Saving lives and chatting to astronauts in the International Space Station - Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club celebrates 60th anniversary

From chatting to astronauts in the International Space Station to camping out on Coney Island in Lough Neagh and chatting to people in south America, the Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club has a fascinating repertoire of stories.
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Now celebrating 60 years on the air, the club, which originally started as Portadown Amateur Radio Club in the early 60s, has a wealth of talent and experience contributing to events such as the North West 200 and local marathons.

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Manning the Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.Manning the Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Manning the Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

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Some of their members have even saved lives including once when a two of their members, Ian and Esther Harper, were transmitting from a mountain in Dungiven when they heard an SOS call from another mountain in Wales. So being amateurs they summoned the emergency services (Air Ambulance) from their radios and saved the day.

The club was called Portadown Amateur Radio Club in the early 60s when it was founded by Bertie Johnston, a Killycomain man, who had the radio name Gi3ieo. The club moved into a small hall in Arthur Avenue off Jervis St in Portadown. Then there was another move to the Tavanagh factory on the Armagh Road.

One of the clubs very active members was Stanley Eakons, who had Spina-bifida. His parents ran Parkanour near Dungannon as a training location for disabled young people. With the call sign was Gi3vfw Stan was a popular member of the club. After his death the Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club adopted his call sign Gi3VFW. Some years later they applied for their ‘contest callsign’ which is to this day MN0VFW. Many thousands of pounds have been handed over to Parkanour over the years.

Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club is currently based in Portadown, Co Armagh with members from Lurgan, Craigavon and all over the Mid Ulster area. This is the demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club is currently based in Portadown, Co Armagh with members from Lurgan, Craigavon and all over the Mid Ulster area. This is the demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club is currently based in Portadown, Co Armagh with members from Lurgan, Craigavon and all over the Mid Ulster area. This is the demonstration trailer at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Other old hands at the club were Ivan Gracey, Bob Copeland, Leslie Lyske, Jim Thompson, Eddie Wright and Ray McCullough many of whom would have used home made radios such as Heathkit, Drake, Eddystone and Hallicrafters. New radios today are Kenwood, Yaesu and Icom.

The club regularly attend several events each year and many of you will know them from attending St Patrick's Day at Mount Zion House in Lurgan, Navan Fort in Armagh which they attend twice a year and annually at Lurgan Show.

However their favourite event is at Coney Island on Lough Neagh where they travel over by boat and camp out for three or four days in July. Davy Gregg reveals: “Last year one of our disabled members got a lift over on the Blackwater Community Barge which has a special door for electric wheel chairs. Brian from Lurgan was the first person to arrive over on this boat and what a smile on his face he had. His mum Heather came with him as he needs 24 hour care, but when Heather went to bed (in a tent) Brian and myself went on the radio and he made his first contact into Brazil.

"Brian holds the licence (Mi7DFV) which allows him to transmit on air. We have a few disabled members in the club and I submitted an application with the ‘Awards for All’ for radios that have Bluetooth programmed into them to make it easier for them to operate. You can receive your licence through us for a small fee. We find it very hard getting through to younger folk because of the mobile phone but we will keep trying because this is only a hobby after all.

Brian from Lurgan has been a member of Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club for several years. He has connected with many other radio enthusiasts including one from Brazil while on a trip to Coney Island on Lough Neagh.Brian from Lurgan has been a member of Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club for several years. He has connected with many other radio enthusiasts including one from Brazil while on a trip to Coney Island on Lough Neagh.
Brian from Lurgan has been a member of Mid Ulster Amateur Radio Club for several years. He has connected with many other radio enthusiasts including one from Brazil while on a trip to Coney Island on Lough Neagh.

"Our Amateur licence allows us to speak to those on board the International Space station. That's one I have been trying for many years to do but because it only comes overhead at certain times it can be missed very easily,” said Davy.

"One thing amateur radio is know for is when disasters happen and communications are down. Our radios with battery power is always there to save the day. We have lots of St John’s Ambulance Service members in our club and their amateur radio licence comes in handy at times. RAYNET is a safety organisation which controls the likes of Tandragee 100, the North West 200 and many local marathons. Our members love going to these events,” he said.

The club would like to thank Trevor and Gary Turkington for all the support they have given the club through out the 17 years they were on their property. “Sadly we had to move as Amazon is bigger than us. So if there are any kind business people out there who would like to help out - as we don't have a club house anymore – get in touch. A club needs somewhere to meet and greet and sadly that's what we are lost for at the moment. We meet at Tandragee Golf Club every 2nd Sunday in the month at 3pm. If anyone would like to get involved, please come along and see what we do as amateurs.”

Currently there are around 40 members including Chairman William 2i0wmn, Secretary Seamus Gi4SZW and Davy Treasurer Mi0IRZ. They have received some grant money from Awards For All including in 2008 £3,500 for radios and Antennas. In 2010 they received £8,500 for a demonstration trailer to show off their radios and in 2019 they received £6,000 for a disabled ramp for excess into trailer plus a new Diesel generator as petrol is not allowed on some sites. And recently they received £5,000 for updated radios and disabled equipment.

The club will be hosting their main event this year at Navan Fort in Armagh in the company of ‘Awards for All’. It will be held on the 26th 27th and the 28th of April and it is where the club will hold its 60th Birthday party. All are invited to come along and enjoy the craic with a fabulous BBQ. It would be the perfect opportunity to find out the thrills of amateur radio and, who knows, you may even get a chat with one of the astronauts on the International Space Station.