John Buckingham, G4BCS, August 2021

| August 6, 2021

Where to start? Describing John’s amateur radio activities presents a challenge. John was a larger than life character, and I suppose it is fair to say that his radio activities were also larger than life.

When faced with this challenge I decided to contact some members of the Bedford Radio Club who might have memories and stories. What became abundantly clear is that most had stories but agreed that their nature was unprintable! Repeating these stories would probably result in arrest, divorce, deportation, hanging, beheading or flogging, at the very least a stern telling off. However, most of us agree that we never heard an angry or grumpy word uttered from John’s lips: he was always jolly, up-beat, and usually ready with a ribald story to tell.

John was first licensed in the late 1960s and issued with the call sign G8CXM. I only knew John with his later class A callsign, G4BCS.

There is one reference to those early days when John was awarded the RSGB Four Metres and Down transmitting certificate (no 165) for 144MHz in 1969.

Being a larger than life character meant that John’s radio hobby was also going to be larger than life and where else in Bedford would you establish an amateur radio station if not on the very highest point in the town, namely Manton Heights? It was here that he erected his mast, a retired electricity pylon that towered over the landscape of Bedford. John installed himself in the equipment cabin at the foot of the tower with the best equipment available at the time: a German-made Braun SE-600, which was the Rolls Royce of radio equipment (and cost as much as a new car at the time). The Braun SE-600, together with the highest powered amplifier available (the American-made Tempo 6N2), produced 1000 watts output on 2 metres. The station was finished off with a 14 element Parabeam mounted with a rotator at the very top of the 175ft tower.

This made John the biggest signal on the band all over Europe at a time when most stations only had 10 watts of crystal controlled AM available. There is a comment in the VHF column of Short Wave Magazine for March 1970 (page 44): “John, G8CXM has been knocking off the German DJ /DL stations which we less fortunate mortals are not even hearing, from his /A site near Bedford where he has access to a mast 175ft high”.

He would have regular long conversations on VHF with PA0CIS in Holland, whereas us mere mortals would struggle to hear this station. Probably one of John’s crowning glories from this location was to contact on 2 metres a station located on Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic ocean, 600km NE of Iceland. I very much doubt if any other UK station has ever equalled this considerable VHF achievement.

John also ran an equally powerful short wave transmitter from his car in the early days of his G4 call. He assured us that having a large HF aerial and a powerful transmitter was the perfect way of dealing with noisy car radios! I wonder if those drivers ever found out why their car radios never worked again?

John was a very active member of the Bedford & District Amateur Radio Club and it was from his shack that many VHF contests were operated. I also understand that at some club meetings in Putnoe Lane quite large quantities of whisky were consumed and, thanks to John owning one of the first ever video machines, some interesting ‘educational films’ were viewed, usually involving highly advanced radio communication techniques!!!

In the early 1970s most of the Bedford Club radio contests were powered by John’s big diesel generator and equipment was usually conveyed to the site in a large furniture removal van, which was also convenient for sleeping in.

He and his children, Peter, Paul and Penny could always be relied upon to help us on the club’s National Field Day event by coming at the end of the weekend, when we were all tired, to help us take down the stations. Their ability to coil ropes was legendary. John would attend during the weekend, where we also learned that he had the uncanny ability to hear weak stations that were calling us. Sure enough, when we trimmed the aerial there was the station. John had superb hearing skills.

Many of us recall John’s greatest skill. It was his ability to imitate a fuse popping. I can still recall the terror and look of pallor in the face of Steve, G8FMG’s face when John would sneak up behind him and make this noise while he had his hand inside a high tension power supply, or valve amplifier.

John was an active radio amateur on the short waves but he was also frequently to be found on the local repeater station talking from his car. As his family grew, he also involved them in the hobby and put his practical skills to good use in building modern transistorised equipment for all the family. I don’t know if it ever worked though. This was for the 70cm UHF band, Bedford being one of the first towns in the country to pioneer the use of 70cm repeaters.

In later years as John’s radio activities declined, he still faithfully kept in touch with the radio club and many of its members.

Radio amateurs use many abbreviations, most were shortcuts used in the sending of Morse code. For example 88 means love and kisses, 73 means best regards. For John now we might send S K – an abbreviation for ‘end of transmission’ but referred to colloquially today as ‘Silent Key’, meaning that a radio operator had passed away.

73 John from all of us. We will miss you dearly, remember you fondly but we will be happy recalling the joyous times we all had together.

dit dit dit da dit da (end of transmission)

Tribute by Jon, G4JTJ, with the assistance of others

Category: Silent Keys