The letters MNOVFW might not mean anything to the average observer - but to a select group of local folk, they signify something quite vital.
Those letters are the call sign for the Mid-Ulster Amateur Radio Club (MUARC), which has just celebrated fifty years on air.
Based on the Mahon Road, Portadown, the Mid-Ulster Amateur Radio Club has grown significantly since it was founded in 1965 - now boasting fifty members. The club has been extremely busy over the past fifty years, too, covering everything from motor shows and marathons to Scouts and space travellers.
“The Club was originally based in the town near Jervis Street,” explained David Gregg, assistant treasurer of the Mid-Ulster Amateur Radio Club.
“About five or six years ago, though, we started to apply for funding for the Club. In the first year, we were very successful - with £4,500 granted to us. Then, the following year, we applied for a demonstration vehicle - and we got it!”
This victory left the Club with one small obstacle to overcome: where to park their brand new vehicle.
“We had nowhere to put the vehicle,” said David, “so I approached Turkington’s on the Mahon Road. I asked Trevor Turkington, “Could I borrow a wee patch of land?” And that ‘wee patch’ has grown. We now have the use of several portable cabins, which house our station and Club ‘shack’.”
The Club’s expansion has made way for a host of possibilities - among them, the opportunity to train budding broadcasters to sit their Ofcom exams. Individuals can contact the Club if they are interested in completing the Ofcom-run examinations, after which they will have a licence and a unique callsign to identify them when they are transmitting:
“Ofcom give you a Foundation licence of 10 Watts - you can work the world on that - and then, at Intermediate level, you qualify for 50 Watts. A full licence gives you 400 Watts.”
Over the years, the Club has welcomed an array of people on board and has recently seen a boom in interest from young people. “We introduced a youth section a couple of years ago,” explained David, “and have a number of young people choosing to use their experiences at the Amateur Radio Club as part of their Duke of Edinburgh programme.”
The young people - MUARC Youth - have been making the most of their newly acquired skills, and recently occupied the ‘shack’ for a 10 hour take-over. Making hundreds of contacts across the airwaves, the take-over came just months after a successful adventure in the Welsh mountains by three of the young people. Three MUARC youth members jetted off for the Breacon Beacons last Summer, where they joined six other young people from across the UK to participate in an expedition organised by the Radio Society of Great Britain.
MUARC members are not unfamiliar with mountains, having worked with the Radio Amateurs’ Emergency Network (RAYNET) on numerous occasions to ensure mountain climbers are safe when conquering the Mournes.
“We cover people if they want security while they mountain walk,” shared David. “We have a special frequency on which we can communicate with St John’s ambulance and other emergency services.”
Some members of the club have reached even higher heights than Donard - making contact with outer space:
“We can talk to the people on the International Space Station. The station orbits the earth every 93 minutes. We have a frequency that we’re allowed to speak to them on so, when they’re passing above the UK, they are able to tune into that frequency and can make contact with anyone they wish to!
“A few years ago, an event was held in Castlewellan and one of our members travelled up, especially. When the moment came, he sent out a call to astronauts who were travelling above that spot and managed to make contact! They spoke for a few minutes before the astronaut continued on his orbit.”
For all their achievements, members of the club are quick to thank one particular person for giving them room to grow: “It’s all down to Trevor Turkington - not all businesses would go out of their way like he has.”
Although the Club has been on the go for fifty years, its members remain committed to its cause and its future:
“We have three original members who are still with us! And we’re always welcoming new folk onboard.”
For more information, visit www.muarc.com or find them on Facebook.