About me

Personal

I was born on the 23rd January 1953, in Barnet Hospital, North London (the world will never be the same!) I grew up in Potters Bar, attended Cranborne Primary School, Cranborne Junior School, Mount Grace Lower School and finally Mount Grace High School. As a kid my main hobby was fishing, and I was a member of the Potters Bar Angling club and the Hadley Angling club. I indulged my hobby most weekends and could always be found fishing somewhere or other during school holidays. I was fortunate, since we had some very beautiful lakes within walking distance from my home. One of the best was in the middle of a wood on a private estate belonging to Lady Byng. I fished there often and luckily was never caught trespassing!

From an early age I was a very keen cub and later a boy scout. I had a lot of fun in scouting and went on many camps, the most memorable of which was to Borth near Aberystwyth in Wales, where we stayed on a farm and went on day and night hikes. We even climbed to the top of Mount Snowdon. I left the scouts at 15, because my girlfriend said it wasn't cool to wear the uniform anymore!

From the age of about 12 I helped the local milkman deliver milk at the weekend and I also helped the baker deliver bread. With my earnings I saved and bought a brand new bicycle, my pride and joy, so now I could do a paper round in the evenings as well. Phew! I worked at a greengrocer after school and on Saturday mornings. One of my jobs was delivering fruit and vegetables to customers on a grocery bicycle with a large basket on the front! I also served customers in the shop.

I learned to ride motorbikes when I was about 14. We went to the woods and fields at the top of my street and rode there; the first bike I rode was a friend's 150 cc BSA Bantam. I fell off many times before I got the hang of it! I stripped down a few scooters, Vespa and Lambretta and used to scramble them in the fields. (That's all they were good for!)  I owned quite a few motor bikes in my teenage years; my first was a 200 cc Triumph Tiger Cub which I swapped for my Ferguson reel-to-reel tape recorder. I remember my parents being really upset with me and wanted me to swap it back, but I didn't! I rode my Tiger Cub to school until some nasty so-and-so told the headmaster I was under age and didn't have a licence!

At 16 I was old enough to get my learner's licence, and my first legal bike was a 500 cc Matchless G80S. I had to ride it with a sidecar attached because as a learner you were not able to ride any bike over 250cc without one, but after I passed my driving test the sidecar came off very quickly!
The two most memorable bikes I had in my late teens were a 650 cc BSA Rocket Goldstar and a 750 cc Triumph T150 Trident. I went to the Isle of Man TT races three times in the early 70s and always rode the BSA, it was a show stopper!

After school I started an apprenticeship in Radio and Television servicing with the company Rank Bush Murphy in Borehamwood. I attended Borehamwood College and later Welwyn Garden City College. After my apprenticeship I went to work for Visionhire TV Rentals in St Albans. One of the main attractions was a company car! After a few years I became the trouble shooter for the company and was sent around the country to help out in other branches. I enjoyed that, particularly as I was always put up in hotels, with a generous restaurant allowance!

In April 1975 I had the opportunity to help set up Visionhire in South Africa. Television was new to South Africa and only started broadcasting officially in January 1976. During 1975 only test transmissions were broadcast and these were mainly test cards with music and the odd short documentary. I planned to stay originally for 2 years before heading back to the U.K. However, after a taste of life in South Africa I decided to stay and put down roots.

I was with Visionhire for a total of seven years, both here in South Africa and in England. In 1979 I left Visionhire to start my own TV repair business, Orbitel Systems. I opened a shop in Birchleigh and was there until my retirement in 2015. During that time  I also owned and ran two video hire shops.

I met my wife Isabel in January 1980 on a blind date (it was love at first sight!) She was here on holiday from Scotland and I persuaded her to stay a few extra months! We married in March 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 think their Dad is really strange talking on the radio. I get comments like, "you can use a cellphone to do that Dad!" followed by a pat on the head and, "keep on taking the pills, Dad!" They will never learn!

Isabel is still the love of my life, and like many other wives she is reconciled to being a radio ham widow!

Random Pictures

The Stokes Family Album

Ham Radio

Since childhood I have always been fascinated with radio. I built my first crystal set in the boy scouts 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.

In South Africa 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. I had a lot of fun with packet and running a BBS.

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 was devastated and 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 but 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 USA 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.

May 2017: I erected another 40m inverted V antenna and a homebrew 40m vertical antenna, but the band seems to have closed for winter! I need just 3 more states to complete my 40m WAS; MT, VT and WY. It looks like I'll have to wait until the end of the year when the 40m band opens up again for DX. I also erected a new 20m homebrew inverted V antenna. I use this antenna most of the time as it seems to work better than my 20m rotary dipole, probably because itís up much higher. Last month I found by chance that my 15m monoband Yagi loads up nicely on 17m. I've never worked on 17m before but the band seems busy with lots of DX stations. Since 15th April I have 51 countries confirmed on 17m, I think thatís pretty good for just over two weeks of working the new band. My total countries confirmed on LoTW now stands at 224 mixed, 211 phone and 139 digital. On 20m I now have 101 countries confirmed on LoTW, all worked on my wire antennas. On 12m I've been sitting on 99 confirmed for about the last 4 months, I just can't find that last country for 12m DXCC!

September 2017: After a quiet winter the bands are finally beginning to open again, and a new digital mode has arrived, FT8. It seems the whole ham community has gone FT8 mad; the new buzz word is FT8! In just under 2 weeks I've had over 700 FT8 QSOs. I've worked 46 USA states on FT8 and I just need HI, AK, VT and ND to complete my FT8 WAS. It's been wow! Thank you to RI1ANO; I finally have my 100th QSL for 12m DXCC. The 17m band continues to amaze me, I have 80 countries and 26 states confirmed on LoTW. I managed to work a few new countries during the winter, and that brings my LoTW count to 227 confirmed. Total countries confirmed including LoTW and paper QSL cards are 241. I worked Montana State on 40m FT8, so that just leaves VT and WY to complete my 40m WAS.

November 2017: This new FT8 mode is amazing. I've had over 2750 FT8 QSOs in just a few months, so now there is no such thing as a dead band! Two months ago I was battling to get my 100th QSL on 12m; I now have 124. Two months ago I had 90 QSLs on 17m; I now have 100. I have 7 new countries confirmed on 15m and 4 new countries on 10m. My FT8 WAS count is now 49 with just AK outstanding. I still need VT and WY to complete my 40m WAS.

February 2018: Considering we are in sunspot minimum, the last few months have not been too bad. I managed to work the last two states I needed to complete my 40m WAS. AK is very challenging and proving to be the most difficult state to work. I need AK to complete my 20m WAS and FT8 WAS. I need 5 more states on 17m and 7 on 12m to complete WAS. I've found the best bands for me have been 17m and 20m; I've had very good openings most days, mainly in the late afternoon and evening. I've had a couple of good short openings on 10m as well, but you need to keep an eye on the cluster to get lucky! I've also worked a few new countries; 5A1AL Libya, C31MF Andorra and Z61DX Kosovo.


LoTW DXCC and WAS Awards Account August 2018:

DXCC
Award
Total  QSLs
WAS
Award
Total QSLs
Mixed
239
Mixed
50
CW
1
40M
50
Phone
219
30M
20
Digital
191
20M
50
160M
1
17M
46
80M
2
15M
50
40M
109
12M
43
30M
63
10M
50
20M
153
Phone
50
17M
132
Digital
50
15M
217
PSK31
34
12M
130
JT65
50
10M
195
FT8
50
6M
16
Challenge
1018

Total countries confirmed including LoTW QSLs and paper QSL cards are 250.