Thursday, December 29, 2011



We are featuring an exclusive interview with Kevin White, the OM who was active from Macquarie Island from November, 2010 to October, 2011 with the callsign VK0KEV. There is a lot in common with the activity of Pierre Tromp, ZS8M. They both worked together for a period of about one year, as part of a group of scientific researchers, being on the air in their spare time from a most wanted entity, facing pile-ups which were furious and unruly at times. Kevin has been very kind to us and gave very interesting answers about various matters on the life on the island of Macquarie.

How was your typical day on the island?
A typical day on the island would see my arriving at the “Comms” building early in the morning to download and print the daily news papers for distribution later in the morning. Generally this would be followed up by attending to science experiments ensuring that everything was in working order and meaningful data was being captured.
There were many projects to work on once the daily duties were completed. Some quite exciting and technologically challenging. So it was never dull.

If you had the chance, would you go back to the island in a few years for another shift with the research team?
Certainly, and hope to be able to visit some of the other Australian bases on assignment in the not too distant future.

How did you spend your free time besides ham radio?
There are plenty of recreational activities available. From a music room for those so inclined (I’m not) to photographic darkrooms and access to workshops for hobbies and crafts. But mostly people spend as much time in the field as possible as watching the wildlife is intoxicating, indeed when one has free time there are numerous science and support programs looking for volunteers. You might be counting elephant seal harems one day and tagging fur seals another. Of course amateur radio did take up quite a bit of my free time, something we don’t have a huge amount of normally. It’s a busy place!

Before living on the island, what kind of radio amateur were you? Did you practice your DXing skills a lot on HF?
Probably spent most of my time on VHF, I enjoyed setting up IRLP/Echolink and packet systems. HF was something I’d do quite passively in the evenings. Simply tuning around the bands to see what exotic locations I could hear. I never did get into counting countries or even collecting QSL cards, but I was always happy to contact amateurs in far flung corners of the globe.
So whilst not an avid DX’er, I did take an HF rig along on my honeymoon! J I particularly enjoyed contacting R1ANC at Vostok station in Antarctica at that time. Especially as I was sitting under a billabong tree in the desert operating from my vehicle.
The best DX contacts from Macca had to be the times I spoke with my wife (VK4FWIT) whilst I was off station and working in the field. I guess she got a little bit of priority in the pile-ups!!!

You are known for often showing up on the bands, responding to other people’s CQ. This was a big surprise for those lucky guys. Did you enjoy giving them a rare QSO with Macquarie island?
When I arrive on Macca the band conditions were quite challenging. Propagation on the upper bands was initially quite poor. So it was a thrill to hear good signals and if it sounded like they’d appreciate a “breaker” I’d call in. I have to say I was always made to feel very welcome and many appreciated the call from Macca. So it was a two way thing, we all got something from it.

We know you complained of bad discipline among radioamteurs. Any further comment? Is Europe really worse than other areas?
I’m not going to finger any continent or country. Just bad operating. It’s astounding how rude and arrogant some operators can be. This is supposed to be a hobby that brings pleasure and fun. Such a pity that some operators forget why they are on the air. I took the initiative of offering a “zero by zero” to the crocodile stations (all mouth and no ears) that called incessantly spoiling the opportunity of good operators running modest equipment. This seemed to have an effect and brought some discipline back into a few of the pile-ups.
I really appreciated the help of some of the guys who helped out as a quasi “net control” (you know who you are – thanks). Sometimes the pile-ups could be so chaotic and so intense it was difficult to pick out any one station. Often the S meter was pinned to the right with a wall of noise.

Your signals were weak, with just a vertical antenna and 100W. Is there any way to improve the station on Macquarie in the future? Can more equipment be brought on the island?
Depends how you look at it. I had plenty of contacts with 5/9+++, When you don’t have big amps, high gain antennas it’s a matter of being on the right band at the right time. That wasn’t always easy due to work commitments, but when it happened it was great fun. I even managed to work into the antipode of Macca (The Orkney Islands) on just 5 watts on 40 metres. There’s real fun in doing that rather than just applying kilowatts to a yagi at a hundred feet.
On Macca we are very limited as to the antennas that can be installed. Long wires etc. are pretty much out of the question nowadays due to the risk of bird strike. I was never happy with the location of my vertical but it was the best location I could get permission for at the time. I believe that antenna is now in a better location and should make a big difference. Especially with the improving propagation.
Anybody that will operate from the island needs to get permission in advance, and secondly provide their own equipment for the duration of their stay. So it’s all down to the individual operator and the restrictions in setting up antennas. Some portable mini beams would be my choice if going again. I’d stick with the 100 watts as we often operate from field huts where the power supply is very limited.

When on the island, what did you miss the most? Maybe your family, your friends, the warm weather of Queensland?
Of course my wife, followed by our dogs and home in the countryside of Queensland. But after that it’d be fresh fruit and vegetables! You have no idea how the appealing the thought of a banana or avocado can be when everything is prepared from frozen, dried or canned produce! We did have a small amount of hydroponic produce but never quite enough to satisfy the cravings for “fresh”. Strangely the other thing I missed was trees. Nothing on Macca grows much higher than knee height.

Thank you for replying. Our best regards and keep drinking our DxCoffee!
My pleasure, I am thrilled to see the enthusiasm of DxCoffee DX’ers and hope to catch up with many of you on air with my home callsign VK4KEV.

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