I was born on the 23rd January 1953, in Barnet Hospital, North London (the world will never be the same!) I lived in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire until I was 21, and in April 1975 I came to South Africa to help set up Visionhire TV Rentals, originally for 2 years and then I was heading back to the U.K. However, after a taste of life in South Africa I decided to stay here and put down roots. I set up and ran the Visionhire service centre in Pretoria and worked there for two years. The Johannesburg branch was at the Freeway Centre in Wynberg and was the largest Visionhire branch in the country. In 1977 I took over this branch and ran it for two years before leaving Visionhire in 1979 to start my own TV repair business, Orbitel Systems. I was with Visionhire for a total of seven years, both here in South Africa and in England. I opened a shop in Birchleigh and was there from 1979 until my retirement in 2015. I also owned and ran two video hire shops.
I met my wife Isabel in 1980 on a blind date (it was love at first sight!) and we married in 1981. Our first son Andrew came along in 1983, our second, Christopher, in 1986, our third, Matthew, in 1989 and our fourth, Martin, in 1991. Four sons - but to my eternal regret not one of them is a radio ham! Not one! They see me on my radios, pat me on the head and say: "keep on taking the pills, Dad!"
Isabel is still the love of my life, and like many other wives she is reconciled to being a radio ham widow!
Since childhood I have always been fascinated with radio. I built my first crystal set when I was about seven years old, and since we lived close to the BBC transmitter at Bell Bar I could listen to broadcast stations very easily although selectivity was not great! My Dad had a Heathkit Mohican which he built from a kit and we spent many hours listening to the shortwave bands and especially to the radio hams.
When I was fourteen I started evening classes for the Radio Amateur Examination at Southgate college on a Friday night. I went to about four or five classes but being a teenager I was easily distracted by the opposite sex and Friday night became the night out after I discovered girls, rock and roll and motor bikes! So my ham classes were put on hold for a few years. When I left school I studied Radio and TV servicing, first at Borehamwood college for a year, and then at Welwyn Garden City for four years. I served my apprenticeship with Rank Bush Murphy and went on to work for Visionhire TV Rentals.
In 1975 I had the opportunity to help set up Visionhire in South Africa, and there I met a lot of new people including a few radio hams. I was on a course in Johannesburg and met Abe Maran, ZS6GV. Abe and his brother Morris, ZS6BON owned Modern Radio, a business in President Street Johannesburg. This prompted me to study and finally take the South African Radio Amateur Exam which I passed in 1977. I had my first licence in 1978 with the call sign ZR6MO, and after passing the CW test a few months later I obtained my Class A licence and the call sign ZS6AI. I also wrote the City and Guilds Radio Amateur Exam in 1978 and obtained the UK call sign G4HCY. My CW mentor was Mike Sherman, ZS6IW (SK), who was an excellent CW operator. I put up a 12m tower and a Mosley TA-33 tri-band antenna which I bought from Mike. My first rig was a Yaesu FL-50, FR-50, FV-50 combination. I was very active in those early years on all bands, CW for the first year (a licence requirement) and then later SSB.
I started experimenting with packet radio in the early 1980s and it wasn't long before I had a packet BBS up and running using the call sign ZS6AI / ZS0CLP. My station was part of the ZS Packet Network in Johannesburg and my BBS had an HF gateway forwarding to 9Q5XO, Bill in Kinshasa and UA6LQ, Boris in Rostov-on-Don.
Living in Johannesburg has its problems - lightning! My first lightning strike destroyed my Icom 720A HF rig, Yaesu 2m and 70cm rigs plus my computer and packet TNCs. Within a few months I had managed to replace all my gear and was back on the air. A few years later on New Year's Eve lightning struck again, destroying everything in my shack. I was so upset I locked the door and didn't go back in the shack for over a month. I completely lost interest in amateur radio and turned to the Internet for my fix.
November 2013: I had been absent from the airwaves for about eighteen years, then a few months ago I got the bug again to get back on the air. I built a 5 band CobWebb antenna and bought a Kenwood TS-480SAT and after working a few DX stations the excitement returned. I still have a 3 element 15m monoband Yagi on a 10m tower but that has been up there for over twenty five years and needs to come down and be checked over; a project for later.
April 2014: I've been busy the last few months; I have installed another tower, an 18m crank up and on top I have a home brew 4 element 10m monoband Yagi. I'm using a Yaesu FT-920 running 100 watts output and since November 2013 I have worked over 140 countries and need just 8 more States for my 10m WAS. Contacts have been mostly on 10m SSB but a few on 10m PSK, a new mode for me. I'm really enjoying the hobby again!
November 2014: The 15m Yagi was taken down and checked over; only the coax had perished, that's not bad for a 30 year old antenna; they don't make them like that anymore! I have installed another tower, 14m high and with the help of Stephen, ZS6SKY the 15m Yagi is on top along with a new 4 element 6m Yagi - watch out DX here I come! With 10m WAS complete now the next goal is 15m WAS. I have 176 countries confirmed for LoTW DXCC.
December 2015: It's been a busy year and I'm really enjoying the hobby again. I've been chasing DX on 15m and I have 148 countries confirmed on LoTW. On 10m I have 174 countries confirmed; I won't get into the history books but I'm really excited! I also have my 15m WAS. I managed first place for South Africa in the 2014 ARRL 10m Contest which was a great surprise. My 4 element 6m Yagi has proved to be a success. 6m is a fun band but openings are very scarce; I have managed to work 21 countries and I have 13 countries confirmed on LoTW. The digital modes have been fun especially with the poor band conditions. In October I started playing with JT65 and I can't believe the results I've had with just 10 watts. I have 101 countries confirmed on digital mode and 214 countries confirmed on mixed mode for LoTW DXCC.
December 2016: I couldn't have come back into the hobby at a worst time! Propagation has been terrible, we are at sunspot minimum and nobody seems to point their beams to South Africa, we are always off the side of the beam! Having said that I managed to rack up a few more countries for my DXCC. I now have a total of 220 countries confirmed on LoTW. On SSB I have 209 confirmed and 118 on Digital. On 15m I've managed 191 confirmed countries, 186 on 10m, 79 on 12m, 56 on 40m and 51 on 20m. I have a homebrew rotatable dipole on 20m that's only 6 metres off the ground so I can't expect great results on that band. I want to put that antenna on top of my 10 metre high tower, I'm just waiting for a volunteer to climb the tower for me! For 40m I have a homebrew inverted V antenna which seems to favour NE and SW best. I plan to put up another inverted V for 40m which would favour the U.S. and help me get my final 9 states I need for 40m WAS. I have 50 states confirmed on 15m and 10m SSB and on digital I just need Alaska on both 10m and 15m. Any Alaskan ham want to make a sked on JT65? I haven't worked anyone on 6m this year, not the fun band it's meant to be! You'll hear me most days on JT65, which now seems to be my main mode, not through preference but due to poor band conditions.