio communication have given one Balclutha man audio experiences for a lifetime. Balclutha local Cliff Gray recently received a life membership for his contribution to the South Otago’s branch of amateur radio. The South Otago branch of the New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters celebrated its 90th birthday recently, and alongside was Mr Gray’s life membership. The celebration included a cake decorated almost exactly like his first ever radio system set-up. Mr Gray said his time as a ham radio operator has been ‘‘so much more’’ than turning a few knobs on a box.
‘‘I became very interested in amateur radio and decided I wanted to have a go myself at communicating around the world,’’ Mr Gray said. ‘‘I was originally interested in it because of a column in the British Practical Wireless magazine, so it inspired me to import the parts from Britain and do exactly what the man had published so I could have my own communication device. ‘‘After getting a circuit board and etching and attaching and doing everything exactly as was published, the device didn’t work. ‘‘I tried once more, and again, it didn’t work. So I sent a letter to the writer of the column in the newspaper who ended up telling me the technology he had published was outdated by the time I got around to attempting to create it, which was frustrating at the time but I find it humorous now.’’ Mr Gray said he had made many friends during his time as a ham radio operator and sought out formal qualifications over the years so he could receive certification. He learned morse code when VHF frequencies were not allowed internationally in order to communicate overseas, and has also held the secretary position of the South Otago branch since 1993. ‘‘I’ve got a pretty sophisticated set-up at my home,’’ Mr Gray said. ‘‘I have had assistance in building a tower to support an antenna which goes 17 metres high. ‘‘I have to shimmy up a ladder to get to the top, which I can still manage.’’ He said every operator has a call sign which others recognise and receive signal reports from. He has had experience calling people from all over the world who have made connections to or had their own experience in New Zealand. ‘‘There was one time I talked to a fellow from Bonaire in the West Indies, who had a friend from Ettrick, and had borrowed his friend’s caravan to travel around in.
That was a small-world type situation,’’ Mr Gray said. He is one of the only people in New Zealand to have worked most of the 340 recorded frequencies in the world — he has worked 336 — and has countless stories from many nooks and crannies of the world just by using radio. Mr Gray was thankful to receive his life membership and hopes to one day work every frequency in the world.